Monday, May 5, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2: A Review (Review #630)


First things first.  As soon as a mini-trailer for X-Men: Days of Future Past ends during the credits of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, you can leave.  About the only spoiler I'm giving is that there is no end-credit scene in this film, which for a comic-book based film is almost de rigueur.  It seems unfair to have people wait until the very end for something that will never come.

However, I think that is pretty much a solid description for TASM2, which throws a lot of things at us (beautifully, I must confess), but which leaves so much more to be desired.

It's difficult to give an overall plot summary of TASM2 because a.) it would give away too much, and b.) there are so many stories that it is an almost Herculean task to do so.  I'll do my best.

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is struggling.  He is struggling to keep a balance between being a crime-fighter and being a regular teen, complete with girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone).  He is also haunted (figuratively and literally) by Gwen's father (Denis Leary).  Their relationship goes from her breaking up with him to them getting back together to her seeking to go to Oxford to, well, can't say.

From here, TASM2 goes this a'way and that a'way without much rhyme or reason, but let's see what I can do.  Dr. Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), a nebbish working for Oscorp (which really must be the center of all evil), is rescued by Spidey and he becomes his "Number One Fan" in the Annie Wilkes from Misery style of fandom.  Forced to work alone, late at night, on his birthday of all days (which no one remembers because, you know, he and the entire situation is a cliché), he suffers an on-sight accident that turns him into Electro.  When once he was Spidey's greatest fan, after a bungled confrontation he swears eternal vengeance on Spider-Man.

You don't know the power
of the Dark Side...

Fortunately (or not), Electro is put away when the plot doesn't need him to turn to someone else.  That someone else is Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), Peter's childhood friend whom he hasn't seen in eight years.  Harry's father has just died, leaving him Oscorp's sole heir...and giving him the fatal disease that took dear old Dad.  Harry's convinced Spider-Man's blood will cure him, but Peter/Spidey isn't.  He thinks it will kill his best friend.  Harry is determined to get at his blood, but this is complicated by the fact that the disease which took decades to kill Norman Osborn is taking apparently weeks to do the same to Harry.

Also, there is a coup at Oscorp and Harry is thrown out, but Harry, who knows of Electro's imprisonment, goes and rescues him from a mad German scientist named Dr. Kafka (Marton Csokas).

OK, it should lose points just for that "mad German scientist named Kafka" bit, down to the wild Teutonic accent even Hitler would find insane. 

Well, suffice it to say they join forces, Harry does manage to get some of the spider serum Oscorp had stashed away somewhere, in the midst of Spidey and the Emperor...I mean, Electro, fighting (after Spidey conveniently stopped Gwen from going to Oxford, at least generous of him), Harry becomes The Green Goblin, which causes Spider-Man to endure more pain and heartbreak.

Oh, and also, Peter's father Richard (Campbell Scott) who worked with Harry's father Norman (Chris Cooper), left some clues about the work he was working on for his son somehow to find (I guess) and a Russian gangster (Paul Giamatti) is bookended in the film: having a battle with him in the beginning, and fighting his altered form of Rhino in the end, which leads I guess to the sequel...

There are three reasons to start with as to why I was not enthusiastic about The Amazing Spider-Man 2:  Rhino, Electro, and Green Goblin.  I suppose individually I have nothing against them, but piling them all together brought back flashbacks of Spider-Man 3, which basically killed off the franchise and brought us to this rebooted series.  The same thing happened to Batman & Robin, not so much that there were too many villains, but that the villains seemed to be thrown in for no real reason.  Why the permafrost Mr. Freeze would join forces with the green (and thus, heat-dependent) Poison Ivy has never been explained (though there is no explanation for that).

The true tragedy of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is that the villains really had no central role in the film.  Certainly there is no justification whatsoever for having Giamatti's character in the film save for introducing him for a Sinister Six spin-off.  He was irrelevant, unnecessary, and so comically bad I wonder if it was suppose to be as idiotic as Giamatti and director Marc Webb made him. 

Let me go on a slight tirade.  SERIOUSLY, what was Rhino's reason for being in THIS movie?  He wasn't even a secondary antagonist, let alone a primary one.  He never joined with Harry or Electro, and all we heard was Giamatti's strange take on a "Russian" accent (Putin would be justified in invading Giamatti's house on that alone).  IF he was put in this film just to "Marvel-ize" the Spider-Man franchise, then Sony/Disney has nothing but contempt for our intelligence.  Rather than have him slowly integrated into more stories (like Black Widow or Hawkeye, who had limited roles in other Marvel films before becoming larger), they decided it was best to throw him in there so we wouldn't have to worry about his character in a future feature.  This reduces TASM2 to nothing but one long trailer for something that may never come.  A film should be its own thing, not just a series of scenes to justify more movies.

Even with Electro and Harry joining forces, the script didn't know what to do with them.  Electro's switch from Spidey super-fan to arch-nemesis seems so haphazard and forced, and we don't get the Green Goblin until the end of the movie. 

Everyone is in this movie.
Even Andy Warhol...

As much as I loath comparing movies, at least with Spider-Man, Norman Osborn's transformation to The Green Goblin was a central part of the movie and was smoother and more conflicted than the 'oh, let's just inject some venom in me and I'll go insane".  

The screenplay is credited to Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinker, with screen story by the three and James Vanderbilt.  I however, suspect that there had to have been more than eight hands on the script, because it is such a mess.  There can be no justification for cutting Shailene Woodley's role as Mary Jane Watson but keeping Giamatti.

That's a minor point.  The whole film spins so out-of-control that it becomes clear right away that it is trying too hard to be too much to too many.  We got the quips, we got the romance, we got the action, we got the tortured souls of Harry and Electro, but not much comes together to make a cohesive whole.  There is no focus, no overarching story, because it has too much in it.  IF the struggle had been between a bitter Electro and Spider-Man, with Harry popping in and out but not yet entered Green Goblin territory, or vice-versa, THEN we would have had a more focused film where we would be teased about future characters.  However, because they decided to throw almost everything (except Mary Jane) into this the movie careens from one situation to another without finding any sense to it.

Same goes for the subplot of Peter Parker's parents.  Minus the fact that this opening scene with them was so badly shot (damn that shaky-cam fixation), it adds very little except the idea that Peter wasn't just some kid from Queens who got bit by a spider.  Instead, he is now turning out to be a link in a massive mystery. 

If his parents, or at least his father, turns out to be alive in a future film, I just may end up rushing the screen and try to pull it down.

What good there is in TASM2 is due to Garfield and Stone, who work so well as the love-tortured Peter and Gwen.  Their story arc works well and they make it all so believable.  Granted, I have some issues with it. I don't find stalking endearing, (which is what Peter basically is doing) nor his inability to recognize that going to Oxford would be good for her (making him a bit selfish).  However, their story is one filled with tension, romance, and tragedy. 

Apart from that I can't find anything good in terms of performances.  Jamie Foxx doing nebbish doesn't work.  His Max came across as psychotic BEFORE he turned to the Dark Side (my first thoughts when seeing him were 'he's NUTS'!).  I also never believed for one moment that he would have been left alone to fix some major problem, thinking it all so terribly clichéd that it should be laughable.  His motivations for wanting revenge on Spider-Man were ambiguous at best.

And yes, no matter how hard I tried, all I kept seeing was the Emperor from Star Wars whenever Electro popped up, complete with lightning coming out of his hands. 

I'm the REAL
Wolf of Wall Street!

DeHaan, I'm told, is one of our best up-and-comers.  This is the first film that I can remember him in (I never saw Chronicle and his other roles in films like Lawless and Lincoln weren't major).  Constantly looking like Leonardo DiCaprio's lost-long brother,  I think he did the best he could but like Electro, his motivations were a bit rushed.  Much more rushed was his transformation to The Green Goblin.  It was almost like, 'well, I'm going crazy already, so good thing I found this flying contraption just sitting in a secret chamber of Oscorp). 

And also, I wrote in my notes, 'since when was Peter friends with Andy Warhol?'

There were good things in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  The flying scenes were beautifully shot (though with a caveat that sometimes the slow-mo was a bit too much), and some scenes (for example, what should have been the ending with Peter mourning all that he lost in a great montage) worked extremely well.  Some of the comedy worked (with Garfield and Stone, anyway), and Sally Field did well (or as well as she could) with her Aunt May.

Having said what I could find positive, I can't say The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was good.  I found it very frustrating: frustrating in that it could have been better if there had been a focus on this story rather than trying to make this a larger franchise starter.  I forgave much in The Amazing Spider-Man to give it a mild recommendation, but I can't do the same for this venture.  I saw it in IMAX 3-D over my objections because I was pushed into it.  Sometimes the film is really amazing visually, I'll grant that. 

Everything else showed that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 just threw things on the screen and hopes that fans will be thrilled by all the action and visuals to care whether it is actually good.  Our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man deserves better, as do we.


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