I’m not a Seth MacFarlane fan. Not Family Guy, not American Dad! and especially not The Cleveland Show. Maybe I just don’t get his humour. He seems like a nice enough guy from interviews I’ve seen and I certainly bear no ill will towards him, but I don’t find him particularly funny. That said, my curiosity got the better of me this afternoon. I went to the cinema to catch The Dark Knight Rises for a second time, but had a last-minute change of heart and plumped for Ted instead. The trailers hadn’t done a whole lot for me, but I like Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis, and when I saw the names Giovanni Ribisi and Joel McHale pop up during the opening credits, I was convinced that I’d made a good decision. I’m still not sure what I felt about the film.
Here’s the thing; it is funny, in parts. It’s also painfully unoriginal in parts and even desperate in others. It follows a very similar theme to 90% of R-rated comedies released at the moment: boy loves girl, boy loves best friend, girl hates best friend. The only real difference is that the best friend is a talking teddy bear, and that the girl doesn’t really hate him, she’s just sick of the best friend making life harder (think Ed in Shaun of the Dead). It takes the cult hero cameos of I Love You, Man, the straight-faced-yet-inappropriate voiceover of Anchorman and the often-bizarre pop-culture references of MacFarlane’s other work and melds them together with what I’ve already highlighted as a derivative screenplay to result in an enjoyable but extremely predictable 100 minute or so.
The ending of the film is perhaps its worst moment. One of those where you say to yourself “Don’t do that, don’t do that, don’t do… Oh. They did it. That sucks.” Despite this, there are a lot of very funny moments. Giovanni Ribisi steals every scene he is in and when Marky Mark is allowed to be funny, he does a great job of it, just like he did in Date Night. Unfortunately, Wahlberg is also one of the problems. I don’t buy him, at 41, as a 35-year-old, and I certainly don’t buy him and 28-year-old Mila Kunis as a realistic couple at similar moments in their lives.
I don’t have a lot more to say about Ted, but I think if you’re a fan of MacFarlane’s work, you’ll probably love it. If not, it depends how much unoriginality you can tolerate.
P.S. Be prepared to be annoyed at everything who guffaws heartily in a “I get that joke because I know what drugs are” way at every weed joke in the movie. And there are a lot.
Think back to 2007. Remember Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3? A movie that I will argue, until my grave, was worse than The Phantom Menace. A movie that had more villains than The Avengers had heroes. A movie that grossed $890m worldwide. It was very successful, commercially speaking, and was going to lead to another, equally imaginatively-titled, sequel. But then it didn’t. Raimi didn’t want to do it and went on to make Drag Me To Hell instead, and the wheels fell off. Fine, we had a good run. Two great superhero movies and one that we can try to forget, it’s not all bad. But Sony wasn’t done. Five years after Spider-Man 3, the franchise has been rebooted as The Amazing Spider-Man, with Andrew Garfield as the eponymous hero and Emma Stone as the not-as-well-known-as-MJ love interest Gwen Stacy, daughter of Captain George Stacy of the NYPD. Sony also took the opportunity to give headline writers a field day by handing the directorial reins to the aptly-named Marc Webb, of (500) Days of Summer fame.
The problem with Amazing – as I shall refer to it hereafter – is that as a reboot it has to also be an origin story. We’re starting again here. Forget Tobey Maguire. Forget Kirsten Dunst. Forget both Green Goblins, Doctor Octopus, Sandman, Venom, J Jonah Jameson and the rest. Unfortunately the changes are few and far between. Gwen Stacy might as well be Mary-Jane Watson, Peter’s relationship with Aunt May and Uncle Ben is virtually identical, and the sequences of Peter struggling with and finally overcoming his new-found powers might have been copied and pasted from Raimi’s 2001 effort. What it is is much funnier. Andrew Garfield is what some might call “born to play Peter Parker”. I won’t stoop to this level as I don’t subscribe to the philosophical doctrine of fatalism, but I will say that he is as close to perfect in this role as I can imagine. Despite being closer in age to 30 than 17, he has a boyish charm that convinces even if his physicality doesn’t. Equally, Emma Stone is fantastic as Gwen, reminding us of her performances in Superbad and Easy A as the coquettish schoolgirl. Together they are a joy to watch. The supporting cast is just as accomplished. Martin Sheen does his best Jed Bartlett impression as Uncle Ben and Rhys Ifans, somewhat surprisingly, manages to underplay Dr. Curt Connors to a very pleasing degree, making him feel like a real character as opposed to the caricatures that Ifans normally vomits onto the screen
The plot is essentially Spider-Man. Peter is bullied, gets bitten by a spider on a (sort of) school trip, turns into a hero, is accidentally complicit in the death of his uncle and finally realises, without saying it, that with great power comes great responsibility. All of this comes just in time for a leading scientist to become a supervillain and threaten to destroy New York. His girlfriend gets mixed up in it, the loved one of a main character is killed and Peter becomes a true hero. It is the same movie, but it is done very well.
The main disappointment of Amazing is that Webb does not stamp his mark on the movie. (500) Days was full of interesting visual touches and directorial flair that added just a pinch of something extra to its narrative, but Amazing does away with this almost entirely. I get it though. (500) Days was that kind of movie. It allowed for a different style, whereas Amazing is a superhero movie. We know what we want from a superhero movie. And in Amazing, we get it. The only problem is that we got it eleven years ago as well, when Sam Raimi made the same movie.
I’m trying to catch up with what’s gone on this year, and I decided to start with two of the more surprisingly positively refused movies. Adam McKay’s The Other Guys, starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, and the Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz juggernaut Knight and Day, directed by James Mangold.
There are a lot of similarities between the two films. They are both essentially buddy cop comedies with one extremely annoying element, they both end incredibly predictably and they are both fairly decent.
First, the annoying elements. Will Ferrell’s shouty doofus shtick is more than past its best. While it may have been funny back in the Anchorman and Elf days, its now worn beyond thin. However, Marky Mark more than makes up for it with a pitch-perfect straight man role, frustrated at the incompetence of his partner and angry at the demotions that it all leads to.
In Knight and Day, the smug, self-congratulating way in which Cruise and Diaz portray their relationship is painful. It’s like they’re saying “Hey, we don’t even need to pretend that these are characters. Let’s just let everyone see how good looking we are. That’ll do it.”
As I said, they aren’t bad movies, but they are both let down by some really crucial errors.
Peter Bradshaw gave The Other Guys five stars in The Guardian, and listed it among his top films of the year, and fair enough, everyone is entitled to their opinion. However, it isn’t a five star movies. Even looking at movies with a degree of relativity and comparing it to movies of the same genre, if this is a five star movie, the likes of I Love You, Man and Superbad need a new set of ratings to be introduced to allow their superiority to be properly displayed.
These aren’t bad films but there are a lot of better things out there. Worth a watch, but don’t buy them.