Tuesday, 24 March 2015

From Best to Least Best: Ranking the MCU Movies Part 1

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Marvel's franchise template of an expanded universe has become the model for modern blockbuster cinema, even if the half-baked efforts from Sony and Warner Brothers, with their poorly-conceived Spider-Man and Justice League universes, feel like pound-shop knock offs of the Real Deal. Marvel's Cinematic Universe is easily the best long-running superhero series (sorry, my beloved X-Men), consistently surprising audiences and taking risks. Up for release next month is Avengers: Age of Ultron, and with the current catalogue at ten entries, it seems as good a time as any to list the Marvel films in order of my least to most favourite. I've agonised over the order of some of them, and most of the films are clustered pretty close together. Suffice to say I like all ten of the MCU films so far released, and this two-part list is more indicative of my personal tastes, rather than a definitive statement of overall quality. This week, we'll take a look at numbers 10 to 6, in a rundown dominated by Marvel's Phase One, and next week we'll finish the list with 5 to 1.

You're welcome.

10) Captain America: The First Avenger

Despite being a firm Phase One favourite of many Marvel fans, I've never fully enjoyed the first Captain America film. I didn't like it at all when I first watched it, and I have always found it to be amongst the most frustrating of the MCU films. While it has a strong opening, it completely fumbles its middle and final sections, presenting us with a series of montages masquerading as a second act and a finale that never fully rises to the boil. However, on subsequent viewings I have warmed to its stronger points, and grown to admire the film as a whole. While director Joe Johnston - enthusiastic minute-taker in the If Only We Were Steven Spielberg Club* - has never really made a great film, his work is almost uniformly without cynicism and brimming with a clear love for cinema. Watching his The Rocketeer is like watching a small child quote Indiana Jones in his back garden; he gets it a bit wrong, but it's cute anyway. Even Jurassic Park III, which Spielberg 'let' Johnston have, has sort of an infectious innocence about it, even though it's fundamentally crap. Similarly, although much of Jumanji doesn't hold up very well today, the central premise is so gleeful it's difficult to resist. It's in this spirit that I can enjoy The First Avenger, which at its core functions as an innocent and uncomplicated fable of good guys vs. bad guys. It's about little more than bravery triumphing over bullies, and wears its heart completely on its sleeve, which I admire. In this sense, Johnston is the perfect director for the material, especially given his preoccupation with mid-twentieth century American iconography.

Unfortunately, however, the plot really is all over the place, and loses focus in its second half, a problem from which many of the Phase One films suffer. Captain America: The First Avenger is most confident when introducing the pre-Super Soldier Steve Rogers, a man whose heroism is at odds with his physical abilities. It's intriguing, well paced and a good change of pace from the alpha-male focussed Iron Man and Thor. Tommy Lee Jones, Hayley Atwell and Stanley Tucci are all stellar in supporting roles, and the whole affair captures the fun of the other MCU films, which carving out its own identity and texture, helped in no small part by the period setting and Shelly Johnson's distinctive cinematography. However, when it comes time to strap in and enjoy Rogers and his pals zip off to save the day, the film fumbles. Instead of showcasing Rogers and his team in a single, well-executed and exciting mission, the film treats us to a montage of the Cap's Greatest Moments. On their own, they look great, but without the connective story tissue they add up to very little, feeling more like flashbacks than complete scenes. It's a section of the film that insists on telling us how great Captain America is, rather than showing us, which also means that his badass team, known as the Howling Commandos, are given the short shrift: we never really get to know any of them, and so it's difficult to care or even follow what happens to them. This is especially disappointing given the time the film dedicates to developing the other supporting characters. By the time the finale rolls around, too much disconnect has happened between the audience and the film's wonky sense of pacing, and before we know it, the whole thing is all over in a finale that feels abrupt and undercooked. That said, Captain America: The First Avenger does have its stand-out moments, whether its in the delicious early nod to Raiders of the Lost Ark - "while the Fuhrer digs for trinkets in the desert" - the best post-credits tease since the first Iron Man, or Hugo Weaving's pitch-perfect 1940s-serial scenery chewing as The Red Skull. It's just that those moments rarely hang together in a way that works for me, and it's for that reason that while The First Avenger isn't the weakest MCU instalment (and is by no means a bad film), it's certainly the most disappointing.

9) The Incredible Hulk

I have a great deal of time for The Incredible Hulk, not least because it doesn't sit quite as well in the Expanded Universe as the other films. Released the same year as Iron Man, Marvel were still clearly hedging their bets with regards to their cross-continuity, and so what we have is a film differing greatly in both tone and style from Iron Man. Although The Incredible Hulk isn't connected to the previous Ang Lee Hulk, it also doesn't explicitly distance itself from it, making it feel somewhere in between a reboot and a sequel. What the film demonstrates very well is that it is possible to effectively (re)introduce a character without another interminable 'Origins' plot. Right off the bat we have Edward Norton as an already Hulkified-Bruce Banner, hiding from the authorities in the Brazilian favellas. Hunted by Tim Roth's menacing Royal Marine Emil Blonsky, Banner is searching for a cure to his condition. It's a decent premise, and the first transformation scene, coming early in the film, is great, setting the film apart from Lee's ambitious but plodding predecessor. However, just as Iron Man struggles to do anything interesting with Tony Stark after he gets into the completed suit, The Incredible Hulk struggles after Banner finds himself back in the US. It's never clear whether or not Blonsky's superior, General Ross, is supposed to be a villain, and while the final showdown in the city is exciting and well staged, it can't help but feel rather perfunctory, not least because of the film's lack of a clear theme. As a result, the film's story never really climaxes; I'd suggest this is because, as the second MCU film, it's raison d'etre seems to be the dual question, "Can we really do this comic character justice on the big screen, and will audiences accept him?" The first Iron Man exists for basically the same reason, and I would argue that it's this proof-of-concept approach to the material that means the narratives of both Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk don't work especially well. It's a problem that Marvel didn't really solve until the redemptive narrative arc of Thor, and is something that with their demonstrably growing confidence, they've been refining ever since.   That said, it's better paced than Captain America, and has a feel and identity of its own. While having virtually no impact on the events of the wider MCU, The Incredible Hulk is a solid action film, and works best as a monster movie.

8) Thor: The Dark World

While there's nothing especially wrong with the second Thor entry, and despite the fact that I find it more consistently entertaining than both The First Avenger and The Incredible Hulk, there just seems to be something lacking about this one. Perhaps it's the lame rom-com subplot between Natalie Portman and Chris O'Dowd which goes nowhere, or the unnecessary addition of the Lady Sif taking a fancy to Thor: also a dead-end that leads nowhere. I suspect, however, it's something a little deeper than that, and I'd attribute it to a director better known for his TV work and, ahem, the new Terminator film, due later this year. Alan Taylor's direction is fine but humdrum, lacking anything approaching the sincerity of Joe Johnston, the idiosyncrasy of Iron Man 3's Shane Black, or indeed, Kenneth Branagh's commitment to the portentous silliness that made the first Thor such a laugh. This blandness bleeds through into the film's villain, Malaketh, who doesn't come remotely close to Loki as a great bad guy. Tom Hiddleston, however, remains on top form as Thor's conniving adopted brother, clearly having the time of his life as the MCU's best baddie. Indeed, positioning Loki as a central character only strengthens what would otherwise be a rote plot. In fact, all the key players are on good form, and despite the film's shortcomings, the action is still exciting; I especially like the London-set, portal-hopping finale, and seeing Loki and Thor working together is a treat. As a result, The Dark World firmly consolidates the promise of the first Thor, Avengers Assemble and Iron Man 3: that Marvel has finally cracked how to properly structure a narrative towards a satisfying conclusion.

7) Iron Man 2

Much like The Incredible Hulk, I have a lot of time for the second Iron Man film, and unlike many fans, I don't hate the fact that its main purpose for existing is to set up future Avengers films. Robert Downey Jr. is on top form again as the eponymous hero, and the sub-plot of his needing to find a new power source for the suit works especially well, tying together Tony's rediscovery of his father's legacy, battling the villain Whiplash, and meeting with Nick Fury to discuss the tantalising Avengers Initiative. What's key here is that this is a good sub-plot, as is the Justin Hammer as a rival weapons developer sub-plot, as is the mounting tension between Tony and Colonel James Rhodes. It's just a shame that none of these become the main plot of the movie, and as such it struggles for both narrative direction, and an identity sufficiently distinct from the last film. In addition, Iron Man 2 introduces Natasha Romanoff AKA Black Widow, but rather than focussing on her impressive skill set, positions her as a sex object for Tony. Avengers Assemble and Captain America: The Winter Soldier have gone some way to rectifying that representation of her, but in a series that has yet to feature a single woman in the lead in ten films (and won't until it hits film number 20 (!) with Captain Marvel), it's a particularly embarrassing misstep. That said, replacing Terence Howard with Don Cheadle as Rhodes is a brilliant move - "I'm here, it's me, get over it" - as is the introduction of War Machine. Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell have terrific fun in their roles as Whiplash and Hammer, and the action sequences, tepid finale aside, are fun, tense and exciting. It's another one which has grown on me over time, and while it might not quite hit the mark, it's got a lot to offer.

6) Iron Man

Iron Man is rightly beloved as the film that opened Marvel's experiment in cross-franchise continuity, but in hindsight, it's not quite as good as some of the later entries to the MCU. On release, Iron Man's secret weapon was low expectation, owing partially to the fact that the character was unfamiliar to most audiences. Additionally, this was a time for the genre when for every Spider-Man 2 there was a Daredevil or X-Men: The Last StandSuperman Returns had disappointed audiences and most people were more interested in the upcoming The Dark Knight than in Robert Downey Jr. dressing up in red and gold armour. It came as somewhat of a surprise, then, that Iron Man was full of wit, innovation and humour. Downey Jr. was a revelation as Tony Stark, embodying the role as effortlessly and inextricably as Harrison Ford and Indiana Jones. It's easy to forget, too, the brilliance of the suit design - the suit effects really are flawless - and not since Superman The Movie (or Spider-Man, at a push) had a superhero costume been translated so faithfully and effectively on the big screen. But perhaps most impressively, the film balances its tone perfectly, engaging in a wry self-awareness without ever falling into tiresome post-ironic snark. The icing on the cake was, of course, the post-credits tease, which had people cheering in the cinema. Again, it's easy to forget how innovative this was; superhero films just didn't inhabit shared universes at the time, and the promise of this happening, however tenuous, felt tantalising.

So why isn't Iron Man higher on my list? In short, it's been superseded by its more confident and better structured successors. As with many of the early Marvel films, Iron Man's villain is its weakest asset, filling a perfunctory role so that we can have a climactic showdown, which, while okay, neither lives up to nor exceeds the film's previous set-pieces. Linked to this is the fact that after Tony gets into the completed suit, the film runs out of story. I think that an interesting facet of the Phase One films is that they feel like proof-of-concepts, rather than narrative films. The Incredible Hulk, Captain America: The First Avenger and Iron Man especially are strongest in their first and second acts, when they are introducing their audiences to these outlandish characters. As I've suggested above, once the films are finished with the set up, they run out of steam, because they're interested in their characters first, and their narratives second. This would be fine, but because Iron Man is a Hollywood tent pole movie, it needs to have an action-packed third act, which given the loose and fun spirit of the film, just doesn't quite work. Iron Man secures its place through its light tone, Downey Jr.'s pitch-perfect performance, and in its sheer gall at setting up a shared cinematic universe. Undeniably flawed, and far from Marvel's strongest film, it remains a solid and highly entertaining first instalment in the mega franchise.

Once these early films were under Marvel's belt, and once the studio became more adept at handling their cross-continuities, they became better at balancing story and character. As this list would suggest, the MCU films have broadly improved as the studio has grown in confidence. The next five films on this list represent the series' development, so come back next week to see how they stack up.

* Other members include Head-of-Club Robert Zemeckis and purveyor of sentimental schlock and inferior Harry Potter films, Chris Columbus.  

Monday, 9 March 2015

Beyond Redemption: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

After an extended hiatus, the Magnificent Tramp returns with a new series: Beyond Redemption. Once a month, I'll be posting extended reviews of films that are so absymal that they go beyond the levels of flawed, ascending to the nirvana of the irreedemable. In this first post, I'll be looking at The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which although currently has a rating of 58% on Rotten Tomatoes, is one of the most execrable examples of superhero cinema in recent memory. For my money, I thought the first Amazing Spider-Man was flawed but not unforgivably so. While unpopular with fanboys, I thought presenting Peter Parker as arrogant and self-involved was an interesting shift from Toby Maguire's whiny Peter and left opportunities for him to grow as a character. Consequently, I was looking forward to a flawed film that would hopefully have some interesting ideas, new interpretations, and if nothing else, some exciting web-slinging hi-jinks.

Oh, how I was wrong. So, terribly, terribly wrong. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 repeats all of its predecessor's vices and none of its virtues, presenting us with a perfect storm of schizophrenic characterisation, incoherent screenwriting and all the narrative direction of an overly long game of snakes and ladders. Of course, TASM2 is not unique in these flaws: The Dark Knight Rises suffers from pretty severe structural problems and plot-holes, Iron Man 2 exists mainly to set up future Marvel films, and Sam Raimi's much-derided Spider-Man 3 is an infuriating, overstuffed mess. But The Amazing Spider-Man 2 gives us something especially rank, far outstripping the failings of its forbears. It is a production so black of heart, so devoid of humanity, so profoundly lacking in any mirth, wit, or joie de vivre that while it may not be the worst superhero film ever made (that particular accolade still belongs de facto to Batman and Robin), it is certainly the most toxic.

Both Amazing Spider-Man films were directed by Marc Webb, of the bafflingly popular but assuredly dreadful 500 Days of Summer. Where 500 Days' eponymous heroine is an object of affection for Tom, an impossibly desirable pixie girl who refuses to settle down, dammit, TASM2's Gwen is an object to be bartered over between Peter and her father. Using a woman in jeopardy as the call to action for the male hero is a cliche as old as the hills, and one which has a specific precedent in comic books. The Dark Knight Trilogy, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films and Superman all make use of the trope to varying degrees of success. Nevertheless, there are several factors that make the cliche especially irksome in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, not least because one of the few refreshing aspects to TASM1 was that Gwen was a far more proactive and resilient character than Mary Jane was in Raimi's films. In the second Amazing instalment, Gwen attempts to retain her agency by playing an active part in her and Peter's relationship, but doesn't count on her dead father getting between Peter's conscience and his libido. Peter is plagued by visions of Gwen's father, reminded of the promise that he made to stop seeing Gwen. Here, the film thinks that it is grappling with the same themes of power and responsibility that were at the heart of the Raimi films, but what Peter's conflict actually exposes is an unthinkingly paternalistic, and quite nasty core to the film's moral compass. Where Maguire's Peter was able to accept Mary Jane's informed decision to be with him, Garfield's hero interminably flip-flops on what he wants from Gwen in what can only be described as a calculated act of manipulation and emotional blackmail.

Squandered talent: Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy

For example, at the start of TASM2, Peter dumps Gwen because her dead father's stern-looking ghost reminds Peter of his promise to leave Gwen alone. She's understandably angered and hurt at Peter's decision, especially given that he has made no attempt to talk to her about it. Later, Peter decides that he still wants to be friends. No sooner does Gwen agree to this new arrangement than Peter immediately starts making flirtatious and emotionally manipulative comments along the lines of "if we're going to be friends you'll have to stop laughing like that because it's too damn sexy". Later, Gwen takes up a place at Oxford University and prepares to leave New York. Even though Peter has decided they can't be together, he still tries to stop Gwen from leaving by devising a stunt (webbing the words 'I love you' on to the Brooklyn Bridge) to persuade her to stay within his sticky grasp, apparently quite happy to destroy her once-in-a-lifetime chance of studying at one of the world's most prestigious universities. It's baffling to me that anyone could interpret his behaviour as emotionally responsible, let alone heroic.

Contrast this with Maguire's personal moral conflict in the Raimi films. Admittedly, Maguire does his own share of annoying flip-flopping, and does keep MJ in the dark about his dual identity as Spider-Man, but when it comes down to it, Mary-Jane is able to make her own decision about what she wants, and Peter accepts this without intentionally trying to confuse and manipulate her. Crucially, when MJ learns the truth about Peter she makes an informed choice to be with him, fully aware of the risks involved. Spider-Man 2 comes with its own problems, and I'm not defending that film's conventional and somewhat tiresome gender politics, but what Spider-Man 2 definitely does not do is present an arrogant, emotionally manipulative brat as a hero with whom the audience is encouraged to identify. Maguire's Peter is filled with insecurity and self-doubt, but Garfield's iteration of Peter is a cocky wise-ass who piles all of the emotional responsibility on to Gwen, while craftily denying her any actual control over the kind of relationship they have. Maguire's Peter knows that the connection between power and responsibility is sacrifice. In contrast, Garfield's Peter singularly lacks the maturity and selflessness to walk away wholesale from Gwen, and when he does toy with the idea of leaving her, it is because of a misplaced sense of guilt over breaking an agreement with her father. Crucially, that guilt has nothing to do with Gwen's safety or future happiness. Instead, the central moral conflict of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 lies in the agreement between two men over what to do with their woman. When that woman attempts to exert her own autonomy she is punished in an act of retribution so staggeringly instantaneous, emotionally hollow and unintentionally silly that on witnessing it I was shocked into exasperated laughter. Her death, regardless of its fidelity to comic history, is a cynical plot device designed both to appease comics fanboys, and as a weird and unsettling continuation of the theme / exorcism of the 'girl that got away' demon that also informs Webb's debut feature, 500 Days of Summer.

A defence of Gwen's death as Peter's comeuppance for not letting her go is void: he mourns her for a few months and then, as shown by the final, tacked on scene, goes back to business as usual: showing off in front of New York's uniformly idiotic public. The final scene of the film is unsatisfying as a finale, but more importantly it robs Gwen's death of any emotional resonance that it might otherwise have had were its consequences explored properly. Moreover, her death has nothing to do with rebuking Peter for his selfishness or manipulative nature - it is the consequence both of the broken contract between he and Gwen's father, and of that damned foolish woman who keeps getting herself into trouble when the men aren't around to stop her. Other superhero movies are often guilty of representing women as fantasy damsels in distress, but The Amazing Spider-Man 2 goes one step further by being aware of its heroine's capacity for autonomy, before punishing her for taking action and not doing what she is told. It is almost as if Gwen has wandered in from a better written film, and finds herself surrounded by two-dimensional, unpredictable weirdoes who are guided by the invisible hand of an inverse morality. The film likes the idea of a sassy, sexy girlfriend with a mind of her own, but in profoundly hating the reality of an autonomous woman, acts accordingly by eliminating her.

Electro: Just as confused as the rest of us
Superhero films offer modern parables about the values of society, and tend to be strongest when exploring the manichean concepts of good and evil. This kind of cinema does not need to provide glib, Aesop-esque morals, but I do think that it needs a moral centre - even if that centre is disrupted or challenged. The thematic politics of many superhero narratives are essentially conservative - the triumph of order over chaos (The Dark Knight); the inviolability of individual freedom (Iron Man); stability vs insecurity - but they at least offer moral compasses, the direction of which can generally be agreed upon. But what moral compass does The Amazing Spider-Man 2 offer? When Peter refuses to help his terminally-ill friend, in which direction is his compass pointing? When he emotionally manipulates his girlfriend into staying with him, what form of ethics is the film advocating? I'm fine with films that encourage us to relate to unlikeable or morally dubious characters; some of the greatest directors in history have made based entire careers on exploring unpalatable characters. But when you position your character as a hero, as an embodiment of goodness, and the cypher through which the audience experience a power fantasy - which, let's face it, is what most superhero narratives are - then making that character an alpha-male douchebag with borderline sociopathic traits is rather problematic for the core morality of your story. As I have said, I quite liked that in TASM1 Peter began the film as an immature, entitled brat, but that only works if he grows and changes as a character. By the end of the second film he categorically has learned nothing.  Sure, he mourns Gwen's death, but only insofar that he is upset that he doesn't get to play with his favourite toy anymore. The film shows us nothing of his own culpability or responsibility for Gwen's demise; he's just in a huff because his dream girl has been taking away by the bad man. At no point does Peter show any understanding that it was his refusal to help his friend Harry Osborn that led to Gwen's death. The film tacitly absolves Peter of any fault, robbing itself of any redemptive catharsis. If Peter learns nothing from Gwen's death, which he doesn't, then her death is dramatically meaningless.

Which leads me on to the morality of TASM2's villains, who, like Peter, also appear to be suffering from their personality disorders, swapping out their motivations and character traits according to the whims of the plot. I feel safe in saying that the first sequence with Electro in Times Square is one of the worst storytelling moments that I have ever endured in a motion picture. In the space of ten seconds, Electro turns from a confused and frightened victim into a glory-hunting mass murderer, but to the ultra-impatient screenwriters, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, exploring Electro's psychology is too much work - it's easier for him just to get pissed off at a TV camera pointing at Spider-Man, right? How are we supposed to care about this guy when apparently the only reason he's being evil is because the plot demands it? Even notorious disasters like Schumacher's Batman films, with all their silliness and ultra-camp aesthetics, understood that to engage with the story, the audience needs characters with coherent internal psychologies. How has a film from 2014 mishandled something that even Batman Forever managed?

After abruptly dispensing with Electro by squirting him with a fire hose (because water and electricity don't mix, I suppose), the film introduces Harry Osborn, Peter's heretofore unmentioned best friend. Harry has a terminal genetic disease and thinks Spider-Man's magic blood holds the key to a cure (just like Orci and Kurtzman's Star Trek Into Darkness). He approaches Spider-Man and asks him to help, so Spider-Man says no, because 'it might not work'. This is literally the reason that Peter, scientific genius (who, by the way, watches YouTube videos on how batteries work because the Orci and Kurtzman can't be bothered to include properly integrated exposition) and best and oldest friend to Harry Osborn chooses to let him die from a horrific disease. How exactly are we supposed to buy into the relationship between Peter and Harry, or into Spider-Man as a heroic character when he refuses to help his friend in need? 
This leads us to a crucial aspect of Peter's character: he only ever acts when it will either directly benefit him, as with his emotional manipulation of Gwen, or in self-aggrandising posturing, such as when he fights Electro and Rhino to the slack-jawed adulation of braying morons who are too stupid to see that they are in mortal danger. Peter might save people in public displays of aerobatics, but in private he is selfish, arrogant, and prone to obsessive behaviour and temper tantrums. Peter's refusal to even try to help his friend leads us to invariably sympathise with Harry. When he goes to confront Spider-Man, post-Goblin transformation, are we really expected to side with Peter, a man who left his best friend to a dreadful fate? To fool us into thinking Spider-Man is a hero, Harry is transformed from a realistic, desperate victim into gurning pantomime villain in one costume change. Regardless of its fidelity to comic canon, Gwen's death is a cheap trick to make Harry seem evil: not only is this entirely out of character for Harry, it also does nothing to absolve Peter of his responsibility to Harry, nor does it nullify Harry's legitimate grievance with Peter. In any case, Gwen's death was written in the stars, as demonstrated by the heavy-handed foreshadowing throughout the film. Her death was as destined as Harry's illness and Peter's Spiderness (which, as has been pointed out time and again, totally misses the point of the accidental nature of Spider-Man). According to the film's internal screwy logic, Gwen's death was both unavoidable but also-sort-of Gwen's fault for not listening to Peter. Most egregious of all, however, is using Gwen as on object to make Harry appear evil and to give Peter a bogus final-act catastrophe before his triumphant return at the end.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a profound and irredeemable mess. It is two hour and twenty minutes of moving images and sound, which although technically qualifies it as a feature film, falls woefully short of anything resembling a story. The shifts in tone are amongst the most jarring I have ever seen, and the complete lack of connection between scenes, characters, and plot-points make Prometheus seem like a masterpiece in narrative form. Characters change personalities from moment to moment, and the considerable acting talents of Garfield, Stone, Sally Field, Dane Dehaan, Jamie Foxx, Paul Giamatti and Chris Cooper are squandered by what must surely be one of the worst screenplays ever written relative to a film's budget and profile. Singularly, these faults could be forgiven, ignored even. Collectively, they do not negate the film's positive qualities (like Prometheus, the film is very well shot and brimming with colour, and the opening shot of Spider-Man falling towards Manhattan is undeniably exhilarating. Unlike Prometheus, however, no performance in TASM2 comes close to Michael Fassbender's terrific portrayal of David). But the final nail in TASM2's coffin is its dearth of morality; it is a film that profoundly misunderstands the basic concepts of responsibility, sacrifice, and human relationships. Very few characters act like real human beings in the world of TASM2, but worse than this, the one character to whom we must relate for the film to work is manipulative, reckless and borderline sociopathic. It is this lack of any recognisably moral dimension to its hero that ultimately betrays the film: as entertainment it is unwatchable, as moral fable it is repellent, and as cinema it is unmitigated failure.