Movies

Magic Mike and The Amazing Spider-Man

Channing Tatum in the flesh, Andrew Garfield in a mega-budget mess.

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Magic Mike is a lively surprise. Like Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, and Hal Ashby's 1975 Shampoo, Steven Soderbergh's new film takes us into a barely-known world, and in focusing on one of its denizens—a burnt-out grappler, a soulful hairdresser, or, here, an aging male stripper—clears a new space for the playing out of human dreams and desires.

Channing Tatum, whose matey, self-deprecating manner suggests a younger Brad Pitt, rose up from fashion modeling to do solid genre duty in movies like Dear John, G.I. Joe, and the two Step Up dance films. Here he emerges as a true star with serious intentions. His character, Mike, is an amiable 30-year-old Tampa muscle hunk whose life has yet to start making sense. (Tatum suggested the film to Soderbergh based on his own brief experience as a stripper at the tail end of his teens; his production partner Reid Carolin wrote the script.) Mike sees himself as an entrepreneur: He works a construction job to pay the rent, but runs a little car-detailing business on the side, and dreams of one day launching a custom-furniture company. (Everyone comments on the cool hand-made coffee table in his apartment.) His main gig, though, is dancing at a flashy male strip club called Xquisite, run by a semi-demented hustler named Dallas (a raving Matthew McConaughey—on fire in this movie). Dallas, a onetime stripper himself, is all business ("This is not a joke!"), and he has a keen appreciation of the female customers who pack his club. ("You are the husband they never had," he tells his dancers. "You are the dreamboat that never came along.")

Like the other five guys on the club dance team (among them Matt Bomer, of White Collar, and towering Joe Manganiello, of True Blood), Mike loves this lifestyle—the booming music and onstage energy; the joint-passing backstage camaraderie; the happily drunken bachelorettes out front hooting their appreciation and stuffing the men's thongs with dollar bills. But the all-night after-work bar crawls are starting to get stale, and Mike's plentiful one-night-stands—even the three-ways with his bisexual girl pal Joanna (Olivia Munn, making the most of a good role)—have begun to feel empty. He's hanging on, though, because Dallas—for whom Mike has been a star attraction for the last eight years—has promised him an equity stake in the club when he expands it into Miami. Which'll be…soon.

Shooting the movie himself, as usual, Soderbergh creates wildly exuberant club scenes, with the crotch- pumping dancers whirling across the stage and back-flipping into the squealing crowds to give raunchy close-up attention to the night's lucky birthday girls. The director's imagery radiates heat and good-natured sexiness, and the walloping dance-rock beats keep kicking these scenes up onto new levels of exhilaration. Soderbergh's virtuoso camerawork here, and his rhythmic editing, recall Bob Fosse, who might well have been impressed.

The story develops in a traditional but absorbing way. When a 19-year-old lost soul named Adam (Alex Pettyfer) wanders into Mike's orbit, Mike sees in this drifting kid a younger version of himself. He finds a spot for Adam in the club dance squad (the newcomer is awkward and embarrassed at first, but is quickly hooked by the buzz and the babes), and before long the wily Dallas, looking on appreciatively, realizes he's found a fresh star. At the same time, Mike becomes attracted to Adam's no-nonsense sister, Brooke (Cody Horn, a find—she has the sly, winning primness of a young Frances McDormand). There's a spasm of drug-gang nastiness, and a memorable sex scene that unfolds in a woozy haze. Soderbergh's visual inventions form a compelling narrative of their own (on a budget of just $5-million). We follow Mike to the movie's troubled conclusion, and we want to think he takes it from there.    

The Amazing Spider-Man

Here's a cool idea for a movie: Teenage dweeb Peter Parker weathers the taunts and pokes of high-school bullies until one day he's bitten by some kind of magical spider and starts shooting sticky webs out of his hands and scampering up walls and…

Oh, wait—we've already seen this movie. Ten years ago, in Sam Raimi's opening installment of the first Spider-Man series. Which wobbled to an end just five years ago. Do we really need to sit through this story all over again? Sony and Marvel Enterprises are hoping so—they've sunk an estimated $215-million into "rebooting" the familiar superhero saga. If only they'd invested in some new ideas as well.  

The movie—which among other things wastes the gifts of Marc Webb, who directed the wonderful, low-budget (500) Days of Summer—is defined by its shortcomings. The first, and most dispiriting, is its star, Andrew Garfield. This young English actor has been precociously resourceful in some very different films—playing a doomed clone in the dystopian Never Let Me Go and the betrayed Facebook cofounder in The Social Network. He was also a powerful presence opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman in the recent Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman. Garfield is a meticulously expressive performer, projecting thought and emotion with the subtlest glances and gestures. As Peter Parker, though, he's stranded, bringing his gifts to bear on a character who has practically nothing to express beyond a generalized glumness. This is not much fun to watch.

Then there's the movie's designated villain, Dr. Curt Connors, played by the likable and definitively non-villainous Rhys Ifans. Connors was a research partner of Peter's long-vanished father (the mysterious fate of Peter's parents is the story's one new plot wrinkle). Now, continuing their experiments, Connors screws up and turns himself into the silliest giant CGI lizard since Godzilla (the Roland Emmerich version). This rampaging reptile, definitively non-scary, provides little more than limp comic relief.

Finally, there's Emma Stone, lovable as always, but unable to do much with the role of Peter's love interest, Gwen Stacy. Stone contributes her customary quirky glow, but her character is thoroughly implausible (she's a low-level employee at the high-security biotech company where Connors works, but appears to have the run of the place). And her romantic chemistry with Garfield (even though they've since become a couple) feels oddly pro-forma.

There's more, but I'll not bore you with it. Will The Amazing Spider-Man suck up millions over the long Fourth of July weekend? Sure. So did the goopy Spider-Man 3—even though that film wound up tanking the first Spidey series. For the sake of the lead actors involved, all of whom can find better things to do with their talents, one can't help hoping that this second attempt at a franchise will go no further. As if.      

Kurt Loder is a writer living in New York. His third book, a collection of film reviews called The Good, the Bad and the Godawful, is now available. Follow him on Twitter at kurt_loder.

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  1. Hardee’s is giving away free “Grilled Cheese Bacon Thickburgers” to Spider Man impersonators. Show up in your Spider Man garb any time after 11 a.m. on the Fourth of July to claim your free burger. Masks not allowed. Public taunting not the responsibility of Hardee’s or Columbia Pictures. Void where prohibited.

  2. I’m thinking I gotta get my wife to go see Magic Mike with her girlfriends.

    That way I don’t need to sit through it and she’s practically guaranteed to attack me the minute she gets home 🙂

    1. Yeah, but she might make you dance first. Is it really worth it?

    2. My wife and her mom are going to see it this weekend. I can’t imagine the hormones that will be raging in a theater full of women like that.

    3. That’s how I felt after I saw Thor. Waxed hardbodies just don’t do it for me.

      1. Well Thor is the one superhero movie my wife really liked and it wasn’t his hammer that had her all excited 🙂

  3. There is absolutely no way Sony will get me to spend money to see another Spiderman origin picture.

    I don’t care if it’s the LAWRENCE OF ARABIA of superhero films. I’m out.

    1. Actually, I would not mind if there was a remake of Lawrence of Arabia though. The only superhero film I would consider paying for would be one where the villain ends up killing all those annoying costumed characters.

  4. Matthew McConaughey?on fire in this movie

    [crosses fingers] Literally?

  5. Is this new Spiderman movie the fastest reboot for a series ever? Sure seems like it.

    1. I think they redid the Hulk faster.

      But the Hulk had been a critical and commercial failure, so it was swept under the rug.

      I think it’s definitely the fastest reboot of a successful franchise.

      1. Was it really a reboot? My understanding is that they kept the origin story intact, they just changed ALL of the main characters because the first one did so poorly, thanks to Ang Lee using it as a vehicle to mope about his daddy issues.

    2. My math might be wrong, but it looks like The Hulk has it beat:

      Hulk – June 20 2003
      The Incredible Hulk – June 13 2008

    3. Bad news coming… According to IMDB, an Untitled Batman Reboot is already being planned with Christopher Nolan at the helm. Some reports I’ve seen have it as soon as 2015.

      1. Darren Aronofsky.

        I hope that doesn’t happen. I don’t mind reinterpreting superhero films once every 15 years or so (it’s not like the comics don’t work like that), but let the last round digest first.

        1. Oh is it Aronofsky? I think IMDB has Nolan as the writer… that’s where I got mixed up.

  6. I don’t want to see a movie about male strippers living the sex/drugs/rock ‘n’ roll life, or about an aging person who sees a younger person entering his world as a kind of reincarnation of himself.

    I don’t want to see another remake of the origins of Spiderman.

    Are there any other new movies that might give me some hope that there’s creativity at work in Hollywood?

    1. No.

    2. TDKR should be a good film. Nolan has yet to let me down.

      1. That’s the hope, I’ve already bought my tickets for it. If it is good, it will be the first third superhero movie to be good.

    3. It’s a good thing there are a lot of other people that do want to see those movies.

    4. I hear that Bill Murray movie is good. Moonlight something or other.

    5. Brave was pretty good

      Outside of Pixar however, probably not

      1. Second that. And AFAIK it was one of very few movies this summer that wasn’t a remake, sequel, prequel, or comic.

    6. How about that new Collin Farrell movie? What’s it called? Oh yeah, Total Recall? Or, no! Wait, there’s this awesome new movie about a cyborg that is a cop! How about that for original, right?

      Also, there’s this new movie with Jeremy Renner where he plays a CIA super-agent. That’s not based on an old, tired, played out franchise.

      1. Don’t forget about the one with a mumbling cop that gets to be Judge, jury and executioner. That sounds pretty original.

  7. He was also a powerful presence opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman in the recent Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman. Garfield is a meticulously expressive performer, projecting thought and emotion with the subtlest glances and gestures.

    Spider-man’s entire character appeal is based on the ability to fire off a rapid series of glib one-liners. Unlike the emo dorks that have played him, he actually takes an exuberant glee in combat. Whoever plays a real-life version of him has to be able to do this effortlessly and portray emotion from behind a mask. Not many actors have that kind of ability.

    1. This. I want the Spider-Man I grew up with, a smartass not a emotional retard.

      1. +100. Let’s hope Garfield does it.

    2. I think that’s a lot of the appeal of Robert Downey Jr. playing Tony Stark.

      1. It’s easier for that; we can and do spend a lot of time looking at Tony Stark emoting at his HUD. Spider-Man is masked the entire time he’s in superhero mode.

        1. Did you think Hugo Weaving did a good job of displaying humor and emotion behind the Guy Fawkes mask in V for Vendetta?

          That’s the only other thing I could compare it to.

          1. I thought Weaving sucked in that movie for entirely that reason. The opening scene was pretty good, but he doesn’t have the heft as an actor to do a nuanced character portrayal if people can’t see his grimacing mug.

        2. Look at the Maguire Spiderman movies–whenever they need to do a Serious Scene with him, or find a way to advance the plot, he’s typically not wearing his mask, or it’s partially torn. Maguire doesn’t have the acting chops to pull off Spidey in classic comic form, and Raimi knew it.

    3. The only thing the newspaper Spider-Man does is mope.

  8. Is Magic Man a unique movie in terms of how it’s being sold to the public?

    This is a movie — like a rom-com chick flick — that screams to straight male viewers: STAY AWAY! (At least with a chick flick men can be dragged to it on dates.)

    Also, hasn’t Matthew McConaughey’s entire existence led up to this role? Perfect merger of actor and caricature. Not since Rourke and The Wrestler, etc.

    1. That’s how it’s being sold. And it worked, considering that the 2 midnight showings in this small Tennessee bible belt town was completely sold out. I counted 2 men in the audience.

      But I was a little disappointed. Not as many full stripping segments as I expected. And tits. Lots of tits. I’m assaulted by them in any movie or tv show that I watch anymore. I thought a movie geared toward women wouldn’t have them in the first 3 minutes but I was wrong.

  9. even the three-ways with his bisexual girl pal Joanna (Olivia Munn, making the most of a good role)?have begun to feel empty

    Blasphemy.

    1. Agreed: Olivia Munn should never be considered an actress.

  10. I was thinking that the Hulk reboot 5 years after the original was dumb…I thought rebooting Spider-Man 5 years after an entire trilogy was even dumber…now I hear they’re rebooting Batman, before the last one in the current series is even released. Pathetic. Reboot yourself Hollywood.

  11. Dallas, a onetime stripper himself, is all business (“This is not a joke!”), and he has a keen appreciation of the female customers who pack his club. http://www.ceinturesfr.com/cei…..-c-16.html (“You are the husband they never had,” he tells his dancers. “You are the dreamboat that never came along.”)

  12. Finally, there’s Emma Stone, lovable as always, but unable to do much with the role of Peter’s love interest, Gwen Stacy. Stone contributes her customary quirky glow, but her character is thoroughly implausible (she’s a low-level employee at the high-security biotech company where Connors works, but appears to have the run of the place). And her romantic chemistry with Garfield (even though they’ve since become a couple) feels oddly pro-forma.

  13. Spam bot is getting smarter.

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