Comic-book movies run the gamut between stupidly dismal to exhilaratingly smart, like Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” films. The “Spider-Man” franchise has fallen somewhere in between. The first three by Sam Raimi — with Tobey Maguire as the superhero and Kirsten Dunst as his girlfriend Mary Jane — began promising enough, but by the third, any charm it had faded and the stories became leaden.
The 2012 reboot, “The Amazing Spider-Man,” directed by Marc Webb, breathed some life into the tale of the nerdy high schooler Peter Parker — now played by Andrew Garfield — and how a bite from a genetically-modified spider gave him superpowers. It was still essentially the same old origin story, although Mary Jane was left out in favor of Peter’s other crush, Gwen Stacy, played winningly by Emma Stone.
Garfield and Stone, along with Webb, returned for “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” a bit more grown-up than the first, but still on the juvenile side. Gwen’s plight can be summed up in: Isn’t it somewhat irritating to be waiting for a little romantic time with your boyfriend when he’s out saving the world. That’s unfortunate because Stone lights up the screen the few times they give her a chance.
Garfield is fine as Peter/Spidey, but this Spider-Man seems in arrested development, unlike Nolan’s Batman who matured as he battled his own demons. Peter is still mostly uncomfortable leaving behind his home and aunt (Sally Field) behind and awkward when it comes to being a boyfriend.
Of course, there will always be evil for Spider-Man to stop, and the new film supplies a new set of villains, the main one being Electro/Max Dillon played by Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx. An intriguing Dane DeHaan comes on as Peter’s friend then foe, Harry Osborn/the Green Goblin.
Webb serves up a fairly entertaining blockbuster. It has all the things you would expect in a “Spider-Man” movie, lots of swinging through the city and action. (It’s available in 3-D if you have it.) The director is effective with the film’s few intimate scenes. It only disappoints if you are hoping for something more. We have already had a slew of comic-book movies that work fine as two-hour diversions but are quickly becoming indistinguishable from each other. The “Spider-Man” franchise has the potential to dig deeper into the character and encompass more complex stories, but it seems the studios and Marvel, who created the original character, fear they may lose their audience if they let him grow up too fast.
‘ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE’
“Only Lovers Left Alive,” a unhurried vampire film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, is often strangely seductive. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton play Adam and Eve, age-old night dwellers. Eve resides in Tangier, reading books in cafés. One of her companions is Christopher Marlowe (played wonderfully by a grizzled John Hurt), the playwright who regrets he never took credit for Shakespeare’s plays. Yes, he too is a vampire.
Adam, meanwhile, is in a rundown area of Detroit. He never leaves his home, surrounded by musical equipment, vintage guitars and old vinyl records. His supplies, including the blood he needs, come from a young man named Ian (Anton Yelchin). Adam is depressed by the state of what he sees is a vulgar instant-gratification world, one that no longer seems to have the time to appreciate literature, music and the visual art. (You will be able to name check some of the world’s artistic greats throughout the film, and wonder if Jarmusch is implying they were vampires.)
Eva travels back there — a suitcase of books to accompanying her — in an attempt to breathe some life back into Adam. “Only Lovers Left Alive” is far from plot heavy. It sensuously invites you to contemplate the luxury of appreciating the fine arts with striking images and sounds. Hiddleston and Swinton bring a world weariness to their performances and always leave enough spark to make their characters engaging. Adam and Eve’s true insatiable thirst is not blood but to take in the beauty of the world. When it’s over you may wonder what it was all about, but “Only Lovers Left Alive” is a true cinematic experience, something that’s rare these days.
There are quite a few DVDs of TV shows coming out, the most interesting of which is “Broadwalk Empire: Season 4.” The Jazz-age gangster series on HBO starring Steve Buscemi wavered somewhat during season three, but the drama picked up dramatically last year. That may have something to do with the fact that it was announced that Season 5, starting next month, will be the last. The writers now seem to have an end-game in mind. Whatever the reasons, “Boardwalk Empire” is back to living up to its promise.