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When I was younger, I used to go to the movies quite often, but after getting married and having kids, my movie going activities have been curtailed quite a bit. I usually make it to about two or three movies a year. Let’s face it, with movie prices at or over $10, it’s more cost effective to wait until the movie comes out on cable. However, I usually try to make it to the big blockbuster movies that must be seen on a big screen. Last year I went to see Thor, Green Lantern and Captain AmericaThor and Captain America were really good movies (B+ and A- respectively), but Green Lantern was a bit disappointing (C-).

Looking at this year’s slate of comic book/sci-fi & fantasy movies, I pegged four that I would pay to go see in the theaters: Avengers, Amazing Spider-Man, Dark Knight Rises, and The Hobbit. As of today, both Avengers and Amazing Spider-Man have been released and I have seen them both, so I will give my brief review of these two movies below (SPOILER ALERT).

The Avengers (2012):

The Avengers is the much anticipated culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe series of films. Beginning with Iron Man (2008) and continuing through The Incredible Hulk (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011), and Captain America (2011), Marvel Studios has been building up to its unprecedented ensemble super-hero movie, The Avengers. The story line that has been building up in these five previous movies is that the secret government agency SHIELD, is gearing up to create an emergency response team of Earth’s mightiest heroes to fight the battles that we cannot fight. The threat in the Avengers comes from Loki, the adopted brother of Thor. Loki has been sent by a mysterious entity to retrieve the tesseract, an ancient Asgardian artifact, which has near unlimited power and can serve as a gateway between dimensions. The tesseract is currently being held by SHIELD for investigation when Loki breaks into the SHIELD installation and steals it. At that point, Nick Fury (head of SHIELD), puts the Avengers Initiative into effect. The balance of the movie deals with how the Avengers are assembled and how they overcome their own personality conflicts and manage to work together to defeat Loki and his schemes to take over the Earth.

This movie, in my opinion, was both ambitious and unprecedented. To my knowledge, there hasn’t been a movie made that basically took five previous films of set-up to accomplish. As good as The Avengers is as a movie, one must really see the other five films to have any idea of what’s going on. With this many main characters in a movie, there is no possible way to do a proper job of introducing and setting up the characters than the way Marvel Studios accomplished it. Each of the five previous movies not only gave you the proper introduction and set up of each of the individual characters in the movie, but they also lay the groundwork for The Avengers by introducing important plot elements. By watching all of the five previous films, one isn’t wondering who Loki is or what is so important about the tesseract. Furthermore, no one, to the best of my knowledge, has ever tried to create a “cinematic universe” in which multiple characters interact within the same ‘world.’

The Avengers was every bit worth the anticipation that led up to it. It was a fabulous film with very good acting and a great job of directing by Joss Wheadon. The movie clocks in at just under 2.5 hours, and it didn’t seem long to me! As one would guess, phase two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe begins next year with Iron Man 3, followed by Thor 2 and Captain America 2, and then Avengers 2. Like all movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Avengers contained a teaser scene during the credits that sets up the stage for phase two.

My rating: (A), or 4 out of 4 stars.

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012):

Here is a movie that I wasn’t quite sure what to feel about it. The Amazing Spider-Man is a reboot of the Spider-Man franchise of movies. After some creative conflicts between director Sam Raimi and Sony Pictures, Spider-Man 4 was cancelled. However, Sony wanted to go ahead with a Spider-Man movie anyway, so they elected to reboot the franchise. Now, in my opinion, you reboot a franchise when the original is either so old or so bad that a reboot becomes necessary. For example, Batman Begins was a necessary reboot to the Batman film franchise after the last two movies of that series devolved into greater and greater silliness. However, Spider-Man (2002) was barely ten years old, and the three Spider-Man movies together are one of the most successful film franchises in movie history. Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 were both excellent movies, and Spider-Man 3, while a little over-ambitious, was still a decent movie; plus the ending to Spider-Man 3 left the relationship between Peter and Mary Jane ambiguous to say the least. All that to say, I was skeptical of The Amazing Spider-Man when it came out.

The film, as mentioned above, is a reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, so there is no continuity between this film and the other three. As such, it retells the origin story of Spider-Man, but a little differently. In this film, Peter Parker is attempting to uncover the mystery surrounding his parent’s disappearance when he was a young boy. His investigation leads to OsCorp and a scientist named Curt Connors. Connors, along with Peter’s father, was working on ways to eliminate human frailty and weaknesses by crossing human DNA with animal DNA (e.g., reptiles for their regenerative capabilities). After sneaking into OsCorp posing as an intern, Peter stumbles upon some genetically modified spiders who are being used to create high-strength cabling, when he gets bit and begins to exhibit spider-like abilities. Peter later meets up with Connors and gives him the missing link to his genetic research, the decay rate algorithm. We later find out that Peter’s parents were killed looking for that algorithm. With the new algorithm in hand, Connors begins to accelerate his experiments on human regeneration. However, when OsCorp brass realize Connors is not moving fast enough, they fire him when he refuses to advance on to human trials. Refusing to quit now, Connors secrets himself away into the city’s sewer system to continue his research and he uses himself as a human guinea pig; thus unleashing his terrible alter-ego, the Lizard. Peter, who eventually assumes the alter-ego, Spider-Man, must stop the Lizard before he unleashes the lizard serum onto the entire city.

As much as I really wanted to like this movie (because Spider-Man is my favorite comic book character), I left the theater with mixed feelings. Here’s what I liked about the movie. The pacing was good with a good balance of action and character development. There weren’t too many places where the film got bogged down. The acting was good and Marc Webb’s directing was good. For people who didn’t see the previous films, maybe this will be their favorite Spider-Man film; but I can’t imagine there are a lot of people who would want to see this film who haven’t seen the other three. For me, what I didn’t like about this movie was more structural rather than technical. In other words, I didn’t like the way they altered the Spider-Man mythos. They kept enough of the major plot elements from the Spider-Man story (socially awkward teen who gets super powers and uses them for his own benefit until his uncle’s death changes that motivation), but it just didn’t feel like the Spider-Man I grew up reading, and then eventually watching on the big screen. In the previous films, Uncle Ben’s death motivates Peter to use his powers to help society; in this film, his uncle’s death motivates Peter to become a vigilante. That disturbs me. Andrew Garfield’s interpretation of Peter Parker is a bit edgier than I would like; he doesn’t seem to have that strong moral fiber until his uncle’s death. Furthermore, they completely remove the classic line “With great power comes great responsibility” which Uncle Ben tells him that becomes Peter’s driving philosophy for the rest of his life. They butcher it into some other hackneyed phrase that if one has the ability to help someone, one has the moral obligation to help someone. The “Great power/great responsibility” line may be cliche, but to me, it’s an important part of the Spider-Man mythos. There are other things that I didn’t particularly like, such as using Gwen Stacy instead of Mary Jane Watson. Mary Jane is the most significant woman in Peter’s life (outside Aunt May) in the comic books. True, Gwen Stacy was his first true love, but it was Mary Jane who was there for the long haul. I also didn’t like completely leaving out J. Jonah Jameson and the Daily Bugle; that is an important part of Peter’s world.

All in all, the movie was pretty decent, but altered too much of the Spider-Man story line to appeal to me. I understand that it’s a reboot, but I think it’s a completely unnecessary reboot considering how good the previous three films were. I think Marvel would have been better served bringing some closure to the previous three films than in completely rebooting the series.

My rating: (C+), or 2 out of 4 stars.