Thursday, May 1, 2014

Review: "The Amazing Spider-Man 2"

Just a short review today, folks. Joe is handling the main article over at The Film Yap, and ably so, so please head over there to check it out.

I was very cynical about the reboot of the Spider-Man franchise. As I wrote at the time, undertaking a production just so the creative rights to the character won't revert to the previous owner is a terrifically awful reason to make a movie. But director Marc Webb, his cast and crew came up with a fresh take on familiar characters and themes. It was exhilirating.

As I also wrote, "The Amazing Spider-Man" also took its time building up the mythology of their new-ish universe, grounding the characters and rendering them relatable as people. In other words, it earned its emotional capital for the kabloowie stuff later on.

With the sequel, I often felt like the filmmakers were using shorthand and shortcuts. Dialogue scenes barely begin before they reach their emotional crescendo. Action scenes jump straight to the big explosions and CG effects. There's no foreplay, just "hello" and wham-bang.

Maybe I'm getting old, but I need a film to stoke my fires a little bit before getting to the main event.

There are some wonderful actors in this movie -- Andrew Garfield, Jamie Foxx, Emma Stone, Chris Cooper, Sally Field, Paul Giamatti (briefly). But as I sat there watching them spout increasingly ridiculous and/or nonsensical lines, I kept wondering how ill-used they are. This movie fails the old Gene Siskel test if you'd rather just watch that same cast sitting around lunch talking about whatever.

It's not a bad super-hero movie. I think there's actually a really good story here, buried underneath the unnecessary subplots and excess of secondary characters. Peter Parker, haunted by the death of Gwen Stacy's father in the last movie, dithers about keeping his promise to leave her alone, despite their desperate love for each other.

The main bad guy is Electro (Foxx), depicted here as a mush-mouthed, timid electric engineer who gets zapped by experimental eels at the headquarters of the evil Oscorp company. This turns him into a blue-skinned, semi-transparent being who can manipulate electrical energy -- eventually, even dis- and re-assembling his body through electricity.

His motivations aren't really clear -- something about feeling invisible and wanting the whole world to see him. Previously a Spider-Man junkie, he becomes disillusioned when the web-slinger helps capture him.

The filmmakers also throw in Harry Osborn, played by Dane DeHaan, who was born looking like a fallen angel, with a cupid's-bow mouth and dangerous eyes. His nasty dad Norman (Cooper), on his death bed, passes along his contempt as well as the "Osborn curse," a heredity disease he describes as "retro-viral hypoplasia." Basically, it turns you into a gnarled green goblin.

One of my standard metrics for comic book movies is you can rate them by how many villains they have. The truly terrific ones, like "Spider-Man 2" or "Blade," only need one really good bad guy to make things sing. With Spidey fighting Electro, the Green Goblin and even the Rhino (briefly), none of them get a chance to make a weighty impact.

Various subplots involving Peter's parentage, and his father's prominence as a scientist in the Oscorp machine, were better left on the writers' floor. Aside from muddying up the plot, it serves to diminish Peter as a character. The entire resonance of Spider-Man is that he's a nobody teenager who assumes great powers and, as we all well know, great responsibilities.

So: I liked the movie in pieces. There's a lot of good stuff here, and certainly the action sequences are fun and all you'd expect from a big summer blockbuster. This one just needed a half-dozen or so more rewrites to pare it down to its essence, instead of piling on the detritus.

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