Monday, May 5, 2014

THE (not so) AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (opening weekend)

When a movie earns $91.6 million over a three day period, a celebration commences at a studio.  But today, in the board room of Columbia Pictures, a Sony Entertainment company, no one should be celebrating.  I mean, champagne may have been uncorked, but it certainly shouldn't have been flowing.

Simply put, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (TASM2) underperformed this past weekend.  Sure, $91.6 million won the weekend by about $75 million over the dreadful THE OTHER WOMAN.  But look beyond the real money.  You find the tracking projections, ranging from $95-100 million.  Swing and a miss there.  What is "tracking"?  Tracking is, simply put, the awareness of a movie's existence with the general public and their possibility that John Q. Moviegoer & family will buy a ticket opening weekend.  An inexact science, yes, but most of the time is very accurate.

I know what you're thinking right now: Almost, you just want to bury the movie because you hated it and aren't a real Spider-Man fan.  Well, it is true that I'm not a comic book guy (never have), I loved the original Raimi/Maguire trilogy and hated the reboot two years ago but I certainly didn't hate this installment.  Don't get your fanboy panties in a bunch.

Anyhoo, projections are just one part of the equation.  Box office receipts are just like a CEO's wallet, the larger the better.  Let's start with the original trilogy.  The first SPIDER-MAN, released in 2002 and seen by yours truly at 16, blasted opening weekend records with $114.85 million.  At the time, opening weekend meant something but movies with legs were still common.  SPIDER-MAN 3 performed even better, bringing in $151.1 million opening weekend; of which, $6.00 coming from then 21-year-old, colIflege junior me.

Aha!, you say.  You discovered 2004's SPIDER-MAN 2 and its $88.1 million weekend.  But, as 18-year-old me will remind you, I saw SM2 twice: on a Friday night with friends...(wait for it)...on Wednesday, June 30 at my hometown drive-in with my family.  That's right, SPIDER-MAN 2 opened on a Wednesday.  And, as we all know, official opening weekends are always recorded on the first Friday-Sunday.  Therefore, the first $64.25 million earned but SM2 doesn't count in this record.  There's more to this story, but I'll get to that soon enough.

But, you say defensively, TASM2 has the biggest weekend this year and kicked off the summer.  You're half right, it did kick off the summer.  But let's take a look at CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER.  Sure, this weekend it didn't do that well ($7.775 million), but what do you expect for a fifth weekend at the box office?  Let's look at my brother's birthday weekend, April 4-6.  $95 million.  Not a typo there.  The sequel to the reboot of the most popular Marvel comic book character was defeated by the maybe the fifth most popular one; in my opinion, rightfully so.  And did I mention Steve Rodgers had 300 fewer screens than Peter Parker?

The disappointment of TASM2, however, underlines a major issue facing the movie business today.  There are three advantages TASM2 had over the original trilogy a decade ago.  First, ticket prices.  Compared to the first sequel, SPIDER-MAN 2, TASM2 had an $2.25 higher ticket price.  If you adjust for inflation, SPIDER-MAN 2 goes from $4.5 million down to a whopping $31.4 million advantage.  Second item in TASM2's favor are the 3-D & IMAX upcharges.  Let's say I log onto my favor theatre's website and try to purchase tickets.  To go to the mid-afternoon matinee, that's $6.50.  Not too bad.  For the 3-D showing, $9.50.  OK, tolerable.  But the IMAX 3-D?  $13.50.  That will empty the wallet quickly.  But what if you have a dayjob and have to go at night?  Prepare yourself for $8.50, $11.50, or $13.50, respectively.  For context, my dad took 5 people to see SPIDER-MAN in 2002 and spent $25 for tickets.  A couple seeing TASM2 in IMAX 3-D at 7:30 on a Friday night spent more on two tickets than my now-retired father spent on five 12 years ago.

Which leads to this scary conclusion: When you factor in everything, SPIDER-MAN 3 ($174.8 million adj. opening weekend) sold TWICE AS MANY TICKETS opening weekend than TASM2.  And it's not just SPIDER-MAN with the problem.  It's an epidemic in all of Hollywood.  2012's MARVEL'S THE AVENGERS, the third highest domestic grosser of all time, is only 27th when adjusted for inflation, behind GREASE.  GREASE!  Audience sizes are going down.  The factors, from prices to quality of product to audience behavior, are too numerous and complex for this article.

TASM2 has its moment in the sun now.  With the weak competition, it will probably win next weekend too.  But with GODZILLA and X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST coming up in the following weekends, TASM2 will disappear into the background.  But how far back?  Sure the 56% on Rotten Tomatoes doesn't help, but fanboys don't listen to critics like me (or so they say).  But the CinemaScore (a polling of opening night audiences by an independent party) of 'B+' means word of mouth is mixed, at best.  Today, 50% second weekend drop-offs are normal.  Anything higher than 55% could be considered a disaster.  At worst, TASM2 needs a $43.5 million next weekend against the likes of an R-rated comedy and a poorly marketed animated flick.  After the worst first weekend of the summer since 2006, the summer movie season can only get better.  Well, at least until TRANSFORMERS 4...

Thursday, May 1, 2014


I do not own the above image.  Copyright Sony Pictures Entertainment.  All rights reserved.

As I sit here writing this, it has been about an hour since the end of the end credit crawl.  And since I don't have a working computer right now, I sit in front of my Kindle Fire HD my wife bought me two Christmases ago.  I also sit in the dark, alone, my wife having gone to bed as soon as we returned from the screening.  As she lays her head down, wandering off into Dreamland or Slumberland (whichever her preference), I know her last thought tonight is "My sweet & wonderful husband...HOW THE F$&^ DOES HE NOT LOVE THIS MOVIE?!"

Well, it's a bit complicated.  See, I don't hate all of Marc Webb's second installment of the rebooted Spidey comic book series.  For instance, the final 45 minutes: nearly phenomenal.  But let's not get ahead of ourselves, TASM2 is 142 minutes long.  Nearly two and a half hours that go by in a flawed blur.

Peter (Garfield) & Gwen (Stone) have graduated high school and are ready to move on with life together.  That is, as long Peter can get over the ghost of Gwen's father following him.  Meanwhile, Peter's childhood friend Harry Osborn (DeHaan) re-enters the picture to run OsCorp after his father's death.  An accident on Harry's first day appears to have irreversibly changed the life of Max Dillon (Foxx).  All the while, Peter is in constant but harmless conflict with Aunt May (Field) over the legacy and mystery of his parents.

All these stories but which one will carry the film and the audience?  Unfortunately, the answer is none.  None of these stories answer the call and come forward to dominate the narrative.  Instead, every story, at one time or another, tries it's best but is always overshadowed by another plot.  Every story, that is except the story that opens the movie, the mystery of Peter's parents.  Why start a movie like that if it's not going to be the main storyline?  Two more 8-10 minute sequences felt unsatisfactory.

Speaking of disappointment, I give you Electro.  Foxx plays Dillon like if Michael Strahan had never heard of football in his life.  Science nerd with a pocket protector, glasses, tapped teeth and circus-like theme music?  Sure why not.  Pre-accident, we feel sympathy for him but not as much as we should.  Dillon is angry with OsCorp for not giving him credit for the design of the new power plant.  However, instead of showing us a irritating event, screenwriters Kurtzman, Orci and Pinker use one of many stock characters to blurt standard exposition.  Would it have been that hard to show us Max being disrespected by cutting one of the ineffective storylines?

Post-accident isn't much better.  After what feels like an eternity, the moment in Times Square finally arrives where Dillon realizes what he has become is massacred by the aforementioned circus theme.  We realize Electro used to be regular guy Max. But the score, both in this scene and as a whole, is just terrible.  What's more, Dillon also never gets his miniature revenge on the aforementioned stock character.

TASM2 really shines when Peter & Gwen share the screen.  Their relationship, just like Garfield's & Stone's in real life, grows on you.  They are the center of the movie and the third act allows them to shine.  And when [REDACTED] happens, it is the real payoff of the movie.

All that said, the first 90-ish minutes plus flashes of the snarky Spider-Man I loathed so much in the 2012 edition creates a real mess.  It's only after the movie becomes a typical comic book movie that the movie becomes not only watchable but fun & interesting.  If you enjoyed the 2012 reboot, you'll love this.  If you're like me and didn't, you'll be all over the place on this.  If you're a fanboy, the comment thread is below and you need a Google account to scream at me about how this movie wasn't for me.