My 2012 Movies in Retrospect: the Top Seven

Previously in our three-part miniseries, Part One was the bottom of the barrel and Part Two was the middle of the road. Part Three, then, is the top of the pops.

The countdown speeds toward its inevitable end:

Andrew Garfield, "Amazing Spider-Man"7. Amazing Spider-Man. I’ve gone on record multiple times with my reservations about unnecessary reboots. On the other hand, after Spider-Man 3 became the series’ answer to Batman and Robin, it’s hard to argue with the corporate decision to enact damage control and give the series its very own Batman Begins. Director Marc Webb avoids Sam Raimi’s fondness for Lee/Ditko/Romita ambiance in favor of transplanting the cast to a less timeless setting. The results reinforce the same moral without chanting it at us, thrill and thrive on their own terms, and recapture the trademark Spider-sarcasm that was my favorite part of the first few hundred Spider-comics I read in my youth, but regrettably in short supply in Tobey Maguire’s earnest, anxious portrayal.

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“Skyfall”: My New Favorite James Bond Film, Says Lifelong Bond Hater

Historically speaking, the average moviegoer loves James Bond films a lot more than I do. I have nothing against the spy genre itself, but the Bond concept never appealed to me. Based on the trailers, the TV commercials, the very few Bond films I caught, and the same five scenes constantly referenced throughout pop culture, my impression of the scripts for most Bond films went like so:

PANICKY POLITICIAN: Ladies and gentlemen, a deformed billionaire Dick Tracy reject has a preposterous plan to take over and destroy the world, and we’re not sure in which order. We need our best man to stop him.
BRITISH CIA HEAD: How about James Bond? He’s a millionaire who knows a lot about sex, bartending, and tuxedos.
PANICKY POLITICIAN: Brilliant. Send him a million-dollar car and a box of our latest, deadliest, billion-dollar single-use Sharper Image toys.
BOND JAMES BOND: There’ll be sex, right? I was promised sex.
FUNNY-FACE VILLAIN: I’m killing your sex partner and stealing your scenes! And also incidentally detonating things and ruining world peace because of issues.
BOND JAMES BOND: Not my sex partner! You fiend.
[Bond chases or runs from henchmen, using up his toys one by one. There are explosions.]
BACKUP SEX PARTNER: Job well done. Join me in my lair.
BOND JAMES BOND: Way ahead of you. Do you like expensive booze?

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James Bond vs. Not-Jason Bourne: Who Will Be America’s Next Jason Bourne?

Last weekend I finally watched Daniel Craig’s second James Bond film, Quantum of Solace after years of stalling due to unenthusiastic reviews. I’ve never been a big James Bond fan and, to be honest, have seen less than half the films — one Connery, a few Roger Moore, all the Brosnan ones except Goldeneye, and both Daniel Craig joints. So far, Casino Royale is the only one that I would rate above a B. That may be because Craig is less suave and sophisticated, more pragmatic, and definitely more bruised and bloodied. Not that I crave movie blood, but his Bond sweats and struggles more on the job than his pampered alternate-Earth predecessors did in my limited experience. Heroes spoiled rotten don’t appeal much to me. Batman may be rich, but you can tell he still has to put effort into what he does.

Perhaps it helps that Craig’s Bond seems less like traditional Bond and more like Jason Bourne — an unlikely hero who saves the day through determination, intense fist-fighting, handheld cameras, and smash-cuts into smash-cuts. Quantum of Solace seems brazen about its co-opting of the Bourne method. I didn’t mind at all until the action paused for character moments, few of which stacked up to the quiet moments and tense complications (exception: any and all uses of Dame Judi Dench). With half the movie sturdy and half of it wanting, Quantum didn’t quite find the same balance that director Paul Greengrass did in the second and third Bournes.

It remains to be seen, then, which of the upcoming spy films will rise above and bear the crown of the Bourne heir apparent. In this corner: Craig’s next Bond film, Skyfall:

This first teaser doesn’t offer nearly enough fluid fight samples for my taste, though that shadowy figure near the end is rumored to be special guest villain Javier Bardem. If anyone can grace us with a far more memorable presence than either of Craig’s last two opponents, Bardem is a safe bet.

In the other corner: The Bourne Legacy, starring Jeremy Renner as a spiritual doppelgänger of Matt Damon.

Stars a-plenty in that one. Edward Norton! Rachel Weisz! Joan Allen! Albert Finney! Rhys Ifans! David Strathairn! And is that Zelkjo Ivanek? (Well, I thought it was him.) And I probably missed even more. The Alley-Swoop-Cam shot at the end shows promise, though it’s a wee derivative of the window-jump shot from The Bourne Ultimatum.

Despite the months separating their release dates, I look forward to the cage match.

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