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Thursday, May 1, 2014

‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ Forever (Movie Review)



The Amazing Spider-Man 2:  3 ½ out of 5

Max Dillon:  That must be pretty cool, huh?  To have the world see you like this – the amazing Spider-Man!  I wish I was like him.

I am a Batman fan.  People who know me well enough are pretty clear on that.  With that said, while Batman and the characters in his universe provide more for me to think about, I also grew up reading and watching Spider-Man (and occasionally his amazing friends).  I may find something more inherently interesting in the Caped Crusader, but it is easier to find fun in watching your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man knock out bad guys and one-liners, while zipping through New York City.  The Amazing Spider-Man 2 delivers on that and while the film is certainly stuffed with story and setups, it also features some dazzling action, a few very solid performances, and some ambition to go with some unfortunate desire to rest a lot of weight on Peter Parker’s shoulders. 


It is clear that every studio is watching how Marvel Studios has handled themselves.  Having another hit on their hands with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and now soldiering on with obscurer properties like Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man, universe building, within a cinematic format, has them in a unique position of power.  With Warner Brothers scrambling to pull together their DC Comic Universe and Fox betting on X-Men: Days of Future Past to be huge, with a new Fantastic Four waiting in the wings, Sony is the only real major studio left to have a huge superhero property to expand upon.  I cannot say the road to getting their will be an easy one.  At this point, everyone is just going to have to accept that we have a new Spider-Man universe to contend with as well.

The crazy thing is how all the marketing for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems to be overshadowing the actual film, which has lined itself up to be judged on its marketing more than the actual movie.  As someone who enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man as an average origin story film, with greater future potential, I have been looking forward to see where this sequel would take Peter Parker’s story.  Ideally the heavy lifting had been taken out of the way the first time around, but The Amazing Spider-Man 2 does fall victim to trying to balance a singular story with the origins for future sequels and spin-offs bake in throughout.

Taking place at the end of high school for Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), the film is just as much a story fit for a young adult romance/adventure novel as it is a comic book movie.  As Spider-Man, Peter is doing his best to be a hero for the city.  Spider-Man is liked in many more circles now, but his personal life is more complicated, as holding onto a relationship with Gwen Stacy presents a challenge in his eyes, considering a promise he made to her deceased father (Dennis Leary, who was nice enough to show up and look incredulously at Peter via flashbacks/visions).  The fact that Gwen is also dealing with whether or not she wants to try holding onto her relationship with Peter, or pursue greater academic promises makes for a challenge on her end as well.

I enjoy how the film attempts to keep this a main focus to go along with the more action-oriented plotting.  The film does try to accomplish a lot, but Garfield and Stone are genuinely great together and that aspect has not disappeared in this amped up sequel, even if it falls victim to turning the (charming and smart) female character into a damsel-in-distress.  While prolific blockbuster screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci have joined for this installment, the focus that Marc Webb brought to the more personal side of the Peter Parker story in the first film continues to be a force here as well.  With that said, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a super-charged sequel, literally, as his new electrified foe and a former friend are added to this story in an effort to broaden the world of Spider-Man, which has its ups and downs.

On the more comic book side of things, a lonely OsCorp employee and huge Spider-Man fan, Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), has fallen into a tank of genetically engineered electric eels, turning himself into a living electric generator (I hate when that happens).  This event turns the once unknown man into a super villain, with misunderstandings making him furious enough to go against his former idol.  The newly dubbed Electro is eventually aided by the new CEO of Oscorp, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), who has a medical condition that has him in desperate need for Spider-Man’s enhanced DNA, in an effort to hopefully cure himself.  These matters are complicated by the fact that Harry and Peter were childhood best friends.  In attempt to throw more trouble on top of things and taking some more pages out of the Ultimate Spider-Man comic series, Peter also continues to travel down the rabbit hole that explains his own father and mother’s involvement in all of this.  Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz return as the Parkers in a nifty little opening prologue, which is pretty much explained away by Sally Field’s Aunt May character, who basically serves to show concern for Peter, while telling him that we should wait until the next film to explore this conspiracy further.

Electro:  Leg’s go catch a spider.

I can at least say that the movie only uses the much publicized Rhino character (Paul Giamatti) as a way to bookend the film, rather than convolute things any further.  The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a lot of things, but I would not categorize it as a mess.  I feel the overstuffed aspects make it a misguided effort to churn out the ultimate Spider-Man movie (which I feel we have personally seen already, ten years ago), but I would not it is confused as far as how to handle its tone.  The issue mainly lies in the fact that too much forward planning was applied during the making of this film, which led to presumed confidence in what has been setup, but also not acknowledging that just because one has “this much” does not mean we have to see “this much” in one movie.

It is the same sort of issue I find in a lot of blockbusters scripted by Kurtzman and Orci, who seem to make things far too bloated for their own good, despite having a lot of good material to work with and save for later.  I am happy to throw producer Avi Arad under the bus as well, as his influence seems to be clearly dictating many of the worse tendencies found in every Sony Spider-Man movie produced so far (okay, you can blame Sam Raimi for emo Parker’s Spider-Man jazz dance, but at least he was trying to have fun, over having the most marketable characters be forced into a film).  With The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the film has the benefit of well-established good guys, but it does suffer from some undercooked villain storylines that make the film feel bigger without placing it in the realm of other superhero films that are regarded for their quality that matches their high-flying theatrics.

Keeping all of that in mind, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is really fun at times, often very creative in terms of its portrayal of superhero heroics in action, and quite happy to have the structure and look of a comic book.  While the idea of The Amazing Spider-Man was mocked for presumably going for a “dark and gritty” approach (it is actually less dark than the murder-filled Spider-Man from 2002), The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems much happier to look and feel like a three-part comic book arc, fitted with very distinct and colorful panels come to life and brilliantly scored by Hans Zimmer and a team of composers.  Even the costume design stands as perhaps the best looking version of the Spidey suit yet.

For people that want to get a sense of what Spider-Man is capable of in film, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 does a good job of showing this character battle his enemies, be a web-slinging aerial acrobat, and handle general hero-themed business, such as stopping random crimes and defending the weak against bullies.  The elevated train battle against Doc Oc in Spider-Man 2 may still be one of the best superhero action sequences ever, in my mind, but a lot of good work has been done in this movie to really portray the challenge of being Spider-Man, while also keeping characters as a focus.

A decade ago, Spider-Man’s cinematic self may have been at the top of the world, but his name currently seems to be being dragged through the mud.  I speak more from a perspective of what the dreaded internet has to say about one of the most widely-liked comic book characters in the world, but I can only hope that a general audience appreciates what is good about The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  It may be more Batman Forever than The Dark Knight, as far as colorful superhero movie sequels go, but I was willing to accept the film as one crowded with story in an effort to get to the various things that make up the Peter Parker/Spider-Man character and could ideally be the beginning of another comic universe.  Whether or not Spider-Man can return to a higher prominence in film is something only the future can answer, but this is an event film that entertained me as far as seeing the character back in action again.

Peter Parker:  I like to think Spider-Man gives people hope.





Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS4.
He also co-hosts a podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com. 

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