The Franchise Runner: “Spider-Man 2” (2004)

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After the monster success of the first film, the idea of making a sequel was a no-brainer. Everyone was back on board for the next chapter to continue on with the story of Peter Parker and his balancing act being Spider-Man. Yet, the stakes seem higher in Spider-Man 2 with a new villain in the form of Doc Ock wrecking havoc on Manhattan and Harry Osborn growing more in anger finding the spider who “killed” his father.

Did I mention Peter also loses his powers at one point? This movie did not hold back.

Mild-mannered Peter Parker, once again played by Tobey McGuire, is trying to get through his life with a job. Of course, he is constantly getting fired, being late to class and restless due to his hero work. Parker is still fawning over Mary Jane Watson aka MJ, played by Kirsten Dunst, who has actually achieved her goal of being a model and actress.

Parker promises to make up for his lack of schoolwork by doing his report for Dr. Curt Connors’ class, played by Dylan Baker in a ‘wink and nudge’ role, on a nuclear fusion experiment by Dr. Otto Octavius, played by Alfred Molina. Through Harry Osborn, played by James Franco, Parker is able to met with Dr. Octavius in a meeting. In this meeting, Parker learns not just about the dynamic force of romance through Octavius and his wife, but of his own brilliance and laziness.

Meanwhile, Parker tries to make MJ’s performances in The Importance of Being Ernest. MJ does not accept Peter’s shortcomings and moves on to J. Jonah Jameson’s kid John Jameson, played by Daniel Gillies. By moving on, MJ means the two are engaged to be married.

Parker witnesses Octavius perform his experiment with ease and four tentacle-like mechanisms attached to his brain to harness a solar nuclear fusion ball. The ball becomes unbalanced to cause destruction, kill Octavius’ wife and make the tentacles become one with him. Parker rapidly changes to Spidey mode to face off Doc Ock and save the day…somewhat. Doc Ock escapes and proceeds to start a life of crime to build a replication of his equipment and his dream project.

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Spider-Man No More: Peter Parker gives up the suit

As Parker goes about his routine, his mind starts to be drowned in over thinking that it clouds the strength of his powers. Parker sees this as a sign to give up the game as a hero and go about a life of normalcy. Parker sees Aunt May, played by Rosemary Harris, and blames the death of Uncle Ben on himself. Aunt May forgive Parker and gives Peter the strength to become Spider-Man.

Meanwhile, Doc Ock is ready to make a deal with Osborn in order to acquire Tritium. The deal includes getting the item, but in return giving him the life of Spider-Man. This builds into a fight on a train against Spider-Man and Doc Ock in which, despite giving his best effort, Parker does get his ass laid out to be delivered to Osborn. Osborn is ready for the kill and takes off the mask to see Parker’s face. Osborn is stunned even though Parker ensures him that he did not kill his father. Osborn gives up the location of Octavius after Parker convinces him that Doc Ock is going to cause more harm than good.

Parker heads over to Octavius’ location where he has taken a hold of MJ hostage. Parker tries to reason with Octavius in a bitter fight and shows him who really is behind the mask. This allows Octavius to give up on his vision and drown into the Hudson River with it. Parker and MJ escape as Doc Ock drowns. MJ knows that Parker is Spider-Man and ditches John at the alter to run toward him the next day. MJ tells Parker to “Go get ’em, tiger” and Parker swings in the skies.

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Tigeress Stare: Mary Jane sees Spider-Man take off and go.

Spider-Man 2 stills holds up as a top notch superhero film with amazing performances, spectacular action and superior storytelling.

Molina as Doc Ock impresses with a heart of gold and intelligence in his performance. He is a man obsessed with his own dream unrealized and it shows in the weight of his role. Mcguire becomes a stronger performer under the mask and really hones in being Spider-Man. He shows his strength in being both the hero and the everyman. Everyone else is just a notch above their original performances.

The action ups the original by giving a bigger and broader spectrum. The train scene alone combines martial arts, wire fu and pure action in a set piece that rivals others. Another highlight is the fight on the side of a building with Raimi showing the audience the scale of the battle by following the action as it goes up and down the building.

The story is excellent with Parker struggling tobw grrater than what he is and dealing with the possibility of failure and hatred by others. It gives the film humanity and grounds it in reality, despite the “powers gone” part not really making a whole lot of sense.

Spider-Man 2 is a grand sequel and, arguably, the best film of the trilogy. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the next film in the trilogy.

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The Franchise Runner: “Spider-Man” (2002)

Welcome to The Franchise Runner. This written series focuses on those movie franchises that have taken over our hearts and our hard earned dollars. They’ve exploited their popularity, their characters and their premise to go beyond the constraints of one story. As with anything else, this can either be a great epic series like The Lord of the Rings Trilogy or drawn out to cash in on fan’s loyalty like The Twilight Saga.

Every franchise (hopefully) will get a look at their rise, fall and eventual rise as time goes on film by film. With bigger franchises with too many films or specific stories such as Star Wars, Batman or Marvel, those will be broken up into sections as to not be exhaustive. Also, James Bond is out of the question as that was covered back in 2012 in the 007 in 23 series (though Spectre was covered in a one-off recently).

Without further ado, let’s begin our run with some web slinging thrown in for good measure.

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Spider-Man was a dream come true for many a kid when it released in 2002. I remember specifically waiting in line for over an hour just to get inside to see it opening weekend.

Spider-Man himself had been a long wait before coming to the big screen. At one point, James Cameron, the master behind The Terminator and Titanic, was attached to it and went as far to write a script treatment for it. Cameron’s vision was more adult-oriented than the vision cooked up by Sam Raimi. Raimi is well known for The Evil Dead franchise and for diving into different genres with the greatest of ease. Him being attached to Spider-Man never sounded too far-fetched. The main casting, however, seems to be a bit questionable just reading it on paper.

Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson seems like a no brainer as she can rock the “Girl Next Door” look with the best of them. Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin can be a powerful and cheese worthy perfromance. Tobey McGuire as Peter Parker  is a bit of a stretch. He’s good and all, but to take on the awkwardness of Pete and the responsibilities of Spider-Man seems to be outside of what he can due. He’s more subdued than anything. Luckily, that was proven wrong in this first outing of the our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

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Spider-Man (Tobey McGuire) decides to test his web shots

Spider-Man starts with Peter Parker doing his typical nerd duties, living in Queens, New York, with his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) and Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) and eyeing Mary Jane Watson from a distance. One day while on a field trip to a science lab to take pictures for the paper, he is bit by a genetically mutated spider, a departure from the old radioactive spider in the comics.

Peter reacts oddly to it all causing Harry Osborn (James Franco) some concern. He heads home only to pass out and wake up in the morning toned and ready to be the man he always wanted to be. Him and Uncle Ben talk later on about him not being as responsible and him having to accept that he has the power to balance it out. He decides to use his new powers to get money for a new car by wrestling in a match at a indie show. He goes up against Bonesaw (“Macho Man” Randy Savage) and is given the name Spider-Man from one of three Bruce Campbell cameos in this trilogy. Unfortunately, Uncle Ben is killed by a random mugger making Peter take this hero business seriously while also trying to make ends meet at the Daily Bugle under the rule of J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons).

Meanwhile, Norman Osborn is testing out a new serum for the government to help the military succeed with more power and a glider for some reason. Anyway, he decides to test it himself one night to prove that the serum is completely safe. It isn’t, killing a scientist and going on a rampage that borders between split personality and Willem Dafoe just being Willem Dafoe. Thus, the Green Goblin is born and the two must duke it out in order to make sure the Green Goblin causes no more harm to Peter, his family and friends and even New York.

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Spider-Man (Tobey McGuire) and Mary Jane Watson kiss in the rain

The first film of Spidey’s adventures is an odd one to say the least. It is not that it is a bad film, but it is incredibly dated. Spider-Man hits the right notes of a superhero movie and no one comes off as bored during it.

McGuire is a perfect fit for Peter Parker by capturing the human side of the titular hero, but the Spider-Man part needs a bit of work. Wonder if the sequel will change those view. Dunst is perky and fun as Mary Jane, even if she serves more as a plot device than an actual character. Dafoe as Norman Osborn is golden. He chews the scenery with ease and feels like a genuine threat. Other supporting ruols are great with Robertson as a warm and kindhearted uncle, but the best of all is J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah. The man oozes charisma and makes every scene his own.

The direction is solid with Raimi’s quick edits and close-ups capturing the comic book world like he has been practicing for this moment his whole life. Raimi makes shots look grander than they are. The action is fast-paced, energetic and fun to keep the audience’s attention going. The story is paced well and never has a dull moment of bore. Raimi does have a few minor missteps, but that’s mostly on the effects side of things.

The effects are god awful. They do not hold up at all and that’s not a good thing. In the same year where The Two Towers came out, this film has effects that are laughable even by today’s standards. The entire Times Square sequence proves it as it seems like amateur hour at Industrial Light & Magic with interns. Heck, this scene even proves how dated it is out in the open with a Macy Gray performance that honestly goes nowhere. Yet, this is a minor fault in a otherwise good film.

Overall, Spider-Man is a good comic book movie and a fun starting point in a trilogy that would only get better in the next entry: Spider-Man 2 (2004).

This Thursday
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The Franchise Runner- Back to the Future (1985)

Welcome to The Franchise Runner. This written series focuses on those movie franchises that have taken over our hearts and our hard earned dollars. They’ve exploited their popularity, their characters and their premise to go beyond the constraints of one story. As with anything else, this can either be a great epic series like The Lord of the Rings Trilogy or drawn out to cash in on fan’s loyalty like The Twilight Saga.

Every franchise (hopefully) will get a look at their rise, fall and eventual rise as time goes on film by film. With bigger franchises with too many films or specific stories such as Star Wars, Batman or Marvel, those will be broken up into sections as to not be exhaustive. Also, James Bond is out of the question as that was covered back in 2012 in the 007 in 23 series (though Spectre was covered in a one-off recently).

Without further ado, let’s get to running by running through time.

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In 1985, director Robert Zemeckis and writer Bob Gale, with the power of Steven Spielberg’ s production company Amblin Entertainment, gave the 80’s a new twist on time travel with the hip and youthful Back to the Future. It spawned what is arguably considered the greatest trilogy  created with its brilliant setup, unique world and balancing humor & science fiction into a nice cohesive blend. However, before this series can set the world on fire, it had to deal with the world of Hollywood before making it to the silver screen.

PART ONE: PAGE TO SCREEN

Zemeckis and Gale had been shopping around the script from studio to studio, only to be rejected at practically at every turn. Disney and Columbia, in particular, were having none of the “my mom’s gots the hots for me” aspect and were promptly turned down. Other studios thought the concept of the time machine being a refrigerator was a little far fetched as kids would try to imitate it. As Zemeckis and gale shopped around, Spielberg got a hole of the script. Speilberg, working with Universal at this time, called them up. The president read the script and was intrigued. Unfortunately, he felt the film should be titled Spaceman from Pluto as he felt any film with the word future in the title wouldn’t grab the audience of the 80’s.

After much convincing, Zemeckis and Gale got their wish and their project was launched into production at Universal. During the beginning, they had the cast set with Christopher Lloyd as Dr. Emmet Brown (aka Doc Brown), Lea Thompson as Lorraine McFly, Crispin Glover as George McFly, Thomas F. Wilson as Biff Tannen and Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly. “Wait, what?” you ask yourself after reading that. Yes, Eric Stolz is the original Marty, but according to Zemeckis, while a good actor, he didn’t connect well with the others in the world they were creating. This lead Zemeckis and Gale to find a new lead that could capture the character they way they wanted it. Enter Michael J. Fox.

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Fox was becoming popular on television with the sitcom Family Ties giving him exposure. Fox was on the cover of Tiger Beat as the poster boy for the teens eye (suck it, Jake Ryan). The schedule for shooting Back to the Future along with working on Family Ties would proceed to begin a hectic work life for Fox as he would work on the shot during the day and the film at night. This lead to exhaustion and having a meltdown on the set of Family Ties looking for Doc. Replacing Stolz was a hell of a risk and they took it as it delayed production a tad. To add to this, production was already getting tight as they had to release it by July of 1985.

When it came time to test the film, the effects were not complete and Zemeckis, Gale and Spielberg were in panic mode. The test screening results came back in. The audience was in love. The taxing days of shooting, unfinished effects and a major shakeup in casting paid off. The film opened a few months later and became a hit. Teens loved the idea of someone their age on screen. Adults enjoyed the nostalgic trip back to their childhood. Universal had a hit to capitalize on.

The film itself is the very essence of a pop culture phenomenon in the best ways. Back to the Future takes a hold of the time-travel subgenre and becomes something in its own right.

PART TWO: THE FINISHED FILM

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The film itself is something quite unique. Set in 1985, the same year as release, Marty McFly (Fox) is a young slacker in high school with a boring life and  beautiful girlfriend. He wants more out of life while wishing everything was not drab. He works alongside the scientist Doc Brown (Lloyd), which Doc gave him the gig as a means to stay out of trouble. One night before Marty was scheduled to go camping with his girlfriend, Doc calls Marty to see a new experiment.

During the experiment demonstration, Marty becomes shocked that the Doc built a time machine…out of a Delorean. Both are ecstatic as it could bring about traveling through various points of history until terrorists killed Doc. Doc had screwed them out of high grade plutonium for the machine to work by replacing the plutonium case with bombshells filled with pinball machine parts. Marty flees in horror and begins to gets away, but fails to remember time travel is possible at 88 MPH in this machine. Marty is blasted into the past to November 5th, 1955.

From here, Marty meets young Lorraine and George under his pseudonym name of Calvin Klein while coming face to face with a young and pompous Biff. This begins to complicate the future of Marty as Lorraine starts to fall for her future son as Marty will fade from history. There is also the matter of having to find a way to go back to 1985 with the help of a younger and slightly paranoid Doc. Marty must make George and Lorraine become one before going back to the future.

Without spoiling anything (which, considering the film being discussed, is a bit odd), the film is a absolute master class in how to get a science fiction comedy done right. It’s a marvel of brilliant young performances and spectacular effects. Glover and Thompson are believable as the naive and awkward selves of the past with Wilson being a delightful villain that is beyond the point of being off the deep end. Fox and Lloyd have a unique father and son chemistry that is admirable and stands the test of time. These two are the best when together as they would crumble without one another. Fox’s performance is especially a delight as he is a teen just wanting to understand his parents. He gets the ultimate experience of being back with them. He grows from his experience to become a greater son. He becomes more understanding while maintaining his slacker personality. Lloyd seems to warm up to Marty and realizes he isn’t a complete idiot, but a kid with untapped potential.

The story, simplistic on the surface, is a actually complex when tying it with the later films. On its own, it’s a great piece of fiction with a kid determined to head back home, but must save his future. It’s a combination of the race against time with the fight for the future concept. It works brilliantly. The humor is also subtle as it is the classic trope of the time traveler not knowing what world they are in. It’s not over the top or obnoxious, but simple and light hearted. The direction by Zemeckis is top notch with terrific shots during the action scenes and in the climaxes. Both the high school dance and clock tower are insanely good. There’s a rhythm of tension, suspense and concern. The light-hearted comedy just became a thriller and the audience cannot hold on any longer. It’s a sight to behold.

The film is certainly one of the greatest films ever made and arguably the greatest film of the 80’s. It ranks in my personal top five favorites of all time, earning a lucrative ten out of ten. Back to the Future is nothing short of a science fiction classic.

Back to the Future 10/10

The series just got started as audiences began to wonder what happened to Doc and Marty. What would become of their friendship and of the infamous flying car ending? When The Franchise Runner returns, we travel to this year in Back to the Future Part II to see what happens to the beloved duo. This Wednesday here at TheNewSergBeret.com