Monday, May 5, 2014

Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Directed by: Marc Webb.
Written by: Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci & Jeff Pinkner and James Vanderbilt based on the comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.
Starring: Andrew Garfield (Spider-Man / Peter Parker), Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy), Jamie Foxx (Electro / Max Dillon), Dane DeHaan (Green Goblin / Harry Osborn), Colm Feore (Donald Menken), Felicity Jones (Felicia), Paul Giamatti (Aleksei Sytsevich), Sally Field (Aunt May), Embeth Davidtz (Mary Parker), Campbell Scott (Richard Parker), Marton Csokas (Dr. Ashley Kafka), B.J. Novak (Alistair Smythe), Sarah Gadon (Kari), Chris Cooper (Norman Osborn), Denis Leary (Captain Stacy).

The biggest problem with Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) was that Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man came out just 10 years before, and the two movies essentially told the exact same story – subbing in a different villain and love interest of course. I thought The Amazing Spider-Man was probably a better movie than Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man was – but also a little less enjoyable, as Raimi’s got there first and so the “reboot” (“Don’t call it a remake!”) felt slightly warmed over, even if it did have its undeniable charms. The biggest problem with Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is that Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 came out just ten years before, and the two movies essentially tell the exact same story – subbing in a different villain and love interest of course. This is a bigger problem for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 than it was for the original – because Raimi’s second Spider-Man movie was the only one that he completely nailed – and it remains far and away the best Spider-Man we’ve seen so far. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has its undeniable charms – and I ultimately walked out of it having had a good time, and thinking it was a good movie. But once again, it feels more than slightly warmed over.

We open, as we always do, with an action sequence mostly unrelated to the actual plot – as Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) swings through New York City and has to stop Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti) from making away with some plutonium. He does – of course – and he is even able to (just barely) make his high school graduation in time to get his diploma – although he misses his girlfriend Gwen’s (Emma Stone) valedictorian speech. Peter Parker is haunted by memories of Gwen’s father however – and the promise he made to leave Gwen out of what he does – and although they love each other, they cannot be together – at least not right now.

New Yorkers are split as to whether or not they love Spider-Man – but Oscorp electrical engineer Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) loves him – he saved Max’s life after all. Max is a loser, who goes basically unnoticed through his life. He’s one industrial accident away from becoming a super villain – so of course he has one, and becomes Electro – who is essentially electricity made human – and of course, quickly moves from loving Spider-Man to hating him. Then there’s Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) who returns to New York to sit by his dying father’s bedside – and eventually to take over Oscorp himself. He’s an old friend of Peter’s – but like Max, it won’t be long before Harry is also after Spider-Man.

There is a lot to like about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – Garfield and Stone have an undeniable chemistry, and they make their dialogue scenes, where they hash out their relationship work far better than the dialogue they are given should allow them too. Garfield doesn’t quite go full emo like Tobey Maguire did at times in the Raimi Spider-Man movies – but he comes close. Mostly though, he keeps things lighter – and it works. Jamie Foxx lays it on a little thick – both in full nerd mode as pre-accident Max, and as the villain Electro – but the role pretty much requires him to and it mainly works. Dane DeHaan continues his quest to become the next James Franco (at least in terms of acting) – but he makes a good Harry Osborn – a confused kid whose mounting anger pushes him to dark places. The immensely talented Felcity Jones shows up, although she’s given nothing to do as Harry’s assistant – but presumably she’ll play a larger role soon (comic book fans know who she’ll become). The supporting players – from Giamatti to Campbell Scott as Parker’s long gone dad to Sally Field as Aunt May to Colm Feore as a scheming lawyer – hit the right notes in their limited screen time.

Also, there’s still something thrilling – even after 5 movies in 12 years – about watching Spider-Man fly through New York with his webs. The action sequences are well handled – especially a dazzling final battle between Spider-Man and Electro. It may not be new, but it’s still effective.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 does, at times, try to do too much. The movie, like its predecessor, is nearly two and half hours long and grows repetitive in its middle act. The film also tries, mainly successfully but not entirely, to hit a lot of different emotional notes – moving from action to joy to sorrow sometimes too quickly. The film certainly does feel overstuffed. The big emotional payoff at the end comes as no surprise to comic book fans – and probably won’t to anyone else in the audience given just how heavily foreshadowed it is from pretty much the first scene in the movie.

Had Sam Raimi never made any Spider-Man movies, the two directed by Marc Webb would probably play better than they do. But the problem is that Raimi did make them– and not that long ago. The challenge for this series is to try to do something different with the character – try and make it seem like they didn’t just reboot it and tell basically the same story in an (successful) effort to milk more money out of the audience. Through two movies now, they haven’t done that. I enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – just like I enjoyed the first movie. But I can’t help but think this series would be better if it didn’t seem to be following the blueprint set out by the first series of movies – which wasn’t that original in the first place.

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