Nothing But Memory
Posts Tagged alfred molina

Marvel Movies Project: Best & Worst

After five months and 27 films, I am finally finished this Marvel Movies Project. It was a fun experience; even if a few of the movies are not of the highest quality, it was still interesting to go back and watch them all in order, seeing the evolution (and ups and downs) of Marvel on film. To wrap up, here are some of my picks for the best and worst of Marvel Movies.

Best Movies

  1. Spider-Man 2
  2. The Avengers
  3. Spider-Man
  4. Thor
  5. Iron Man
  6. X2
  7. Captain America: The First Avenger

I tried to pick a top five, but I couldn’t get it below seven. Then I tried to do a top 10, but I also couldn’t justify a number higher than seven (although X-Men came close to making the list). Basically, I think these seven are pretty easily the cream of the Marvel crop. They all feature solid casts, directors, writing, and effects, and all tell really good stories with a good mix of humour, action, and drama. All are also fun to watch — an important quality in a comic book movie.

Worst Movies

  1. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
  2. Punisher: War Zone

Again, I tried to make a top five but although there are definitely some other bad Marvel movies, I feel these two stand out in terms of total suckitude. Something like Daredevil is bad, yes, but it at least doesn’t feel like it was intended to go straight to video. Both these films are also significantly worse and more painful to watch than their predecessors.

Worst Threequels

  1. Blade: Trinity
  2. X-Men: The Last Stand
  3. Spider-Man 3

Only three Marvel franchises have made it to three instalments, and in all three cases the third instalment has been a huge step down in quality for the franchise. The first two Spider-Man movies: amazing. The first two X-Men movies: astonishing. The first two Blade movies: well, they were pretty good horror/action films. Unfortunately, Blade: Trinity features an insulting script aimed directly at the lowest common denominator, X-Men: The Last Stand sees almost all prior character development tossed out the window along with the characters’ principles, and Spider-Man 3 turns its lead character into an unsympathetic jerk to make a point about … something. The terrible threequel: a worrying trend for Marvel.

So yeah, who’s looking forward to Iron Man 3!? Don’t worry; it’s the first Marvel Studios threequel so I’m sure none of this applies to it and I will in no way regret using a vacation day to go see it on May 3.

The Noble Failure Award

I cannot in good conscience call Hulk a good movie, but I can at least see that the filmmakers were trying to do something interesting with it. Although it is a bloated, boring mess, it gets credit for its ambition.

Most Improved by Time and Lowered Expectations

Elektra, which actually seemed pretty decent this time around. It’s not a masterpiece, but in terms of comic book movies about women — a very small and not very illustrious group — it might be the best. Which also goes to show that we need more comic book movies about women.

Most Unnecessary

I’ve been told over and over by my friends from the local comic book store that the Raimi Spider-Man films have not aged well, and The Amazing Spider-Man is a big improvement. I guess this proves that even cool people can be wrong, because nothing will convince me that The Amazing Spider-Man is anything more than a tired rehash of something that was done much, much better just a decade ago. Even if it was a good movie, which it isn’t, but hypothetically — the point is, you’ve still already seen it. Recently.

Key Actors

There are two actors whose performances I think have essentially built the Marvel movie world: Hugh Jackman and Robert Downey Jr. Wolverine is of course one of Marvel’s most well-loved characters, and Jackman’s excellence ensured that his popularity carried over to the big screen. Plus, the guy has appeared in five films, with two more on the way. It’s impressive. Downey, meanwhile, deserves a huge amount of credit for the success of Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If Iron Man had tanked, things might have gone very differently for Marvel Studios. That it didn’t is in large part thanks to his charismatic presence.

Other than those two, I think Wesley Snipes has to get some credit; after all, it was Blade‘s surprising success that ushered in the modern Marvel movie era. Chris Evans is the standout actor to have played more than one Marvel character. Steve Rogers and Johnny Storm are both major figures in the Marvel universe, and Evans is great as both.

Best Female Performances

The X-Men movies give us the most to choose from here: Famke Janssen (Jean), Anna Paquin (Rogue), and Rebecca Romijn (Mystique) stand out for me, and I also think their characters are the three most interesting female mutants in the movies. In terms of love interest type roles, I like Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane a lot. Hayley Atwell and Natalie Portman are also very strong in Captain America and Thor. Speaking of Thor, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Kat Dennings’ hilarious performance. Rosemary Harris is wonderfully warm and grandmotherly as Aunt May in the Raimi Spidey films.

But most of all, there is Scarlett Johansson, who is doing spectacularly as the Black Widow and giving Marvel its first legitimate shot at making a really good female-centred movie, if they would just freaking take her up on it.

Best Villainous Performances

  1. Tom Hiddleston as Loki in The Avengers
  2. Ian McKellen as Magneto in the X-Men trilogy
  3. Michael Fassbender as Magneto in X-Men: First Class

Magneto just has a certain … animal magnetism. Unfortunately for him, he got Loki’d.

Best Comedic Performances

  1. Chris Hemsworth and Kat Dennings in Thor
  2. Mark Ruffalo/CGI Hulk in The Avengers
  3. Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and The Avengers
  4. Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis in Fantastic Four
  5. Tobey Maguire in the Spider-Man trilogy

It’s true that, strictly speaking, these aren’t all 100% comedic performances, but they all have very funny aspects and I would say the movies listed are the funniest Marvel movies. I would also give an honourable mention to Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer in Iron Man 2, because he’s so absurd and Tony’s hatred of him is so hilarious.

Tobey Maguire has a lot of haters for some reason I do not understand, but just think back to the sequence in Spider-Man 2 where Peter, having given up being Spider-Man, dons his glasses and happily goes about his everyday nerdy life. It’s very funny stuff. How much of the “comedy” in Spider-Man 3 is intentionally funny, or funny at all, is very debatable, but I think credit goes to Maguire for trying to go along with whatever Sam Raimi was trying to do.

Best Action Sequences

  1. The Avengers: Helicarrier Attack
  2. Spider-Man 2: Train (the Bank/Saving May sequence is also superb)
  3. X2: Wolverine Is the World’s Most Badass Babysitter
  4. Iron Man: Building the Suit/First Flight (this is a bit of a cheat because it could include most of the movie, but hey)
  5. Spider-Man: Wall-Crawling & First Webs

It’s tough to pick just a few scenes from 27 such action-packed movies. In the end, though, there’s a handful that stand out.

Best Cast

The Avengers wins this automatically, but other than that: Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy has a truly marvellous cast. Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, Cliff Robertson, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, J.K. Simmons (who is like the old Spidey cartoon come to life), Elizabeth Banks, Bill Nunn, and Ted Raimi are all fantastic. They also have great chemistry as a group.

The cast of Thor would be my other choice. The Asgardians: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba, Rene Russo, Jaimie Alexander, Josh Dallas, Ray Stevenson, and Tadanobu Asano, plus Colm Feore as Laufey. The Earthlings: Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings, and Clark Gregg, with a cameo from Jeremy Renner. All of these people are good actors, and incredibly, almost all of them make a memorable impact on the movie.

Best Stan Lee Cameo

As much as I hate The Amazing Spider-Man‘s existence, I do love Stan Lee’s appearance as an oblivious school librarian. However, his cameos in the Iron Man movies as “Hugh Hefner” and “Larry King” would probably top the list if not for the fact that he plays the FF’s lovable mailman, Willie Lumpkin, in Fantastic Four.

Some Favourite Dialogue

“That’s my secret, Captain. I’m always angry.” – Bruce Banner, The Avengers

“I need a horse!”
“We don’t have horses, just dogs, cats, birds …”
“Then give me one of those large enough to ride.”exchange between Thor and a pet shop employee, Thor

“This is really … heavy …” – Peter Parker, Spider-Man 2

Those are my impressions of the movies themselves. I’ll be back tomorrow with a few final thoughts on comic book movie adaptations in general, and that will be my very last Marvel Movies Project post (as far as I know). My goal was to finish before Iron Man 3 — I made it!

Marvel Movies Project: Spider-Man 2

Movie poster for Spider-Man 2 (2004).

Let me be up front about this: I saw Spider-Man 2 (2004) something like 10 times in theatre when it first came out. It also ranks on my list of most-viewed movies since I started tracking my viewing in 2006. Basically, I love this movie. It’s one of my favourites of all-time. Watching it now, I’m struck by the crazy number of people who play small roles in it and have since become more famous: Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi is Peter’s boss at the pizza place; Emily Deschanel, aka TV’s Bones, is the receptionist who won’t take the late pizza; Daniel Dae Kim, who played Jin on Lost, is Doc Ock’s lab assistant; Joel McHale from Community is the smarmy bank guy; Reed Diamond, now of the Whedonverse (Dollhouse and Much Ado About Nothing), co-stars in MJ’s play; and Mary Jane narrowly avoids marrying one of  The Vampire Diaries‘ Original vampires, Daniel Gillies.

I am also struck by how much I still really love this movie and how awesome it remains almost 10 years after its release. Sam Raimi and co. build on the foundation they laid in Spider-Man beautifully. The main cast members are all back — even Cliff Robertson and Willem Dafoe’s deceased characters make brief appearances — and the excellent Alfred Molina joins them as Otto “Doc Ock” Octavius. Like Norman Osborn, Octavius becomes something of a mentor to Peter, but there is no family-type link between Peter and Doc Ock the way there is with Norman, the father of Peter’s best friend. That stronger emotional link makes Dafoe’s Green Goblin a more compelling villain than Ock overall; however, Doc Ock still outshines the Goblin in some ways. He’s more fun to watch, partly because he doesn’t wear a mask — I’ve concluded that no mask or partial mask is always better than full mask in the movies, because you just kinda need to see an actor’s face. (It also doesn’t hurt that his tentacles are “real” in many scenes, brought to life via puppetry rather than CGI.) Plus, his evil persona is simply a bit more entertaining than the Goblin’s. Norman Osborn was scary intense crazy and hellbent on destroying Spider-Man. While Doc Ock is crazy too, really he just wants that precious tritium.

But Otto Octavius, although he is an excellent villain, is almost beside the point here: the most important conflict is the one between the “great responsibility” part of being Spider-Man and Peter Parker’s desire to live a happy, normal life. This of course is not a new theme in hero stories, or in Spider-Man stories: the movie borrows its “Spider-Man No More” theme (and a panel or two) from Amazing Spider-Man #50, which came out way back in 1967.

Spider-Man No More

But Spider-Man 2 handles this old story exceptionally well, with a combination humour and genuine emotion. Much of Peter’s typical Parker luck is played for laughs in the movie, but there’s almost always a serious blow after the silliness: for example, his comical failure to deliver pizza on time leads to the loss of a much-needed job and his encounter with the obnoxious usher causes him to miss Mary Jane’s play, which all but kills his chances with her. Peter also faces more serious worries, such as Aunt May’s financial troubles, the conflict with Harry caused by his association with Spider-Man, and the last straw: the truly emotionally devastating news that Mary Jane is engaged to someone else. The guy just cannot catch a break. By the time Peter finally decides he’s had enough of being Spider-Man, it’s hard to blame him for giving up. To borrow a line from Michael Bluth: he’s a saint, a living saint, and he gets absolutely nothing out of it.

We also see just how difficult that decision is for him to live with, though. For a while he’s the happy geek, putting the glasses back on and walking around without a care in the world while “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” soundtracks his life. Soon, though, his failure to live up to Uncle Ben’s standard starts to weigh on him, and ultimately, a piece of chocolate cake and Aunt May’s words about heroes help him rediscover the meaning in being Spider-Man.

Let’s talk about Aunt May for a minute. She is the emotional centre of this movie. Since her husband’s death, she has had even more trouble making ends meet. Not only that, she’s lonely, living by herself in the house in Queens while Peter lives his life in the city. The scene where she gives Peter a $20 bill for his birthday hits hard: her pain at not being able to do more for him, his guilt at not being able to do more for her, and the absence of Uncle Ben hanging over it all. Peter’s confession of his role in Ben’s death is also a very important moment for Peter’s emotional arc. At first it seems Peter might have lost Aunt May’s love, but later she forgives him easily and completely, and his guilt is a little less. Then, she says this:

He knows a hero when he sees one. Too few characters out there, flying around like that, saving old girls like me. And Lord knows, kids like Henry need a hero. Courageous, self-sacrificing people, setting examples for all of us. Everybody loves a hero. People line up for them. Cheer them. Scream their names. And years later, they’ll tell how they stood in the rain for hours just to get a glimpse of the one who taught them to hold on a second longer. I believe there’s a hero in all of us that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble, and finally allows us to die with pride. Even though sometimes we have to be steady and give up the thing we want the most. Even our dreams. Spider-Man did that for Henry, and he wonders where he’s gone. He needs him.

It’s a lovely meditation on the world’s need for heroes, and if you ask me, it’s also a pretty strong hint that she may have figured out who Spider-Man really is behind that mask when he rescued her from Doc Ock at the bank.

The bank rescue scene, aside from being one of Spider-Man 2‘s most solid action setpieces, is one of the few self-esteem boosting moments for Peter in the early part of the movie. Aunt May, previously anti-Spidey because he supposedly murdered Norman Osborn, is finally won over. She’s on his side, and she accepts him. Later, when Peter finds himself unmasked on a train full of New Yorkers and they promise never to reveal his identity, it’s a similarly fulfilling moment for him. He’s helped those people and they’re paying him back not with indifference or rudeness, but with gratitude and loyalty.

Spider-Man 2 train passengers

The train scene: a bit over-the-top? Maybe. But it’s also a great illustration of the openheartedness and lack of cynicism that, in my opinion, makes these Spidey movies so charming. I am also a huge fan of the lovely way Spider-Man’s true identity is revealed to Mary Jane for this same reason. (“This is really … heavy.”) Now Peter and Mary Jane can finally go through that doorway they’ve been standing in since the first film.

I’ve probably said more than enough about this movie, but here is a final thought: Spider-Man 2 is a superb movie on its own, but it’s an even better sequel. It does a great job of taking what was established in the first film, showing us how it has changed these characters, and building more depth from that. It even calls back to its predecessor by directly paralleling a few scenes from Spider-Man: there’s Peter and Mary Jane’s backyard conversation, which tells us a lot about how much Mary Jane’s perception of Peter has changed, and Peter’s internal dialogue with Uncle Ben, which Peter imagines taking place in the car on the night Ben died. The filmmakers respect continuity of story and character, and we never forget that we’re watching a movie in a series. They also provide a stellar setup for future movies.

Spider-Man 2 ending

The biggest disappointment of the series is that Spider-Man 3 didn’t live up to its potential. But we’ll get to that later.