Review: Fantastic Four (2015)

fantastic-four-miles-teller-nerd Sifting through the rubble of Fantastic Four has proven a fascinating exercise. It is a project wrought with problems, from the very public feud between director Josh Trank and studio 20th Century Fox, to the tonal mishmash of scenes in the final product. I’m reminded of the making of Superman II, another film which saw its director’s vision overtaken and remade by new management. Which is precisely why film scholars will love dissecting this new Fantastic Four, the third cinematic attempt to bring Marvel’s First Family to the screen – to exercise their observational skills and debate the merits of two wildly opposing approaches. It’s a debate we’ll likely be having for years to come.

The film opens promisingly; two aspiring young boys with scientific know-how develop a tiny teleportation machine in their garage, but they are ridiculed at every turn by their adult superiors. Finally, as adult Reed Richards and Ben Grimm (Miles Teller and Jamie Bell, respectively), the boys are discovered by Dr. Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his daughter Sue (Kate Mara) and given a full scholarship to the Baxter Institute to pioneer a full-size version of the transporter to send humans to an alternate dimension. Without giving too much away, the new dimension leads the young heroes, including Dr. Storm’s devil-may-care son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and the scoffing elitist Victor (Toby Kebbell) to acquiring bizarre powers that they must struggle to come to terms with.

This is all strongly inspired by the first issues of Marvel’s Ultimate Fantastic Four comic by Mark Millar, Brian Michael Bendis, and Adam Kubert. It’s also far darker and more solemn than the original Stan Lee/Jack Kirby material of the 60’s, or any previous incarnations of the Four on film. In place of the realism offered by his found-footage superhero drama Chronicle, Trank peppers his Four with some funny, genuine dialogue that feels refreshing in a subgenre known for cheesy one-liners. But where Trank really deviates from the material is after the heroes receive their powers, in what Trank describes as “Cronenbergian body horror” after the style of director David Cronenberg. Trank shows the heroes in great pain after their transformations – Johnny constantly feels the burn of the fire around him, Sue can’t stay visible, etc. It’s a pretty far cry from the source material, but a compelling angle nonetheless.

And then the movie breaks. Hard.

Then it cranks into reverse and screams backwards.

We abruptly cut to “1 Year Later.” Characters are now acting completely out of character, awkwardly reshot sequences (look for Kate Mara’s wig) are being intercut into the movie to weave scenes together, and we’re taken on an entirely different narrative thread that clashes with the tone and direction of the first act.

It is abundantly clear this is the point in the film where Fox was taking some serious issues with Trank’s work, and we can feel the corporation yanking the reigns away from Trank to get their major summer tentpole back into standard superhero territory. Our heroes decide to use their powers for good, our villain is quickly introduced, and a big, epic battle for our world and the new dimension ensues. We are left to wonder what was really so objectionable in Trank’s approach that led to the studio releasing such a hugely disjointed version instead. Fantastic Four ends up two very different halves of an incomplete whole.

Granted, Trank’s vision was probably never going to be the Fantastic Four movie fans wanted. Indeed, the film is actually at its worst when it’s forced to hearken back to its pulp tradition – one scene sees a younger Ben Grimm’s abusive brother running at him announcing, “It’s clobberin’ time!” Oof.

The problem is that both the Fantastic Four comic and Trank’s vision can’t really be reconciled. Fantastic Four is supposed to be about family, about a group of very different personalities learning to work together as a unit. But neither Fox nor Trank develop the characters enough to where, when they inevitably team up to fight the bad guy, they can all work together and interact in any meaningful way.

So what else? Miles Teller rocks Reed Richards after losing out on the Spider-Man gig. He’s a funnier, hipper Mr. Fantastic, yet retains the core idealism the character is known for. Michael B. Jordan also overcomes casting concerns and owns his role as the Human Torch. But much like the film, this cast is divided strictly down the middle – Kate Mara proves a wooden and disinterested Invisible Woman, and Jamie Bell appears distant as Grimm, like he’s just keeping his motion-capture muscles warmed as the Thing until he can play Tintin again.

Those looking for a complete, cohesive narrative in Fantastic Four will be sorely disappointed. Those fascinated by movie “could’ve-would’ve-should’ve”s would do well to check it out. It’s half an interesting take on some beloved characters, and half cartoony, clichéd superheroics, held together with the thinnest, most visible glue the likes of which we rarely see in completed studio films. Both Trank and Fox are probably to blame to varying degrees, though Trank’s ideas are easily the superior of the two, and I at least would’ve liked to have seen Fox let Trank finish what he started. It’s a moot point; Trank single-handedly killed the film’s box office, and because of it, likely won’t be working on another studio movie for a long time.

Regardless, I found more food for thought in Fantastic Four than I did in Ant-Man, though a friend I attended the screening with wholeheartedly disagreed. “I would rather have half of something great than a whole of something mediocre,” I argued. “So you would rather have an unusable half of a $100 bill than a whole $1 bill?” he replied.

And…well, yes. I see $1 bills all the time. I get them, I give them away, they are nothing special. But let’s say I’m looking down and I find half of a $100 bill sticking up out of the sandy ground. When I bend down to pick it up out of the sand, I can see it’s really only half a $100, not a full $100 and thus not legal tender. But I had an experience. I was titillated. I got a rush of excitement thinking I’d hit the jackpot. And afterward, I got to tell an out-of-the-ordinary story to my friends. I wasn’t rewarded, but I still cherish that half-a-bill for jarring me out of my routine.

If you’re among the camp that agrees, you may just find something worth experiencing in Fantastic Four.

 

5/10

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Mythological Marvel: Analyzing “Thor”

thor-poster-970520506In anticipation of The Avengers, I took time out a few weeks ago to re-watch Marvel Studios’ Thor with audio commentary from director Kenneth Branagh. Branagh’s deliberations spurred me to take a deeper look inside a film already brimming with mythological depth and visual beauty. Since its release back in 2011, I’ve come to consider it one of my favorite comic book films of all time, and while I definitely wouldn’t consider myself a fan of the comics, Branagh’s film is admirably passionate towards its source material, constructing perhaps a more meaningful film than many give it credit for.

Thor begins in the inter-dimensional realm of Asgard, introducing us to legendary figures of Norse mythology – Odin (Anthony Hopkins), the all-powerful father, and his sons Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the god of thunder, and Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the god of mischief. Thor is blinded by arrogance; a brash, impudent soul, he ignores his father’s wishes and, when mysterious enemies of Asgard called the Frost Giants interrupt his ceremonial crowning, takes the battle to the icy realms of Jotunheim with Loki and his comrades. After a short but tolling battle, Odin rescues the troupe and banishes Thor to Earth to live among the humans as punishment for igniting a new war.

It is there that Thor meets astrophysicists Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), and Darcy (Kat Dennings), who acquaint him with earth culture and try to decipher where it is he really came from. Meanwhile, Loki discovers his true origins as a Frost Giant and confronts his father, who falls into shock following the confrontation. As Thor learns humility on Earth, Loki usurps the throne in his brother’s absence. Thor is faced with finding a way home before Loki reigns terror upon all of Asgard.

Thor’s tale is one heavily rooted in classical mythology. It’s a great example of the archetypical hero’s journey of death and rebirth, but also a story of redemption, of a fish-out-of-water, and, as Branagh puts it, of fathers and sons. Capturing an age-old, yet fresh and original magic in its execution, Branagh discusses finding a balance between  the realism of sci-fi and otherworldliness of mythology that compelled him to tackle the project.

THORBranagh truly was an inspired choice to take the reins of Thor. The director’s experience in Shakespearean theatre lends the film an old-fashioned sensibility sorely lacking in other films of the subgenre. Throughout his commentary, Branagh is constantly relating elements of Thor to biblical, mythological (Norse and monomyth), and historical details, on top of film and Marvel references as well. He’s a very intelligent filmmaker, and one certainly more deserving of widespread acclaim.

When I first wrote a review of Thor last year, I mentioned that Branagh directs the film as fearlessly and reverently as one of his Shakespeare adaptations. Indeed, much of the Thor universe of the comics is rather goofy and admittedly a bit alienating, yet Branagh retains small things about it that make his film unique, like Thor twirling his hammer at great speeds to fly. In context, Branagh treats it seriously and it works. We believe it. He makes the ridiculousness of the concept more relatable, more human, and more real, taking the best of the comic mythology and unabashedly translating it to the screen. It’s faithful, yet better than the sum of its parts.

One thing I found interesting throughout Branagh’s commentary was the director constantly downplaying the idea that Thor was at least partially influenced by Shakespeare, claiming that he never really looked to the playwright’s works for inspiration. But really, how can one not draw such comparisons? Branagh’s direction is so deeply rooted in classical theatre, his eye so encompassed by Shakespearean lore in his past works. It’s hard not to see some of Shakespeare in any of Branagh’s works, let alone Thor, which so heavily deals with Shakespearean themes of warring peoples, familial betrayal, and young, inexperienced royalty, on top of the overall mythological background. Hell, even the Thor comic books give Thor and his Asgardian brethren a faux-Shakespearean dialect, though Branagh wisely excises this for a more accessible, less pretentious regal-speak.

The film’s plot is crammed, or as Branagh puts it, “compacted” into under two hours, keeping each and every shot packed with detail. The sheer volume of material in the film gets to be rather overwhelming, even more so for those unfamiliar with the mythology. There’s just so much going on, so much story tightly packed together here, that the film easily leaves one exhausted by the time the credits roll. Still, the craft behind such volume really shines through amidst its rushed presentation.

In typical Marvel comic book tradition, Thor ends on a cliffhanger, with Thor destroying the Bifrost Bridge and being separated from his newfound fling Jane Foster. It works well – the film poses several questions about their future together, as well as what lies ahead for how Asgardians will be able to travel between the two realms. Like the comics before it, it’s a clever way of keeping the audience coming back for more the next time Thor spins his hammer on the big screen.

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Visually, Thor is incredibly sophisticated, working within its Hollywood boundaries (obvious product placement, anyone?) to nonetheless create a stunningly beautiful atmosphere. Adhering to the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby comic, Thor is mindful of both its pulp roots and its Norse origins alike, both of which are brimming from the film in its design.

Branagh’s theatrical background makes him an expert at staging, even in the many digitized realms of Thor. The director clearly loves sprawling throne room scenes like the one above, as evidenced by Henry V, Hamlet, and others of his films. He truly knows how to capture the silent majesty and depth of a grand throne room, and Thor may be the best-looking one of his films yet.

Perhaps most visually apparent is Branagh’s use of primarily Dutch angles in the film’s cinematography. They’re typically used to convey disorientation; in this case, Thor is disoriented at the brand new world he’s landed on, and we the audience are disoriented at this alien world of Asgard we’re seeing for the first time. Or so I’d originally theorized. Branagh reveals that he used them simply because “that’s the way [he] remember[s] comic book frames”, and to convey “dynamism” in each of the shots, using wide-angle lenses to convey depth. On either level, the film’s tilted perspective works well. And unlike, say, the entirely thoughtless use of Dutch angles in Batman & Robin, Thor poses several legitimate reasons for utilizing the angle.

When discussing the film’s additional converted 3D release, Branagh audibly drops his tone, a hint of restrained disdain for the format in his voice. He describes being hesitant to the idea of 3D at first, concerned more with his actors, but that he eventually warmed up to the format and kept it in mind during the shoot. His voice, however, tells the real story – 3D did not do this movie a hint of justice. I haven’t seen Thor in 3D, but I’ve heard nothing but bad things about it, so perhaps it’s best the film be remembered in its native 2D format.

Another interesting tidbit from Branagh’s commentary, detailed in greater depth in the featurettes of the Thor Blu-Ray, explains that the small-town New Mexico setting specifically built for the film was designed to visually parallel Asgard. Branagh talks about keeping both worlds isolated from other societies, keeping their color schemes similar, and on top of that, having the infrastructure of the buildings resemble the Asgardian architecture of Thor’s native realm. This kind of thing is a common trope of setting transitions between panels in comic books, and it’s yet another layer of thoughtful design proving just how in-tune Branagh and co. are with this universe.

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I would of course be remiss not to mention Thor’s two fantastic, perfectly-cast lead performances. Much of the film’s success can be credited to Australian actor Chris Hemsworth, who, as Branagh puts it, is a natural, convincing screen presence. Thor could’ve easily turned out to be an unlikable douche if played by a lesser actor, but in Hemsworth, we root for him the whole way through. I’d go so far as to say the actor does for Thor what Christopher Reeve did for Superman, an impressive feat to say the least.

Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is equally outstanding. As a stage actor, Hiddleston is particularly skilled at conveying the inner turmoil behind Loki. This is not just some cackling, goofy trickster like in the comics; here, Loki is far more vulnerable, a tortured soul in conflict with himself just as much as he is with his brother. Hiddleston brought the character to even greater heights in The Avengers, but his Loki in Thor will still be remembered as one of the best villains in a Marvel movie.

Finally, worth noting is Thor’s fitting relationship to Jon Favreau’s Iron Man. Clearly a lot of thought was put into getting the films to coexist, which Thor succeeds at with flying colors. The two films have very different styles, so much so that they can easily stand apart, yet they can easily sit beside one another through their shared characters and overall approach. Again, it’s the unlikely pairing of sci-fi and mythology here that really drives Thor, and it makes for a great companion piece to Iron Man in that respect. Also interesting is both Favreau and Branagh’s background as actors as well as directors. Both bring out some very memorable, charismatic performances from Hemsworth and Downey Jr., crafting more meaningful character-driven experiences than any other Marvel solo films to date.

It’s far too early to see what Thor’s long-term influence on the industry will prove to be, but the seeds are already present. The film has definitely played a part in getting even the most obscure comic books into the scripting stage for potential film adaptations. It’s also been vital to the success of The Avengers – the film would’ve almost certainly avoided focusing on Loki as the centerpiece villain with an inferior actor in the role.

In short, the sheer level of craft behind Thor is nothing short of spectacular. It’s a sophisticated blockbuster experience, visually stunning, expertly directed, steeped in mythological lore, and all-around heartfelt in its execution. I’m disappointed Branagh isn’t returning for the sequel next year, but I’m still thoroughly pleased with this, his profound mark on Marvel’s ever-growing legacy of films. And hey, the man definitely knows how to make for a damn good commentary track.

Thor is available on DVD and Blu-Ray here.

The Not-So-Amazing Spider-Man (Part 3)

In this final segment, I’ll be wrapping up with a critique of the marketing from The Amazing Spider-Man so far, as well as posting my final thoughts on what we can expect from the film this July.

MARKETING

With a new cast, crew, and overall direction, the general consensus is that The Amazing Spider-Man will be a full-on reboot, wiping away any and all connections to the previous series. However, Entertainment Weekly published this as part of an interview with longtime Marvel producer Avi Arad in regards to the new film’s continuity standing: 

Exec producer Avi Arad says the film won’t erase what came before but will try to weave a narrative that could take place within the framework of the earlier films. ‘It’s not a comeback,’ he says. ‘You have to look at it this way: Do you want to know more about Spider-Man? This movie is going to tell stories that you didn’t see in movies 1, 2, and 3.’

This could very well just be the way EW framed the quote, but based on the way that blurb reads, it’s almost as if Arad is stepping back and trying to position the new movie as “More Spider-Man”, which is itself acknowledging the first three movies’ existence. I get a sense that he’s trying to promote the new movie as both a continuation of Raimi’s films and a reboot.

There is of course plenty of evidence to the contrary, so why is Arad backtracking? Pretty obvious if you ask me – there was a considerable divide amongst Spider-Man fans when the reboot was announced, and the best way to try and please both crowds is simple – promote the film as “More Spider-Man”, or more accurately “the Untold Story”, as has been used in the marketing, which inherently suggests a backstory left out of the original films that this new story will now cover. In that, Sony is positioning The Amazing Spider-Man as a new Spidey film that will appease both those who swear by Raimi’s films as well as new audiences looking for a fresh start.

Sound in approach perhaps, but the reality is that there’s no way Sony can have their cake and eat it too. As I mentioned in Part I, Raimi’s films built up a devoted audience who became invested in these characters and the drama they inspired. You can’t try to play to that crowd while prematurely starting from the ground up again. Fans aren’t going to buy it.

Not to mention, Sony acknowledging the existence of the original films at all in official marketing shows a distinct lack of confidence in their new product. Not being completely willing to pick up and start over tells me that Sony isn’t certain that what they have will truly hold its own against what came before. If the company had come out and said, “We made the decision to reboot because we think we have a great idea here and we believe we can do even better than the first three films”, then I’d at least give them props for having the balls to fully commit to the new direction. Instead, the company is adopting a wishy-washy, vague stance on the film’s continuity in its marketing, which communicates that they aren’t entirely sure the new movie can stand alone.

And just to prove that I’m not talking out of my ass here, Sony did almost the exact same thing with the recent Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. While that film was frequently cited by its creative team as a reboot of the 2007 film, Sony chose to market the film with posters featuring taglines like “He Rides Again”, again, acknowledging what came before. The first film, despite being a critical failure, grossed solid numbers at the box office. In an effort to maintain those figures for the sequel, which the company probably knew was going to bomb, Sony likely used marketing to tie Spirit of Vengeance to the first film. Essentially, Sony’s official statement on the film’s continuity would be, “Yeah…er, sure. It’s a sequel. Let’s go with that. Will you buy a ticket now?”

But let’s overlook all that for now and just conclude that Sony has a new Spider-Man film which they obviously want to get people to see. As I mentioned above, much of the marketing is using the tagline, “The Untold Story.” Director Marc Webb says this:

It’s really important for us to be able to communicate that this isn’t a remake of Sam Raimi’s movie. There’s a new territory, there’s a new villain, it’s a different Peter Parker.

Again overlooking the glaring contradiction between that statement and Sony’s marketing, note that Webb is clear about how vital it is for the creative team to differentiate from Raimi’s films. Webb has actually reiterated this fairly often in interviews about the film. Now, if this new movie was truly a completely different experience from the first three films, why would Webb and Co. make it such a high priority to hammer that home? Why not just let the work speak for itself, perhaps promoting the bits of the film that don’t hearken back to what Raimi did? I’m not trying to suggest that Webb’s film is just a carbon-copy of Raimi’s by this (though the trailer itself does more or less confirm that notion), but it does seem rather desperate of Webb when he’s the one continuously bringing it up.

But back to this “Untold Story” angle…what “untold story”? There is no “untold story” in Spider-Man. Sam Raimi showcased a relatively comprehensive origin for the character in the first movie, so what exactly hasn’t yet been told that would validate returning to the origin just ten years after the first film? A leaked synopsis/treatment from a while back suggests that Peter’s birthparents were some kind of secret agents involved in a caper at Oscorp. Sorry, what? The comics have never given much attention to Peter’s birthparents, why invent some ridiculous, unnecessary subplot surrounding them that only does more to deviate from the mythology than expand upon it? Are they really that desperate to make this new movie different from the previous three that they’re grasping at some of the most minor, insignificant aspects of the mythology and bringing them to the forefront? Here’s a thought: make a good movie that adheres to the source material. That’s what Raimi did, and that’s what made his movies work so well in the first place.

A shot of Oscorp in the trailer validates the above synopsis, which also suggests a sequel likely featuring Norman Osborne’s Green Goblin persona and the death of Gwen Stacy as seen in the comics. It also matches the fact that James Vanderbilt has a second script already drafted (see Part I), and that Sony has a sequel set for release in the first week of May 2014. I realize studios plan on major franchise sequels ahead of time as a way of keeping costs down in actors’ contracts, among other expenses, but still, it’s incredibly presumptuous to publically announce a sequel when the first film hasn’t even been released. It’s only going to come back to bite them if/when the film bites the big one…just look at Green Lantern.

Also worth mentioning is the film’s ongoing viral campaign, which I have not been following, but which recently unveiled this clip from the film:

Which begs the question…why? This clip provides zero context to clue us in on why the doorman is barring Peter’s entry. Is it supposed to be funny? Maybe show us how Peter is always being dicked on by the man? And really, what doorman doesn’t let some kid in to see a tenant without first looking in his bag? When does that ever happen? The clip stands as yet another baffling marketing decision that makes me wonder why I’m even wasting my breath on this movie.

CONCLUSION

The Amazing Spider-Man looks to be a film far removed from its namesake. Just about everything I’ve seen from the production leads me to believe the final product will be trashy, forgettable dreck. Boasting a thoroughly misguided direction, very little originality, grungy, unappealing visuals, abysmal casting, and a pathetically unfocused marketing campaign, this is destined to be one of the biggest bombs of the year, and I have a feeling a lot of people that turn a blind eye to these criticisms are going to be hugely disappointed. As far as box office is concerned, there’s no telling how low the film will sink. It has just two weeks to make sufficient bank before it’s violently shoved aside in favor of surefire moneymaker The Dark Knight Rises. Could bad word-of-mouth kill it even before then?

And don’t get me wrong…I’m not too proud to admit when I’m wrong, and if this film is released to widespread critical and commercial acclaim, I’ll be the first to eat my words. I really do love Spider-Man and want nothing but the best for the mythology on film. But the way things are looking, I don’t expect to be at all enamored by this new entry.

I can only hope that people on the internet will return to appreciating what Sam Raimi did for the franchise after this probable garbage heap is set out. Sunlight-deprived fanboys may have turned against his films in a bout of characteristic flip-flopping and bandwagoning, but general audiences that grew up with them have certainly not. Raimi made Spider-Man just a step away from the best it could possibly be, and it will be a long time before his efforts will even come close to being surpassed.

Regardless, Sony’s handling of the franchise post-Raimi will be a telling sign of whether or not they’ll continue making Marvel films altogether. Coupled with the studio’s aforementioned Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance tanking with audiences and critics alike, I’d like nothing more than to see Sony fold and relinquish both properties to Marvel Studios where they belong, ensuring that future films will have the benefit of a sound, reverent direction. As it stands, I’m steering clear of the new movie…Spider-Man deserves far better.

The Not-So-Amazing Spider-Man (Part 2)

We’ve already talked about why turning Spider-Man into a dark, brooding, tween movie doesn’t work, but what is it about the film itself that already seems to be missing the mark long before its release?

CASTING

Almost immediately after the reboot had been announced, speculation arose as to who would take over the role of Peter Parker from Tobey Maguire. Just as they had with director Sam Raimi, a wave of internet fanboys began turning against Maguire’s performance, calling it “whiny”, among other baseless critiques. I won’t defend Maguire’s hammy, comically bad turn in Spider-Man 3, but I will maintain that Maguire did an excellent job for his part in the first two films. It’s no easy task portraying Peter as a textbook science nerd, a headstrong, wisecracking superhero, and a relatable, human character all at once, but he pulled it off. There’s a lot of heart in that performance and it deserves praise, even if the basement-dwellers don’t see it.

For “The Amazing Spider-Man”, little-known British actor Andrew Garfield was selected from a shortlist of similarly unfitting choices. Before he’d been decided upon, I had seen Garfield in Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, a surprisingly solid film with great performances all around…Garfield being the weak link. Managing to be both completely unlikable and entirely unable to carry the weight of even the minor role bestowed upon him, Garfield made even his intentionally sympathetic role to be actually less sympathetic than Heath Ledger’s character. Granted, it’s no easy task to hold your own against talent like Ledger, but when you can’t wager an ounce of sympathy from the audience as intended, it’s pretty obvious you shouldn’t be doing higher-profile movies.

Realistically, Garfield isn’t a terrible actor, but he is absolutely not leading-man material. The new Amazing Spider-Man trailer pretty much confirms this – in our first look at Garfield in the suit, seated in the back seat of a car behind a carjacker, Garfield’s delivery is incredibly awkward, forcing inflection into a joke as if he’d never acted before in his life. He lacks Maguire’s charisma and ability to convey both humility and excessive pride. Garfield just comes off as bland and unengaging, completely lacking any sense of screen presence. And while I’m certainly not presuming to know how his final performance will turn out, based on this trailer alone, it doesn’t look good.

Perhaps most glaring is the fact that Garfield doesn’t quite resemble the Peter Parker of the comics, nor does he fit the physical requirements for the role. I’m inclined to suspect he was cast based on his passing resemblance to Twilight actor Robert Pattinson (it’s the hair, really), rather than actual talent. Even Garfield’s age should’ve been a red flag – as mentioned, the production is taking inspiration from the Ultimate Spider-Man comic and bringing Peter back to high school. But if that’s the case, why cast a nearly 30-year-old actor when the Peter Parker of those comics was still a young teenager? I find it hard to believe there weren’t any unknown teenage actors out there incapable of taking on the role. Why pass on the chance to give us a new look at a much younger Spider-Man than we’ve seen before?

But Garfield isn’t the only woefully miscast figure in the production – the role of Gwen Stacy is being filled by Superbad player Emma Stone. While the rising actress isn’t completely unfitting for the part, she hasn’t quite sold me on her abilities in any of the work I’ve seen her in thus far. Stone lacks a bombshell quality, a raw sexiness that the Gwen of the comics oozes. It’s painfully obvious her casting was based on making the film more commercial and appealing towards mainstream audiences that may recognize her from teen comedies like Superbad and Easy A.

To play the role of the Lizard, Rhys Ifans (above) was cast as Dr. Curt Connors and his scaly alter-ego. Which begs the question…who the hell is Rhys Ifans? What exactly has he done that would get a casting director to conclude, “That guy from Hannibal Rising. He’s the one.” We’ve had some fantastic villain performances from greats like Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina in these movies; whoever Ifans is, he’ll have to be one hell of an actor to even come close to standing out amongst the aforementioned performances.

There’s also Sally Field playing Peter’s widowed Aunt May. The casting alone suggests that this incarnation of the character will be based on Ultimate Spider-Man, with May portrayed as far younger and more at odds with Peter out of prudence following Uncle Ben’s death, a stark contrast to the more loving, supporting grandmotherly figure in the 616 Marvel Universe and Raimi’s films. All I have to say to that is…real creative, guys. Because Field has never played an uptight, brazen mother figure in her career before. Oh wait.

Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben is the only casting choice I can really get behind. He’s a great actor and more or less fits the role of a fatherly, selfless Uncle figure. Sadly, it’s little comfort when Sheen is essentially lost amidst a sea of poor casting choices. Bottom line, whoever was most directly responsible for compiling these actors has almost completely missed the mark.

VISUALS/DESIGN

Naturally, with a reboot comes with it the need for a fresh, new look and a brand new superhero suit. So what has the new design team come up with? Well…

Um…that’s…interesting. Apparently the extent of the design process was to add more blue and make the eyes yellow-tinted. It stands as yet another example of this film’s seemingly governing principle to set itself apart from Raimi’s films by changing things just for the sake of change. Again, there’s nothing wrong with altering the costume for a reboot, but this just makes me wonder…why even bother? The added blue just makes the suit look off, and the suit itself has all the texture and elasticity of a basketball. It’s an undoubtedly rushed design that only detracts from a great, iconic costume.

Moving on to special effects, where we don’t have much to go by as of yet. We do know that the production is trying to use more practical effects than CGI this time around, trying to do as much of the swinging as possible for real.

Going by what are likely unfinished effects in the trailer, we get a look at what the swinging effects will look like, and…well, they’re pretty bad, actually. Raimi’s Spider-Man swung smoothly, with grace and agility…completely fluid movement. This Spider-Man’s swing looks incredibly choppy, fake. Upon closer inspection, it looks like the downswing carries with it some kind of wind resistance, possibly an effect that will play better in 3D. For now, I’m convinced CGI was the only way to go in showing Spider-Man slinging his way through the city.

We also get a look at some frankly bizarre stylistic choices in terms of cinematography and editing. A sequence where Garfield’s mask is pulled off, forcing him to fight off police looks, again, very choppy, almost as if there’s an inexperienced director behind the camera using this movie to experiment with a new style and failing miserably. Well done, Marc Webb. Glad to see you’re not completely out of your element here or anything.

It takes a special kind of director to handle superhero movies with extensive special effects. Raimi of course was intimately familiar with them, but Webb hasn’t had the experience Raimi had on films like The Evil Dead and Darkman. I would not be at all surprised if Webb went overboard with a new style, resulting in some wholly unwatchable action sequences. An early review of the script seems to agree.

Then there’s The Lizard. Now, the Lizard actually happens to be one of my favorite comic book villains of all time. I think Jekyll/Hyde transformations make for some really interesting characters in the Marvel Universe, and the Lizard is one of the best. Again, I was terribly disappointed when I learned Raimi would not be helming the fourth movie, as he would’ve really done this character justice. But once the reboot came about and all signs pointed to the Lizard’s inclusion, despite everything I held against the film, I couldn’t help but be interested in the final design of the character.

Then this came out:

Good god…seriously, how do you fuck up the look of the Lizard, of all villains? Is the image below somehow not menacing enough?

While that first image is actually just some concept art, several toy adverts and other promotional materials have shown that the final look isn’t much different. I don’t think I need to explain why the design looks like complete and utter shit, so let me just first say that I get why the design looks the way it does – it’s supposed to resemble Steve Ditko’s original design for the character in his first appearance:

Ditko is an indisputably great artist, but let’s be honest, that incarnation of the Lizard is pretty dated, barely even resembling a real lizard. The character’s appearance has come leaps and bounds since 1963, and nowadays, he resembles his namesake more than ever. It’s a horribly misguided design choice and makes the villain look far less threatening than he should.

But wait, there’s more – stick around for the conclusion, where I wrap things up and discuss the marketing so far, including the recently released clip from the film’s viral campaign.