Two years after “The Avengers” made over $600 million dollars, audiences are starting to feel the repercussions. As every studio in Hollywood scrambles to replicate Marvel’s success, superhero films can no longer tell their own stories. The films must set up sequels and spin-off franchises. But, while Marvel’s weakest film, “Iron Man 2,” devoted a small chunk of its runtime to setting up future installments, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” devotes a small chunk of its runtime to telling a coherent story. Everyone involved with this film is capable of doing better work, but they’re hamstrung by a palpable, franchise-minded cynicism.
Now that the origin story is out of the way, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” finds Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) reconnecting with childhood pal Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), who has just inherited Oscorp, the shadowy corporation that may have killed Peter’s father. Meanwhile, Peter’s alter-ego, Spider-Man, must contend with a menagerie of new villains and keep love interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) out of the line of fire.
Before listing the many things this film does wrong, it’s essential to mention the things it gets right. Sony basically wrote director Marc Webb a blank check for this film, and he does a great job capturing the exhilaration of being Spider-Man, showing the web-slinging hero swinging through New York City with seamless, fluid visual effects. The film’s strongest element is the crackling chemistry between the real-life couple of Garfield and Stone, but even that is bogged down by the script by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci.
“The Amazing Spider-Man 2”’s biggest problem is that the script, which has nothing resembling a central arc. Garfield makes for a great Peter Parker, affable and snarky, but the film saddles him with a dull investigation into his past that bogs the film down and fundamentally alters the nature of Peter’s character for no particular reason. The film is full of useless plot digressions like this, and there’s no driving force to the narrative, which propels its overflowing cast into confrontations with the grace and subtlety of a 6-year-old banging action figures together.
Among the sprawling supporting cast, Paul Giamatti is totally wasted as a disposable baddie in a handful of scenes. Sally Field does her best with mere minutes of screen time, coming out of nowhere to score the film’s strongest emotional beat with a simple, perfectly delivered monologue. DeHaan is impressive in the rare moments when the film allows him to cut loose and be a villain, but he struggles to make an impression when the script demands he play dour and angsty.
Jamie Foxx, on the other hand, is far more heavily featured and all the more unlucky for it. Foxx has never been more miscast than as Max Dillon, a meek Oscorp employee overwhelmed with excitement after being saved by Spider-Man. Foxx has played meek well before, but here he never moves beyond an impression of Stephen Root’s character in “Office Space.” After a workplace accident turns him into supervillain Electro, Foxx takes on a jellyfish-esque CGI varnish, and it’s tough for his performance to register when he looks like the side of a kiddie pool. All in all, Foxx’s character is utterly inconsequential to the film’s plot, but without him, the number of showy action scenes would be sliced in half.
The film’s soundtrack shamelessly panders, adding wholly inappropriate, but popular, songs from Kid Cudi or Phillip Phillips over scenes of Peter investigating his parents’ deaths or doing science experiments. But the single most embarrassing moment in the entire film — or maybe in film history — is the climactic battle in which Electro uses his powers to compose a dubstep version of “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” while he dodges Spider-Man’s attacks.
This film shouldn’t be avoided because it’s bad, but because it’s nothing more than a product – glossy and inoffensively engaging. In its desperation to be Marvel, Sony forgot to engage its audience, reducing the “Spider-Man” franchise to a, soulless trailer for films to come. The solution is simple: Don’t go see this movie.
(Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)
Back when Sony announced “The Amazing Spider-Man” as a reboot of the franchise after director Sam Raimi and star Tobey Maguire bailed on a potential fourth installment, they might have been a little off. After all, a reboot implies a reinvention, and while “The Amazing Spider-Man” makes a few small tweaks to its hero’s origins, it’s really a remake of “Spider-Man,” a mere 10 years after that film hit theaters.
If you saw the 2002 original, or have any familiarity with Spider-Man’s history, you know most of the story already. The smart yet awkward Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is bitten by a radioactive spider, one that gives him the ability to climb walls and impossibly fast reflexes. He learns the consequences of his powers after his Uncle Ben’s (Martin Sheen) death, and dedicates his life to fighting crime. “The Amazing Spider-Man” mixes in a few new elements, namely Peter’s interest in the circumstances that resulted in his living with his aunt and uncle. This ultimately leads him to Dr. Curtis Connors (Rhys Ifans), whose obsession with growing back a missing arm leads to his becoming the Lizard, a scaly, near-immortal beast.
In their reinvention of the franchise, Sony went with “(500) Days of Summer” director Marc Webb. This could have been a total disaster, throwing a rookie director into very deep water, but Webb rises to the challenge admirably. His strongest scenes are still the bumbling, sweet moments when Peter and his crush Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) get to flirt with one another. However, Webb also delivers an exciting, satisfying spectacle of a finale, and his use of the film’s Manhattan setting, particularly as Peter is first learning about his powers, is a franchise best. Webb also made some truly inspired casting choices, ranging from Martin Sheen’s warm take on Uncle Ben to Denis Leary, whose role lacks his trademark bite but still manages to play out an interesting, vital character arc.
Garfield was an interesting choice for Peter Parker, cast long before Garfield started amassing Oscar buzz for his performance in “The Social Network,” and he nails the character’s trademark awkward charisma. His take on Spider-Man is much more humorous than Maguire’s, and much more fun to watch. Garfield plays Parker as much smarter than the original films gave him credit for as well, something that comes across in small details like Garfield’s boyish face in his father’s oversized glasses, or in the big ones like the web shooters Parker builds for himself.
Casting Stone was another bold move, especially when they asked her to play Gwen Stacy instead of Mary Jane Watson, Peter’s love interest from the first three films. However, so early in the story, the characters are more or less interchangeable, and the gracelessly charming way Peter relates to his love interests is more or less the same with both characters.
A major problem with “The Amazing Spider-Man” is, frankly, that there’s no reason it couldn’t just be “Spider-Man 4.” The James Bond films get away with recasting their hero without much confusion, so why can’t superhero films adapt to the same standard? The Raimi films had also spent time setting up Dylan Baker’s Curtis Connors, who Raimi planned to transform into the Lizard this time around, and it’s a shame that we didn’t get to see Baker’s take on the villain. While Ifans is perfectly fine in the role, it seems to demand a subtle creepiness that Baker could have delivered.
More importantly, “The Amazing Spider-Man” spends half its runtime telling the exact same story that “Spider-Man” told just 10 years ago. Audiences may have short memories, but it’s still a waste of time to tell Spider-Man’s origin story if you’re just going to wheel out the exact same narrative with a few cosmetic tweaks to it. “The Amazing Spider-Man” may not be telling a particularly new or original story, but thankfully, Webb still keeps it exciting, coaxes strong performances out of each of his actors, and crafts a familiar but entertaining superhero film that will surely keep you sated until “The Dark Knight Rises” hits later this month.
(Photo courtesy of Sony)
Though it used to be a niche market, mobile gaming is now mainstream. Mobile gaming has been traditionally defined by Nintendo’s Game Boy and Sony’s PlayStation Portable (PSP), but the gaming landscape has radically changed within the last few years because of the rise of smartphones. Cheap, fun games on smartphones, such as Angry Birds, have attracted a new demographic of people that traditionally wouldn’t consider themselves gamers. Consumers who traditionally bought dedicated mobile gaming consoles have begun switching to smartphones for their gaming experience. To combat this new threat, Sony has released the PlayStation Vita, a powerhouse handheld gaming console. Though the PS Vita is one of the best new portable gaming consoles on the market, the high price for both the device and games limits its potential.
For those who often play games on their smartphones, the PS Vita’s physical size may be daunting. Not only does it have a 5-inch touchscreen, but it also has 12 physical buttons. The device also has a rear touchpad, a motion sensor, two analog sticks, an electronic compass and front and back facing cameras.
The result of these buttons and input options provides unique gameplay that hasn’t been done before. “Uncharted: Golden Abyss,” one of the PS Vita games available at launch, looks amazingly detailed on the screen and physical controls makes it a much more enjoyable experience. Having tactical feedback every time you push a button is rewarding, as it allows you to be much more accurate.
However, because of the physical buttons and huge screen, the PS Vita is pretty thick (.73 in) and wide (3.289 in x 7.2 in). This is a device you’ll find hard to carry in your pocket.
In order to make the PS Vita more of a multifunction device, Sony has also included some other features, such as a music player, video player, camera, Web browser and app store. The camera doesn’t produce shots that would win any awards, but it works in a pinch. The Web browser works decently but does not have flash support and lags when loading image-heavy websites. The app store has all of the major apps, such as Facebook, Netflix and Twitter, though it is dwarfed by the app availability on smartphones.
The PS Vita isn’t perfect; the biggest negative the device has is its battery life. The PS Vita got around four hours of playing “Uncharted” and surfing the Internet in our test. While this may be enough juice to get through playing on the bus, those who want to use their PS Vita for extended amounts of time will need to seek a power plug.
Another issue is that the PS Vita basically requires a proprietary memory card, which is not included with the device. The memory cards come in a variety of storage sizes. They are, however, relatively expensive. The cheapest memory card Sony sells is 4GB at $19.99.
The PS Vita’s user interface is also very cartoonish and colorful, which clashes against the PS Vita’s identity as being a powerful and tough portable gaming console.
Overall, the PS Vita is one of the best portable gaming systems you can buy. It is powerful, very well-built and has more than enough bells and whistles to keep even the most hardcore of gamers happy. What limits the PS Vita from realizing its full potential is its price. At $249.99 for the Wi-Fi model, the barrier of entry isn’t low.
On top of that, the cost of purchasing a memory card and buying the games (which start at around $39.99 per title) makes the overall cost of the PS Vita very expensive. When compared to a smartphone, which many people already own and on which games can be found for as little as $0.99, the cost difference is huge.
While PS Vita’s games are definitely much more elaborate and in-depth than most smartphones’, it is up to the consumer to decide whether or not the extra gameplay is worth the much higher price tag. For hardcore gamers, the PS Vita is a must-have, but for much more casual gamers, a smartphone may be a much better option.
Crowds gather around a screen displaying new Modern Warfare 3 footage during the last week at E3.
Last week, thousands of game developers and publishers gathered at the Los Angeles Convention Center to show off what they have in store for the next 18 months.
E3, or the Electronic Entertainment Expo, is the largest annual video game tradeshow that brings together people in the industry, investors and journalists. And I was one of them. This year’s E3 was a spectacle to behold, filling the convention center with bounce houses, booth babes, towering sculptures of game iconography and, of course, the games themselves.
E3 2011 was a notable event in the show’s history. Sony and Nintendo introduced their new systems in a big way. Elsewhere on the showroom floor, Activision and EA competed for the largest, flashiest displays for their upcoming games, EA’s “Battlefield 3” and Activision’s “Modern Warfare 3.” After covering the floor for three days, I was able to check out some of the games you’ll be talking about and playing nearly a year from now.
Here are the highlights:
The rumors leading up to E3 introduced Nintendo’s new console, but now we have an official name and hands-on time with it. The Wii U is more than just an HD update of the Wii: It’s a box full of new hardware paired with a revolutionary controller.
At first glance, the Wii U controller looks like an iPad forced its way into a Dreamcast controller. I got to hold it, and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the screen and the controller’s lightweight feel. Nintendo was able to keep the controller light by leaving all the computer processing to the main console. The Wii U controller receives a wireless video stream that lets you interact with games in new ways, such as using it as a magnifying glass or item screen. And you can take the HD console experience with you around the house. It’s unclear how powerful the machine is — no hardware specs were given. It’s anyone’s guess how close to the console you have to be to receive video.
Upcoming PlayStation and Xbox 360 games were announced for the Wii U, but only tech demos were playable on the floor. All these games, including a gorgeous “Legend of Zelda” demo, showed off aspects of the hardware and novel ways to use it. “Chase Mii” is a “Pac-Man”-inspired game where four Wii remote-wielding players chase the player with the Wii U controller, which gives the player access to a map and other information through the controller’s screen.
Other highlights at Nintendo included the quirky music game “Rhythm Heaven Wii” and the much-anticipated “The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.” The Nintendo 3DS also seems to be coming into its own with upcoming entries in the “Mario Kart,” “Mario” and “Luigi’s Mansion” series.
Sony’s new handheld, the PlayStation Vita, was the central focus of its E3 presence. The Vita features graphics on par with its PS3 counterpart and a dual touchscreen — not only can you touch the screen like an iPhone, you can also interact with games by touching the back of the system.
The dual touchscreen feature is gimmicky, but I had fun playing with it during a “LittleBigPlanet Vita” demo that used the handheld’s features in clever ways. Some sections would require you to guide a rolling tire by tilting the system, while other sections required you to pop in and out of platforms to jump on by using the back and front touch areas.
I also spent some time with “Sound Shapes” and “Uncharted: Golden Abyss.” No Vita game has impressed me enough to decide on a day-one purchase, but the hardware has enormous potential. At the reasonable price of $249 ($299 for an improved 3GS Wi-Fi connection), the PlayStation Vita might give Nintendo’s 3DS some competition when Sony launches its new handheld this winter.
“Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception” also made a strong impression during and after Sony’s press conference. Developer Naughty Dog invited me to try out the revamped cooperative mission mode, which has better controls, collectible loot, co-op-specific buffs and a focus on telling a narrative arc independent of the game’s single-player story.
I didn’t get to play the game in 3D, but I did get to check out Sony’s new 3D technology that lets two people play on the same TV without sacrificing any screen space. Instead of rendering 3D images, the TV produces two different overlaying images that can be separated with 3D glasses. It’s as if Sony found a way to fit two TVs into one.
With over 10 million Kinects sold, you can’t blame Microsoft for making it the focus of its E3 press conference and floor space.
I expected this, but what I didn’t expect was that Microsoft would leave the rest of Xbox 360 owners in the cold. “Gears of War 3” and “Forza Motorsport 4” have been shown at previous E3s and “Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary” and “Halo 4” have been known entities for some time.
“Gears” creator Cliff Bleszinski showed me, in a one-on-one session, a new portion of the game’s campaign. Aside from fast, body-size mechs called “Silverbacks” and four-player co-op, it’s the same game you either love or hate. The “Halo” remake looks nice, running on the “Halo Reach” engine, but it’s just a nostalgic trip back to 2001 within a game series many, like myself, are already tired of. “Halo 4” had nothing more to show than a teaser trailer with no gameplay. It was announced it would be the first entry in a new trilogy for the 360. The thought of playing “Halo 6” on the same hardware depresses me, but maybe the new series developer, 343 Industries, will do something different with the franchise.
The Kinect games seem to be more of the same, but with a few exceptions. Beyond sequels to “Kinect Sports” and “Dance Central,” there were some nice surprises on the floor. “Leedmees,” an Xbox Live Arcade title developer Konami calls “a full-body puzzle game,” was a highlight of the show. You use your body to guide tiny lemmings across your on-screen avatar by stretching out your arms to make a bridge and kicking out your leg to keep lemmings from falling to their death. The game is even better when played co-op, as both players have to coordinate and hold uncomfortable stances to win. “Fruit Ninja Kinect” and “Rise of Nightmares” seemed vaguely interesting. Surprisingly, “Once Upon a Monster,” a “Sesame Street” game, was one of the better-looking Kinect titles at the show.
Third Party Publishers
Activision continues to pump out “Call of Duty” titles despite most of the original team departing from developer Infinity Ward. The latest in the series, “Modern Warfare 3,” increases the scale of the conflict by bringing to life World War III in urban areas across the world (including London and New York City), but the core of the game remains the same.
The two single-player missions I was shown were rote and linear to a fault. However, I spent time with the recently unveiled Survival mode which combines the series’ Nazi Zombies mode and Spec Ops mode into a challenging, addicting co-op experience. You and a buddy survive waves of enemies, which increase in firepower and health with each encounter. By the time you are facing helicopters and bomb-strapped hounds, you’ll have enough money to spend on weapon upgrades, armor and support calls. Support can range from summoning an airstrike to flying out a squad of computer-controlled allies to distract the enemy.
Warner Bros. showed off new footage of “Batman: Arkham City,” which looked great. The game mixes the stealth and hand-to-hand combat of the original while adding depth and a massive world to explore. In many ways, it feels like a superior “Assassin’s Creed,” as Batman and Catwoman run across rooftops and explore hidden alleyways. The attention to detail is impressive, both in the city streets and nuanced combat. “Arkham City” delivers on its ambitious premise while keeping the best parts of the original.
Best of Show
Going into E3, there was a lot of buzz surrounding “BioShock Infinite.” After a ho-hum sequel by a different developer, Irrational Games return to their flagship franchise without reiterating on their previous accomplishments. The result is a stunning game that has to be seen to be believed.
The behind-closed-doors presentation was a live demo, but I couldn’t believe what was being shown could be playable. Between the careful character setup and hectic action, the game felt cinematic without limiting the player to a set path. The player driving the demo leaped across rails in the sky, hooking on to different tracks among gunfire while enemies followed closely behind. The action in this quasi-sequel (set in a different location and time period) is faster than its predecessor, but it retains the exploration and storytelling that made the original memorable.
The flow of the storytelling and clever dialog made the fantastical Columbia, a city in the sky, feel like a tangible place you could visit. Compared to the original “BioShock,” the art direction in this sequel embraces primary colors, wide-open space and early 1900s Americana. The art direction and set design give the game a distinct, inviting look.
“BioShock Infinite” is a long way from being released and it’s hard to say how accurate the demo will be to the final retail version, but Irrational Games stood out at E3 by taking influences from outside video games. It has created a world unlike any that has appeared in film or books and brought it into a medium that lets you explore and play within it.
In a year when franchise fatigue is at an all-time high, Irrational’s bold choice to make a sequel that doesn’t use the original as a crutch has paid off.
Summer is always unkind to gamers. The releases are few, the news is slow and everyone you usually play with is on vacation. Maybe it’s because of competition from Hollywood or marketing research, but game publishers are convinced summer isn’t the time to release games.
Despite that belief, this summer was full of news on what Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo have in store for the upcoming year and a couple of quality, high-budget releases.
The summer began with the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the largest annual game conference of the year, which had Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft offering a closer look at their upcoming hardware and unveiling many surprises to the public.
While Nintendo struggled to get its Wii controller to work onstage (cell-phone interception allegedly was to blame), the new motion-control technology — Microsoft’s Kinect and Sony’s Move — garnered mixed reactions from attendees.
For such a heavily controlled environment and original technology, the demos of the games were said to be unresponsive and uninspired, apart from a couple of exceptions that implemented the technology in novel ways.
Test units at various shopping centers that have recently been released for Kinect are only making it more clear how troublesome the product is with drastic lag and strict limitations on how much free space is required to play.
The big story, though, was Nintendo’s 3DS — a name so simple that it can only lead to confusion. Not only is it a new, improved DS with a thumbstick and higher-resolution graphics, but it’s also in 3-D. The best thing is that no dorky glasses are required to experience games in 3-D, and it looks stunning.
To go along with the 3DS, Nintendo stole the show by announcing new entries in the “GoldenEye 007,” “Donkey Kong Country,” “Kid Icarus” and “Kirby” series. The first two are being handled by new developers, but their intentions of blending the old with the new seem promising.
Sony finally got around to showing off its Move technology, which seems like nothing more than a more accurate, glow stick-looking Wii Remote. One of the new games designed for Move, “Sorcery,” allows players to control a young wizard by directly manipulating his wand to cast spells, an interesting idea wrapped around a rather uninspired world and aesthetic.
The rest of its lineup focused on converting new entries in older series to work with the technology, as is the case with “SOCOM 4” and “Killzone 3” — but don’t worry, you can still use a traditional controller. There was also the announcement of a new “Twisted Metal,” for those who don’t think firing missiles from an ice-cream truck should be left back in 1997.
The same can’t be said of Microsoft, who focused solely on copying Nintendo’s past successes in the hope that they can cash in on what has already been sold. Even worse, some of the technology shown in Kinect’s promotional videos from last year, such as the ability to scan any real-world object and add it to the game, were not shown in any demos or publicly discussed this year.
As far as current releases are concerned, the summer has been expectably slow. “Super Mario Galaxy 2,” “Alan Wake” and “Red Dead Redemption,” Rockstar San Diego’s American Old West take on the “Grand Theft Auto” series, started off the summer with strong reviews and sales.
Not until the release of “StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty” in late July was there another release worth talking about. Not that there needs to be, considering how much praise and attention the game is receiving, and rightfully so after seven years in development and 12 years after the release of the original.