Alice: Madness Returns is the much anticipated follow up (by me, anyway) to 2000’s PC/Mac game American McGee’s Alice – the dark and gritty telling of Alice’s post-Looking Glassadventures in what has now become a twisted version of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland. The original game had Alice following an anorexic, pierced Cheshire Cat around a grotesque Wonderland, presumably due to Alice’s inclement insanity, slashing her way through the Red Queen’s guards amongst other familiar faces from Carroll’s universe with a bloody knife, and the sequel delivers more of the same.
I’ll just get this out of the way in the beginning. If you were coming to this with the expectation that it would pick up right where Sam Raimi’s dancing, emo Spider-Man left off then you will not be happy. This movie is a reboot in all of the ways a series can be rebooted, but I’d like to add a caveat to this. An asterisk on the idea of this being a reboot if you will. In the vast and winding world of comic books new story arcs are created and closed at the whim of the editor’s mighty hand. Storylines are given their own title to breath and it often creates a sense of diversity in the books you’re reading. Want a harder edged Punisher? Read the MAXX line. Want a completely different alterna-universe? Pick up the Ultimate stories. It’s not a negative that these companies have created amazing characters that can have many, many stories told about them. It’s a positive. So arguing that you’ve seen the origin story before (you haven’t seen this one), or that you think the Avengers upped the minimum number of heroes needed to make a successful comic book movie (they didn’t), then you are missing the point. Spider-Man is, has and always will be a story about a kid given amazing abilities from a spider bite. He’s always been a kid surrounded by loss but still able to rise above. It’s about New York, it’s about feeling good. I go into a Spider-Man movie looking for these things, not for a gritty reboot.
That little diatribe aside, if you haven’t gathered, I enjoyed Spider-Man quite a bit. On the technical side it is an absolute win. Shot in real 3D (think Avatar or Transformers), the cinematography and 3D scenes are gorgeous. I don’t always recommend 3D and often discourage it, unless it’s shot on actual 3D cameras. This is and it shows. Mark Webb having done 500 Days of Summer previously was expected to bring a real gravity to the scenes and with a few exceptions, I think he succeeded. The intimate shots all the way out to the bombastic fights were all captured deftly and moved along smoothly. The pacing and separation of action to dialogue felt natural.
Andrew Garfield sat perfectly in the role of Peter Parker. Slightly less nerdish than Tobey Maguire, but played with an awkward rebellion that worked. When he donned the costume though, he 100% owned the roll. Andrew Garfield is Spider-Man. You can here the little kid excitement in his voice, see him having fun hurling quips at a car thief. He knows the roll and clearly loves it. I’m not a huge Emma Stone fan, but having her in the Gwen Stacy roll was a good choice, and the little bits of chemistry between the two felt satisfying. Martin Sheen was fantastic. He and Denis Leary owned their rolls and felt the most grounded out of the entire cast. The only slightly odd choice was Sally Field who just didn’t render the Aunt May I am used to. Not to say she wouldn’t grow into her roll over the course of a couple of films, but just that here she felt under utilized and mostly background.
Which is where we get to the only negative I had with the film. The story. It just felt a bit off. There were a few leaps in logic, like Peter’s ability to infiltrate a top secret lab, as well as holes in the plot. Why did a high school senior seem to have access to highly classified areas of the single looming corporation in the film. But this negative felt distinctly for a reason. This is clearly the first film in a new series for Sony. It ended on a non-ending, it felt stretched even to the length it was. The story involving the Lizard, while fun and entertaining, just felt half told. They kept alluding to Peter’s past and his family but in a very nudge nudge wink wink sort of way. Never actually divulging what is happening. They all but said that there is more than meets the eye at the end of the movie (yes there is a scene during the credits). Yet, every time something like this happened, instead of getting excited at the possibilities, I was frustrated that I couldn’t just find out what the heck they were talking about. Oscorp is clearly being set up to be the villian. It is the looming tower in the NY skyline, the backdrop to all of the turning points in the movie. While Norman and his son made no appearances, their presence was felt the entire time. I just wished they had gotten more into it. Let me know why we should be worried about this company, give me some things to get excited about Amazing Spider-Man 2. Yet again and again, it just fell flat story wise.
This wasn’t enough to ruin it for me, though. I still found myself cheering on the man in blue and red and laughing at the quips he would hurl at the bad guys all along. Watching the “boy become a man” theme felt good, albeit a bit thin and rushed. If you are going to see this, and I think you should, see it in 3D, get a bowl of popcorn, sit back and try to remember what it’s like to be a kid having fun at a movie again. A movie doesn’t have to be life changing to be enjoyable, and this movie fits that bill perfectly.
P.S. Yes, The Avengers is better. Yes, Dark Knight will most likely be better, but look around, you are watching 3 good comic book movies in one summer. I called 13 year old Matt and when I complained about a slightly thin and rushed plot line, he made a time machine, traveled to the future and kicked me in the balls.