So in an attempt to clear the decks for the New Year, I thought I'd roll together a last couple of DVD reviews before we get going on anything properly new. It also lets me cover off two movies that I really can't think of that much to say about - one is decent, the other less so, but neither so bad, nor good, that I feel excited enough to write a huge review about. Which is a shame, really, because both have potential, both have strengths, but neither both end up just as easy passers of time rather than anything to shout about, or at. So, without further ado, a quick catch up Divergent, and first, Amazing Spiderman 2.
I think it is fair to say that I think Andrew Garfield is a great Spiderman. but he is a still a long way off from staring in a great Spiderman film. The Amazing Spiderman was always going to feel like a surplus film, re-telling an overly familiar origin story so soon after Spiderman did it, but even so made a bit of a hash of it's final act, going nowhere and saying nothing. It's follow-up, Amazing Spiderman 2 didn't have that dead weight hanging around it's legs, had a little more time, and surely would manage to avoid those mistakes. Right? Right?
Well, no. Actually ASM2 skips retelling Spiderman 2 and just goes for the mess that was Spiderman 3 as it's ur-text. Too many villians, all of them underdeveloped? You betcha. No real sense of whose story this is, or why we should care? Got that too. To it's credit, it does manage to add into the mix heavy-handed foreshadowing and poor mythology building, to at least it did have some original ideas too. Here, Spidey is up against Electro, at least for a bit, and just like the first film a theoretically more interesting villian all too quickly becomes a special effect to be fought, before being dispensed in favour of a different one.
This different one, the Harry Osbourne Green Goblin is again, clearly here for a future movie. Harry gets to smirk his way through the film like he's auditioning for an even less likable Anakin Skywalker, before turning evil because everyone is stupid and evil to him, and then drops in to knock out the only other interesting character in the film. Look, there are some nice set-peices, Garfield and Stone are great together, but its a complete mess of a movie that squanders a great cast and a big budget.
Divergent, on the other hand, is a handsomely made, interesting, yet strangely flat adapation of another best selling YA series I've never heard of. Set in a future-world run by an Orwellian version of the Sorting Hat, teenagers are assigned into their lifetime roles which will govern how they will live - some are super-honest, others are hard workers, some are smart, brave, and so on. Our hero, however, is one of the super-rare people that don't fit into this system, making her both a sort of outcast and dissident but also, apparently, extra special. So there are big themes of identity and belonging, and it instantly checks a lot of boxes off if you're playing "Young Adult Fiction Bingo".
The film itself did spend a lot more time just showing Tris growing up and finding her way in her initially chosen faction than I expected, before kicking into high "plot gear" in the final act. In some ways this is refreshing, as it keeps it character focused, and allows the young, likable cast to run through their paces. The downside is that, as a forty-something viewer, it's a little overfamilar, thematically speaking, and what it interesting about the world is, I suspect, what happens in the next film(s), not this one.
However, I did enjoy it - the acting is good, the direction is good, and the story is fine (see above caveats on familiarity). It feels like the franchise starter that is assuredly is, but it's confident and fun, which bodes well for the rest. It does what it does, for sure, but does it well.