Friday, May 02, 2014

Zaki's Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Read my 2012 review of The Amazing Spider-Man here

Max Dillon (a.k.a. Electro, a.k.a. Jamie Foxx) gets the point via Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield)
In 2012, after a creative roadblock halted development on a planned Spider-Man 4 that would have re-teamed director Sam Raimi with star Tobey Maguire, and with the loss of the whole franchise to Disney a very real possibility, Spider-Man rightsholders Sony Pictures chose to reboot the Marvel Comics' webslinger's big screen series from the ground up just ten years after it started, and a mere five years after its last unfortunate installment. As a result, a lot of folks came down hard on The Amazing Spider-Man, with much of that resentment stemming from what they perceived as a wholly unnecessary razing-and-restart.

And as far as the necessity of the reboot, I'll offer no argument. There was really no reason to see awkward loner Peter Parker get bitten by a genetically engineered spider again, to see his poor old Uncle Ben get fatally shot again, and to see him learn to master his spidery powers again -- with the filmmakers twisting themselves into pretzels all the while to be different without being too different. That said, taken on its own merits, I enjoyed the film quite a bit. And I can now say the same thing about The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which is the fifth Spider-Man film overall, the third Spider-Man sequel, and the first sequel to the reboot. Still with me?

Directed once again by Marc Webb (who feels a lot more confident at the helm of a mammoth superhero spectacle), we pick things up very shortly after we left the story last time, with Peter (Andrew Garfield) freshly graduated from high school, still struggling to find that balance between power and responsibility as his spandex-suited alter ego, while also doing the on-again/off-again dance with long-suffering gal pal Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), even after vowing to her dying dad in the first flick that he'd protect her by keeping her out of his world.

In his second spin through the title role, Andrew Garfield has really found his groove as Spidey, showing both his scientific know-how and propensity for witty banter in ways that were lacking in the Raimi-Maguire iteration of the franchise. Of course, this being a Spider-Man story, we know that things have to get more complicated. Thus, we're introduced to new baddie Electro (Jamie Foxx), not to mention the return of Peter's millionaire chum Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan, taking over for James Franco from the previous series) to reclaim his family's company.

Ultimately, if these movies live and die by their villains, then we're kind of at the shallow end of the baddie pool with Electro (created in the '60s by comic creators Stan Lee & Steve Ditko). We all know what a compelling actor Jamie Foxx is, but the underwritten role (courtesy of the script by Star Trek's Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman) sets him up as warmed over version of Jim Carrey's Edward Nygma in 1995's Batman Forever. He goes from fawning Spider-Man fanboy to furious Spider-Man foe while pretty much hopscotching right over the beats to get us from point A to point B. Batman Forever did it better (which is just a weird, weird sentence to type).

The Osborn family plotline, which encompasses Harry's dying dad Norman (Chris Cooper) as well as further revelations about the mysterious disappearance of Peter's parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davitz) when he was a child, is also marred by a lack of focus. In the interests of preserving some of the film's third act surprises, I won't get into spoilers, but I'll say that it seems like the producers (among them franchise vet Avi Arad) are determined not to do the same old thing with Harry-Peter dynamic given how much it was laced through (or weight down, if you like) the prior trilogy. I give them credit for the intent, if not the execution.

While this is starting to sound like something short of a ringing endorsement, endorse it I do, based almost entirely on the strength of the Peter-Gwen relationship, itself elevated by the easy chemistry between Garfield and Stone. It's so, so good, and such a far cry from the creepy-weepy relationship between Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst (which I never liked) in the other movies. That relationship felt forced and artificial, this one doesn't. Not only do we believe in their affection for one another, we also buy Gwen's integral role in both halves of Peter's life, which in turn makes the climax (reprising a beat that should be familiar to longtime Spider-Man comic book fans) feel more consequential.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 really shouldn't as work as well as it does. Because of Sony's ambitious (read: risky) plans to spin-off (read: strip mine) the Spider-Man rights for all they're worth, it's tasked with not only furthering its own internal storyline, but also laying pipe for several other potential franchises. As a result, it has a few too many balls in the air, and a few too many plot threads randomly started or abruptly ended. It feels at times like two separate movies awkwardly scotch-taped together, which has me a bit worried about Sony's big mega-franchise plans. But as far as this entry goes, despite its flaws, I left the theater feeling satisfied. Not amazed, but satisfied. B

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