The Amazing Chernobyl Spider-Man Diaries

To make up for the long absence of posts here, I’ve written two short reviews for you lovely lot.

Chernobyl Diaries is an American horror movie directed by Brad Parker. It is produced by Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity 1, 2 and 3) and stars Jesse McCartney, Jonathan Sadowski and the excellent Dimitri Diatchenko (if you’ve played almost any Call of Duty or Uncharted game, you’ve already heard his voice).

A group of young Americans journeying around Europe visit all the hotspots: London, Berlin, Paris, Kiev. They run into Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) who persuades them via a completely unjust voting tally that they should go check out Chernobyl as part of the new ‘extreme tourism’ fad that’s sweeping Kiev (who knew?) ! Unfortunately, things don’t go to plan and the group soon find themselves endangered in a dangerous place.

The location itself is something worth beholding. Long, drawn out expressionist shadows litter the screen, the walls of cramped corridors closing in on the characters. I can’t help but feel this was a wasted opportunity, it being the only distinctive feature of the film. It quickly falls into a familiar and tedious formula: someone goes missing, the others go to find them only to discover their corpse, or whatever remains of it. The camerawork feels reminiscent of producer Oren Peli’s previous work in Paranormal Activity, but other than occasionally bumping into the characters it feels contrived and almost begging to be a found footage film (why else would it be called ‘Chernobyl Diaries‘?). The characters here, too, are unremarkable and so thinly developed that I can barely recall how they’re even related to each other, I mean I assume they’re friends from college or something. Something about a brother…a girlfriend…it’s no wonder the actors are never sure how to react to their situation, I’m not sure they even know who they’re playing (plus the film could do with a few less ‘Fuck, fuck, what the fuck was that?’ if it’s trying to build tension). Ultimately, Chernobyl Diaries fails to do anything to the viewer beyond cheap, loud frights, making it a wholly forgettable and detached experience.

The Amazing Spider-Man is a reboot of the Marvel Spiderman franchise. Directed by Marc Webb (ha!), it stars Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and Rhys Ifans.

Peter Parker is a social outcast. He’s played by Andrew Garfield. Andrew Garfield. One day, he meets Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) who he immediately has a crush on, and then he goes to Oscorp and meets Professor Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) whose key roles are to constantly remind the audience he has one arm and to contradict himself for no apparent reason. And then he’s bitten by a strange spider in an unlocked lab, and then he has to learn to control his new abilities. And then his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen, who steals every scene he’s in. Just call him a Sheen-stealer) dies, and he swears to get revenge on all criminals with long blonde hair. That’s a lot of ‘and thens’.

The main villain in this case is, quite frankly, less than paper thin. At times it seems that Rhys Ifan’s only requirement is to make it really obvious that he has one arm, and that he therefore wishes all of humanity to become permanent reptillic lizard people. The poor dialogue is consistent elsewhere in the film, but it’s not just a few really bad lines that are laughable. I’m unsure if director Webb is capable of maintaining a serious tone in Spiderman – a handful of serious dramatic scenes are cheapened by a visual punchline, and the film touches upon themes of teenage angst and social isolation without ever really saying much about them (the way bullying is shown, as with the first film, is simplistic and down right patronising). Webb doesn’t let go of his indie scene roots though, with one sequence employing a song by Coldplay in what could be an advert for Nikon or Quicksilver. Outside of a few imaginatively re-envisioned scenes (of which the film is certainly creditworthy for), Amazing Spiderman fails to really show anything we didn’t see in Raimi’s version, and even goes so far to noticeably avoid Parker’s enthusiasm for photography resulting in a character with, apparently, no passions or dreams beyond the revenge of his Uncle’s death. In fact, Parker’s character is pretty bland overall and totally inconsistent. He’s an arrogant, ego-centric and brooding teenager, and remains this way throughout the entire film, the chaos happening around him barely affecting him. There’s no point to the story, no message, no moral, so it just ends up becoming a hollow affair of fine visual effects and cutesy eye contact between the two ‘leads’ (if they are leads?). The film itself seems to realise that there’s no immediate danger or tension, so shoehorns in that old clichéd countdown, but the story is written in such a manner that each scene is scarcely connected to the next. It’s all just so utterly inconsequential, and it seems to get worse the more time I spend thinking about it.

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