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Rating History

Ghost Rider
Ghost Rider (2007)
2 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

One of Marvel's second tier propeties, Ghost Rider was released to decent success, despite all the negative reviews. So, where do my opinion fit in this equation? Well, somewhat in the middle.

In a great prologue, we are told of the Ghost Riders, bounty hunters for the Devil. In the old west, one of them is sent to retrieve a contract for the devil, possesing the souls of thousands of corrupt people of the town of San Venganza. The Ghost Rider gets the contract, and then does something no other Ghost Rider has done before - he disobeys a direct order from the Devil and refuses to give the contract to him, before going into hidding. Flashforward to the near present day, and a stunt driver by the name of Johnny Blaze is contacted by the Devil. His father, also a stunt driver by the name of Barton Blaze is dying from cancer, so the Devil offers him a deal - he'll cure his father of his cancer in exchange for Johnny's soul. Johnny agrees, thinking it's a prank, only to discover the next day that his father is completely healthy. However, dealing with the Devil can be tricky, and Barton dies in a freak accident. The Devil appears afterwards telling Johnny that he'll come for him when he needs him, and then dissapears. Feeling confused, Johnny runs away, leaving his girlfriend, Roxanne Simpson, behind. Flashforward a few years later, and Johnny is still a stunt driver preforming dangerous stunts - so dangerous that his friends wonder how he's still alive. Meanwhile, Johnny hasn't really recovered by the events of his father's death, and isn't even sure why he does these stunts. Soon, however, the son of the Devil, Blackheart, arrives, and with his henchmen plans on find the contract that he will use against his father. Aware of this, the devil finally contacts Johnny, and transforms him into the Ghost Rider.

My expectations were pretty low when I first saw this film, given all the hate it recieved. However, I enjoyed it more than I expected. It certainly didn't bore the hell out of me like say Fantastic Four. Having the Devil show up early on in the film give a sense of dread afterwards, as you waited for him to show up again, while afterwards the film managed to balance the action and the drama well enough, even if neither aspect was anything to write home about.

On the other hand, the best word I can use to describe this film would be forgettable, which is something one shouldn't say to a film that has a skeleton with a flaming skull. It hasn't really been that long since I last saw it, certainly not as long as it has been since I've seen Batman Begins, and yet when writing the plot, I hit a number of spots where I had to check the plot snyposis on wikipedia because I couldn't remember what happened at that point. The reason for that is simple - this is your typical run on the mil superhero movie, with far too many elements having been used many times before, in much better movies.

Another problem with the film is the tone. When you think of a movie staring Nick Cage as a guy with a cheesy CGI flaming skull who punishes people by looking having them look into his eyes and see all the terrible things they've done, you'd think this would be the sort of over the top action film that Blade was, and yet while at times it is, for a lot of the time the mood is dead serious. It just feels like the filmakers weren't sure which tone to pick, and trying to use both of them, which sadly doesn't work.

They must have told Nic Cage that they were going for a serious no-nonsense tone, because he's pretty self contained in this film. There's not much to say about Eva Mendes, given how forgettable her character, Roxanne, is (Guess what's her profession? A reporter! Never would have of expected that in a superhero movie!) However, I did like some of the supporting players, particularly Peter Fonda as the Devil, Mephisto, and Sam Elliot who plays the mentor part well as Carter Slade, not to mention also offers a great narration to the film.

On a side note, it's a sign of just how mixed my reception to the film was, given how my favourite scene in the entire film is (minor spoilers) when Johhny Blaze and Carter Slade, both in Ghost Rider form, ride off to face Blackheart. It's a cool scene, and yet when they reach the location, Carter Slade simply rides away, leaving Johnny on his own. Why did he even come with Johnny then, if he wasn't going to help?

Ghost Rider is currently set for a reboot next year. Hopefully, the Crank directors can offer a wilder and more exciting film than this one, which is a somwhat entertaining, yet in the end far too forgettable and uneven entry in the superhero genre.

300
300 (2007)
2 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

300 is the kind of film where critics seemed to be at a disagreement with most people. It currently holds a 59% score on Rotten Tomatoes. On the other hand, it holds a 90% score by Rotten Tomatoes users, which is more than what a lot of classics scored, while on IMDB it has a rating of 7.8. At the box office, meanwhile, it was a massive success, grossing over 200 mil domestically, making it the highest grossing historical epic unadjusted for inflation, while it was an even bigger hit on the home market. So what's the reason between the huge difference in reception between critics and audiences?

Like director Zack Snyder's Watchmen, it's going to be a little hard writing a brief plot synopsis, but while with Watchmen it was because the plot was too complex to fit into one paragraph, here it's because there's so little plot so to speak of. Basically, an army of one million Persians has arrived on the shores of Greece, causing the King of Sparta to take 300 big muscular men to go fight them, despite the protests of the High Council, who are secretly being paid by the Persians to claim that this is a time of holiness where the Spartans shouldn't fight (King Leonidas simply claims that he and his men are just going for a stroll) That's basically the whole plot of the movie. Okay, there's also a subplot involving the king's wife, Gorgo, trying to persuade the Council to send help, but that part has very little impact on the story. Heck, they could have removed all the council stuff, and just shown the part with Dilios at the end giving his inspiring speech and that would have been enough to convince us that the council agreed to send help afterwards.

It's easy to see why critics weren't as enthusiastic about the film as audiences. Calling it style over substance is an understatement. Most of the runtime is spent on the greatly outnumbered Spartans battling all the Persians with the help of an awesome soundtrack and a lot of slow motion. The film doesn't earn its R-rating lightly, with blood and limbs flying everywhere, enough to please most guys, while having 300 muscular men dressed like wrestlers with capes also makes it perfect eye candy for ladies. In short, it's a definite crowd pleaser, and it succeeds very well in that regard.

However, even ignoring plot and character development, there are a couple of problems I found with the film. The battles are greatly staged with excellent choreography, but they're also lacking in tension. I always feel that the best wars are those which you don't want to happen, because of the amount of dread and hopelessness leading up to it. The battle of Minas Tirith in Return of the King is a great example of that. The tension you feel as you watch the massive armies near Minas Tirith is incredible, and then when the war actually starts it feels almost hopeless because no matter how much the warriors of Gondor try, the armies keep getting closer and closer to the walls. I was practically on the edge of my seat the whole time.

Unfortunately, no such thing occurred with 300. You'd think that 300 soldiers up against an army of a million would be incredibly tense, yet therein lies the problem. The numbers are so mismatched that in order for the Spartans to have any effect on the Persians, each one of them has to kill hundreds. This means that most of the battles are basically the Spartans moving through the Persians and killing them as easily as if they were punching bags. Very, very few of them die in these battles. Heck, we don't even see them get injured (Dilios is shown after one fight scene with a bloody eye, yet we don't actually see that occurring, while the same thing can be applied to all the scratches we see on King Leonidas' helmet, though the rest of his body stays unscathed. I guess the Persians always aimed their blows at his metal helmet, not his unprotected skin)

The Spartans, meanwhile, feel no dread or hopelessness during these battles. They're incredibly confident, shouting battle cries at the top of their voices, and competing to see who can kill the most Persians. It's the Persians who feel frustration and fear, as they try one different tactic after another, from giants, to rhinos, to sorcery, most of which causes a lot of damage to them while doing nothing to the Spartans (whenever an elephant or rhino comes, it has to be shown knocking or trampling Persians, while it ends up getting killed before even reaching the Spartans) Basically, the battles are about as tense as a Tom and Jerry cartoon.

Another problem I found with the film was the lack of sympathy. The Persians are shown to be very cruel, with the leaders and captains yelling and whipping at the rest to move forward, while all of them worship their king, Xerxes, who is carried on a massive throne that needs dozens of slaves to support it, while every time he feels frustrated he executes those who disappoint him. However, while the Spartans have more freedom, they still aren't that much better. There is a scene where the Spartans all stare up in shock at a tree that the Persians have made using the corpses of villagers they slaughtered. Apparently though the Spartans think nothing of throwing their weaker babies off cliffs and putting their kids through brutal training, while in a scene that is almost ironic, they are later shown to be using the corpses of Persians to build a wall, acting as casual as if they were using rocks. Remind me again whom I'm supposed to be sympathizing with.

Moving onto the acting, well it's not like any of the roles here are particularly challenging. However, I will say that Gerard Butler is great as King Leonidas, giving his character a real sense of authority and power (not to mention he gets to yell the best line in the movie "This is Sparta!") Also impressive is David Wenham as Dilios, whose narration of the events is a nice touch. The visual style, meanwhile, is amazing. Since most of the film is done in front of blue screen, it allows Snyder to put his visual creativity to full use.

As pure popcorn fun, 300 is pretty entertaining, featuring numerous battle sequences that are well staged even if they're too one-sided, all in tune to a great soundtrack. If you're looking for a film with a great plot and characters then I'd suggest looking elsewhere. However, if you're looking for some mindless fun, then 300 might just do the trick, despite a number of flaws.

The Amazing Spider-Man
2 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

When The Amazing Spiderman was first announced, the reaction from most people was along the lines of "it's too soon for a reboot!" Well, in my opinion it's never too soon for a good Spiderman film, and that's what Amazing Spiderman is, even if it doesn't live up to the amazing part.

The film starts with a flashback when Peter was a young boy. He walks into his dad's office to find out that someone raided it. Upon finding out, his parents immediately take him to Uncle Ben and Aunt May, and then leave. Fast forward to the present and Peter is a nerdy high school kid who hasn't heard from his parents since then. While cleaning up the basement one day, however, he finds his dad's old suitcase, and in it is a picture of his dad with another scientist. His aunt and uncle are hesitant at first to reveal who that scientist is, but in the end his uncle informs him that that's Doctor Curt Connors. Eager to find out about his parents, Peter heads to the building where Doctor Connors works and while there gets bitten by a genetically engineered spider. Before long he starts showing some very strange side effects. Meanwhile, his relationship with Uncle Ben starts to get strained due to all the time Peter spends with Dr. Connors, who is trying to find a way to make human bodies perform self healing and thinks he may have found the solution in an equation Peter gave him. Things aren't helped by the arrogant attitude Peter gets thanks to all his newfound powers. However, when a heated argument between him and his uncle ultimately leads to a terrible tragedy, Peter learns that with great power comes great responsibility, and turns into the masked vigilante known as Spiderman.

On the night before going to see The Amazing Spiderman, I decided to watch the original Spiderman to see how the two would compare. A lot of people complain that the original hasn't aged well, but I disagree. Yeah, some of the CGI looks outdated and The Green Goblin Costume is terrible, but other than that it's still a solid film, one that I like even more with each new viewing. That's why when I walked in to see The Amazing Spiderman I thought for sure I would get a feeling of déjà vu.

That didn't happen. Yeah, the film touches on a few similar plot points of the original, but other than that it's a completely different film, and even those similar plot points are handed differently enough not to feel like a rehash of the first.

So how does it compare quality wise to the original? Well, Peter Parker discovering his newfound powers doesn't quite have the same magic that the original had, but then again it doesn't even try to. Also - minor spoilers in the next couple of paragraphs for those unfamiliar with the Spiderman origin - I thought Uncle Ben's death was handled better in the original.

Other than that though, everything else in Amazing Spiderman is just as good, if not better, than the original. I've heard some complaints that the first third of the movie is boring, yet I disagree strongly. I found myself hooked on the film from the very first scene. The film does a great job of balancing out several different plot threads and keeping them connected (the mystery surrounding Peter's parents, Peter learning how to use his powers, his strained relationship with his uncle and later his aunt, his romance with Gwen Stacy, Uncle Ben's killer, and Dr. Connors' transformation). Granted, it doesn't resolve all of them, but that actually helps set it apart from the original, as it makes it feel like part of a bigger story, whereas in the original trilogy, each new film was more of a standalone pic.

The performances really help the film. I thought Tobey Maguire did a great job as Peter Parker; however, his performance as Spiderman was kind of weak. Here not only does Andrew Garfield nail Spiderman, giving him all the quips and one liners we expect from Spidey, but he does Peter just as well, managing to give his own take on the character, both keeping the essence of what makes Peter one of the most popular alter egos of a superhero, while also making him different enough to stand out from Maguire's take on the character, who played him as your lovable, awkward nerd. Garfield keeps the awkward bit, yet he also makes him an outcast, someone more conflicted due to his parents leaving him when he was still a kid (one of the most heartfelt scenes in the film is when Uncle Ben tells Peter to be more like his dad, Peter angrily asks where his father is).

Martin Sheen also gives a strong performance as Uncle Ben, keeping the warmth Cliff Robertson brought to the character, while also giving him a more colder edge as well. Sally Field gives a different performance than Rosemary Harris as Aunt May, yet again one that works just as well. Whereas Harris's Aunt May was very trusting of Peter despite him obviously keeping stuff from her, Fields' Aunt May is more concerned over Peter and his continuous disappearances, as well as upset that he's not telling her the truth (spoilers - the scene at the end where Peter finally gets the eggs for her is both funny and touching).

Another good performance is Dennis Leary as Chief Stacy, who in this more version is much more hateful towards Spiderman, while the relation between Peter and Captain Stacy is one of the highlights of the film. Also, while I was very disappointed that Dylan Baker never got the chance to play the Lizard, yet Rhys Ifans is a suitable replacement, while the Lizard is arguably the second best villain in the franchise behind only Doctor Octopus with his tragic storyline (spoilers - though admittedly his grand scheme is kind of predictable. I mean as soon as that device that good shoot particle in the air was mentioned, you could tell it would play a major part in the climax).

The really standout, however, is Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, who gives the best performance of a love interest in a superhero film since....oh, I don't know....maybe Michelle Pffier in Batman Returns (who had the advantage of playing a superhero as well). She makes Gwen smart, sympathetic and more than able to take care of herself, while the chemistry between her and Garfield is particularly strong.

The film is also one of the funniest superhero movies I've seen. As said before, Garfield gives off numerous one liners when he's behind the mask, while there's several hilarious scenes in the movie (the funniest being a scene involving a great cameo appearance by Stan Lee).

I must admit I wasn't really expecting much action-wise from the film, given that this was Marc Webb's first big budget action film, and yet I was pleasantly surprised. The action scene at the end is incredible. It's worth the extra price of 3-d alone (the scenes with Spiderman swinging through the buildings are some of the best uses of 3-d I can recall). Meanwhile, the special effects are just as good ,with the CGI used on the Lizard being particularly impressive.

The score is also another strong point of the film. James Horner gets a lot of heat for reusing the scores of his films, and while it's true that you can detect notes in the score that are very familiar to those used in other movies scored by him, it's still pretty fantastic.

Fans seem to be split right down the middle regarding the reboot. They seem to be decided into two camps - one that didn't like Raimi's trilogy and found the new film to be the Spiderman film they've been waiting for, while the other is still mad at Sony for rebooting the original film and is practically begging for Raimi to return. In my opinion, I can't understand the need to choose one version at the expense of the other. I loved the original trilogy (I even have a higher opinion of the third film than most), and yet I loved the reboot as well. True, it'll probably end up being the weakest superhero movie of the summer (unless The Dark Knight Rises disappoints), but that says more about the strength of superhero films this summer, as in my opinion this is still one of the best Marvel adaptations, and arguably the second best Spiderman film behind only Spiderman 2, full of heart, humor, action, and strong performances with an ending that feels both satisfying and at the same time leaves you breathless for a sequel.