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Sunday, May 4, 2014

DAMN Good Movies -- THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2


Yes, I'm back with another of my movie takes, this time on the film The Amazing Spider-Man 2, based on the classic Marvel Comics superhero.  As always, if you haven't seen the movie yet and you don't want it spoiled for you, then please step back from your computer or whatever electronic device you're reading this on and stop reading now.  If, however, you're wise enough to know that movie reviews with spoilers are always more interesting than the ones without them...well...let's go web-swinging...

Two years ago, Sony Pictures released Marc Webb's reboot of the highly-successful Spider-Man franchise.  Too soon, some thought, and many fans ending up dismissing The Amazing Spider-Man as little more than "Twilight Spider-Man."  However, since the moviegoing audience extends far wider than diehard Spidey fans, the movie made over $750 million worldwide with a production budget of $230 million, so surprise, we now have The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Picking up some time after the first film, we find Peter Parker firmly established in his role as Spider-Man.  He's rocking a much better costume this time and seems to have won over a good portion of New York in the process.  But since this is Peter we're talking about, nothing is ever that easy and juggling his responsibilities as Spider-Man starts taking its toll on his personal life, particularly his relationship with Gwen Stacy.  In the previous film, Peter made a promise to Gwen's dying father that he would stay away from her, but quickly broke said promise and now feels all kinds of guilty.

And before we forget this is a superhero movie, we're gradually introduced to three Spider-Man villains, including Peter's childhood friend Harry Osborn, who we just now learn was friends with Peter after his parents were declared dead.  After a brief bromance reunion skipping rocks along the river, Harry reveals that he's dying from a genetic disease that apparently took the life of his father, Norman, and sees Spider-Man's blood as the cure for his condition.  Peter refuses, realizing that radioactive Spidey blood cocktail could be a really bad idea, which of course sends Harry off the deep end into full supervillain mode.

That alone should be enough to tell an effective story, but screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner add another major supervillain, Electro, into the mix along with things like more of Peter's mysterious dead parents and the return of "The Man in the Shadows" from the first film to set up even more supervillains to create the Sinister Six spinoff film.

As a result of having to address so many story elements in the span of two hours, the script feels clunky and overly cumbersome in places.  Splitting this movie into two films, one with Electro and one with the Green Goblin, probably would've focused the narrative instead of coming off like bloated fanboy porn.  That's not to say the movie is a failure though, because there are some truly amazing special effects that impress, and stars Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone's dating in real life only adds to their terrific onscreen chemistry. 

And even with the excessive story elements, the film's cast give some terrific performances with a lot of great character moments.  Here are some of the things that stood out:

SPIDER-MAN/PETER PARKER -- Andrew Garfield returns, far more confident in his role to the point of borderline cockiness.  Don't worry, Peter is still a neurotic mess but Garfield gets to unleash far more Spider-Man smacktalk this time around, reminding all of us of how different Spidey is compared to superheroes like Wolverine or Captain America.  He still may not be everyone's definitive Spider-Man after Tobey Maguire, but this film certainly won't lose him any fans. 

GWEN STACY -- Once again, Emma Stone gets to be a bit more than the traditional superhero girlfriend.  Gwen is revealed as high school valedictorian during an early graduation scene, then is shown as being worthy of attending Oxford and often smarter than Peter before ultimately meeting her fate.  Anyone that read the classic Amazing Spider-Man (vol.1) #121-122 was going to see Gwen's death coming a mile away the minute the Green Goblin shows up, but by shifting the location away from the George Washington Bridge, it's more of a surprise.

ELECTRO/MAX DILLON -- The decision to cast Jamie Foxx as Electro wasn't the worst move Marc Webb and the producers could have made, but just about everything else about the character might have been.  Max Dillon starts off as the most pathetic ubernerd since Jim Carrey's Edward Nigma in Batman Forever, but thankfully it doesn't last very long.  Instead of sticking to his comic book origin as an electric lineman who gets struck by lightning, this Max Dillon is a gifted but ignored electrical engineer stuck with maintenance in OsCorp's labs and ends up falling into a ginormous tank of genetically modified electric eels.  Because electric eels.  And no, there's no explanation why Dillon doesn't simply call himself "The Eel" like the rest of Spider-Man's animal-based villains.

GREEN GOBLIN/HARRY OSBORN -- Dane DeHaan was such a creepy villain in Chronicle, so it was no surprise to see him cast as Harry.  He's quite a change from James Franco and is a little annoying with his douchey bang combover, but manages to make the role his own before his rapid change into the Green Goblin.  Anyone hoping for a decent Green Goblin after Willem Dafoe as a Power Rangers villain can keep on hoping, as this Green Goblin becomes green and warty with mumbly teeth, then immediately decides to put on a very handy high-tech flightsuit and fly around on a glider.  Maybe one day...

THE RHINO/ALEKSEI SYTSEVICH -- There were a lot of fan concerns about having three villains in this movie, but The Rhino is little more than a fun afterthought.  Paul Giamatti seems pretty much wasted here, with only one sequence early on ramming a truck through congested New York City traffic and then turning back up all the way at the end in a mechanical suit of armor resembling a rhino.  The final scene turns a bit sweet with a young child, previously rescued from bullies by Spider-Man, facing off against The Rhino while wearing a Spider-Man costume.

MAY PARKER -- Sally Field reprises her role as Peter's aunt and sounding board, although she doesn't get to do very much.  We learn that Aunt May is still having financial trouble since Uncle Ben's death in the previous movie, forcing her to take on a nursing job in a nearby hospital.  She also finally breaks down and gives Peter a few more details about his dead parents.

RICHARD AND MARY PARKER -- And speaking of those dead parents, Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz get a flashback sequence of their own when they're attacked on a private plane by a man sent to assassinate Richard.  Unfortunately, most of the sequence is shot in nausea-inducing shakycam, but we're left with the notion that Peter's parents die as the plane spirals downward and crashes.  We also see Richard again later in a video message left inside a hidden lab in an abandoned subway station, where he explains that he had to leave because he refused to cooperate with Norman Osborn's biogenetic weaponization plans.  Well, that was important to someone, I suppose.

NORMAN OSBORN CAMEO -- Chris Cooper turns up in a deathbed scene just to show us that he's dying of some genetic disease that turns him green and warty with fingernail claws, and oh yeah, Harry has it as well.  Then he dies -- apparently -- but before doing so, gives Harry a flash drive device he claims contains his life's work.  Hopefully, there were some decent MP3s on there as well.

ALASTAIR SMYTHE CAMEO -- As the future Spider-Slayer, B.J. Novak doesn't do much apart from treat Max Dillon like crap at OsCorp.  Maybe he'll get to be in the Sinister Six spinoff or return for Amazing Spider-Man 3?

CAPTAIN GEORGE STACY CAMEOS -- Even though his character was already killed off, Denis Leary returns in several non-speaking appearances just to make Peter feel guilty.  Which he does -- really, really well.

OBLIGATORY STAN LEE CAMEO -- Stan "The Man" turns up in the early graduation ceremony scene as a guest, pointing at Peter and going "Hey, I think I know that guy!"

All in all, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn't really amazing, but isn't the disaster some comic book fans and movie critics are trying to claim it is.  It's a fun ride, at least as good as the previous movie, if not better, with a lot of great moments.  Unfortunately, those moments don't flow together as well as they should and once again, we have some disappointing villains that drag down the movie's potential.  That doesn't matter much to Sony Pictures, however, because the movie will make all kinds of money regardless.  The Amazing Spider-Man 3 is already scheduled for June 10, 2016 and The Amazing Spider-Man 4 is currently slated to arrive on May 4, 2018 (on top of the Sinister Six and Venom movies in the works), so here's hoping you aren't totally sick of Spidey four years from now...

And for those who may be wondering, here's the updated list of my Top 20 Comic Book Films:

1. Superman (1978)
2. The Dark Knight (2008)
3. The Avengers (2012)
4. Man of Steel (2013)
5. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
6. Spider-Man (2002)
7. Batman Begins (2005)

8. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
9. Watchmen (2009)
10. Iron Man (2008)

11. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
12. X-Men: First Class (2011)
13: The Wolverine (2013)
14. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
15. X2: X-Men United (2003)
16. X-Men (2000)
17. Thor (2011)
18. Batman (1989)
19. Superman II (1981)

20. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

Your friendly neighborhood movie reviewer,

Charles


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