Spiders, Drivers, and Makers of Lunches
A few more films this week, including (finally) one you can probably take your kids to – or at least that's what the makers and financiers of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 will be fervently hoping, as they have a budget of somewhere in the region of $230m to recoup.
Following on pretty closely from 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man, which was also directed by Marc Webb, this film chronicles yet more trials and tribulations in the life of teenaged superhero Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield). On this occasion, these include his promise to the late father of his lovely girlfriend (Emma Stone) to keep his distance, the reappearance of his genetically-troubled childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DuHaan), who's quite keen to get his hands on the blood of Spider-Man for pharmaceutical reasons, his ongoing quest to solve the mystery of his parents' disappearance, and the appearance of electric-eel-savaged headcase Electro (Jamie Foxx).
As you can see, there's a lot going on in this one, and I suppose it's to the credit of Webb and the writers that the whole movie doesn't implode into a mess of confused and incoherent plotlines. Still, it's not exactly strong on narrative focus, and there's the continuing problem of the film-makers apparently feeling obliged to steer clear – as far as possible, anyway – of characters and themes which were featured too prominently in the Raimi trilogy of Spider-Man films from last decade. As a result, the film is less strong on comedy and quirkiness than it could be, opting instead for a sort of emotional earnestness that actually got quite wearing by the end.
The end is also a bit of a problem, as a potentially striking and memorable climax is rather undercut by an extended coda which appears to only be there to set up the first in what we are promised will be an extended series of spin-off films. The bean counters at Sony have clearly noted the massive profitability of Marvel Studios' megafranchise brand and are angling for a slice of the same cake, with a whole bunch of sequels and dubious-sounding spin-offs (a Sinister Six film, plus a vehicle for the Black Cat) being in the offing.
I do like the Marvel movies, my only serious complaint being that most of the time the Marvel brand tends to swamp the individual identity of the films themselves. I have to say that Marc Webb's take on making a superhero movie is rather less to my taste than some others, but even that would be preferable to another exercise in franchise management. In any case, this is a competent blockbuster, if not exactly memorable.
Tom Hardy has given us a few memorable supervillains of his own in his time, along with some other great performances, and he has a long dark drive-time of the soul in Steven Knight's Locke. Hardy's ability to steal scenes from ostensibly bigger stars is well-known, but he gets little opportunity to use it here as his is the only face on screen throughout the film.
Hardy plays Ivan Locke, a Welsh construction manager whose life – we are invited to surmise – has been one of striving for decency, solidity, and integrity, all in an attempt to dispel some of the shadows of his own background. But now, one mistake is causing his entire life to implode. The film begins with Locke getting into his car in Birmingham and follows him, not quite in real time, as he drives down to London, all the time making a series of phone calls in an attempt to resolve the personal, professional, and domestic calamities which are rapidly overtaking him.
A film exclusively set in a car on the M40, which is significantly composed of conversations about pouring concrete, does not sound like a particularly enticing prospect, but Locke is a genuinely mesmerising film. Most of this is down to Hardy's performance. Hardy is perhaps best known for his ability to project a particular kind of turbulent masculinity, but the key quality of Ivan Locke is that he is a man trying desperately to keep things together and stay calm under in extremely trying circumstances: he's a good man who, perhaps unfairly, is losing everything due to one mistake. He's not shirking responsibility or making excuses for himself, but occasionally the strain tells and we see a glimpse of the turmoil beneath.
The people Hardy is on the phone to include respected names like Olivia Colman and Andrew Scott, but it's the lead performance that carries the film. The ending is perhaps a little inconclusive, but then this film is really just about the journey. Locke may have a budget roughly 1% of that of Amazing Spider-Man 2's, but in terms of telling a gripping story and illuminating a believable character in three dimensions, this movie hits considerably harder. One to catch.
Another fairly unpromising starting point for a film, you might think, would be a mix-up by the renowned dabbawallahs of Mumbai, who accurately deliver 200,000 lunches to workers in the city every day (their failure rate is reputedly somewhere in the region of only one in every seven million deliveries). Nevertheless, such is the premise of Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox.
Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is an unhappy young housewife attempting to rekindle her husband’s interest by making him a really nice lunch every day. However, due to an almost-unheard-of error in the system, her lunches keep ending up on the desk of about-to-retire-and-unhappy-about-it curmudgeonly widower Saajan (Irrfan Kahn), who finds himself rather appreciating them. The relationship that builds between them gently shades towards romance, even as they find themselves forced to consider some difficult facts of their situation.
Well, yes, this looks on paper like the sort of sugar-coated cutesy life-affirming rom-com that usually makes me want to nip off somewhere quiet and open a vein, but The Lunchbox is by no means as soft or predictable as it looks. Batra isn’t afraid to mix real moments of drama and pathos into the mix, alongside some subtle romance and gentle comedy, and for much of its duration this looks like a thoughtful meditation on some of the universal aspects of modern life – ageing, loss, mortality, loneliness – rather than a cute exotic arthouse crowd-pleaser.
Khan and Baur are both very good indeed, giving marvellously subtle and layered performances, and so is Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Khan’s perky new replacement-in-training. The film really works hard to earn its big emotional pay-offs, but the ending is a bit out of left-field: this is the kind of film where the audience stays seated while the credits roll, hoping there’s still a little more to come. Nevertheless,a charming and thoughtful film – I’m not saying it made me want to set out in search of romance, but it certainly made me want to go for a curry. Another reminder that smaller is often better.