Sunday, May 11, 2014

Film Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

In my review for the original Amazing Spider-Man, I said that this franchise reboot was the equivalent of Batman Begins.  It was a more grounded, emotionally real film that opened the door to better possibilities.  With that comparison, I was expecting the Amazing Spider-Man 2 to be the equivalent of The Dark Knight.

It wasn't.

The sequel picks up soon after the original.  (SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE FIRST AMAZING SPIDER-MAN).  Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is truly enjoying his time as Spider-Man as he is on the cusp of graduating high school.  The only dark cloud are visions of Captain Stacey (Dennis Leary) the deceased father of Gwen (Emma Stone), the love of Peter's life.  This leads to the central conflict of his character: does he keep his promise to Gwen's father to stay away from her or does he he follow his heart and stay with her?

In addition to this, a childhood friend named Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan) comes back into Peter's life.  He has taken over his father's company, Oscorps, where Peter got his powers.  For reasons that come out through the movie, he desperately wants to contact Spider-Man.  Also an employee of Oscorps, Roscoe Dillon (Jamie Foxx), becomes obsessed with Spider-Man after his life is saved by the wall-crawler. Then through an unlikely series of events, he gets super powers and becomes the villain Electro.  These antagonists force Peter on a journey of self-discovery and also leads him to confront his past abandonment by his parents.

If that plot sounds convoluted, it is.  That is part of the film's problem.  The first act is actually fairly exciting and fun.  But when the additional characters start popping up, the film actual begins to lose steam.  DeHaan actual does a very good job as Harry.  He has a DiCaprio-esque quality to him that is charismatic and dangerous.  But the story about him and his corporate power struggle is rather distracting.  In addition, Peter's constant kvetching about Gwen begins to wear a little more than it should.

But the worst part of the movie is without a doubt Electro.  Both in the writing and execution, he is all wrong.  Before his accident, he comes off like Jim Carrey's Edward Nigma from Batman Forever.  After he gets his powers he looks and acts like Arnold Schwarzenegger's Mr. Freeze from Batman and Robin.  Even his theme music is cartoonish.  His motivations are inscrutable and he sucks the life out of nearly every scene that he's in.  Foxx plays him like he's doing a sketch on In Living Color.  All he does is mug and menace at the camera, insulting the intelligence of the audience.

I don't any inside baseball stuff, but I get the feeling that the studio pressured director Marc Webb to add more humor to the movie in the form of Electro.  But it creates such a tonal disconnect from everything else. The characters involved in that villain's story are painted in such broad brush strokes that it is near ridiculous.  This is epitomized by Electro being interrogated by an "evil German scientist" straight out of a Sci-fi B movie.

With that, the movie should sink under its own weight.  But it saved by two things.

The first is the chemistry between Garfield and Stone.  The two of them are so adorable together that you cannot help but root for them.  Yes, the on/off/on/off nature of their relationship is pushed to the breaking point.  But they seem so genuine in their affections.  When they tease each other and joke around, it feels very real.

The second is the finale.  I will not spoil it here, but it pulls the strings that have been dangling for two movies and uses them to hit you with an emotional punch.  And not only is it emotionally stirring, it is visually stunning.  The ending lifts the movie out of the mediocrity.

There is a great deal of fun to be had it in this movie also.  The special effects are eye-popping.  And the wit and action are exciting.  The movie works best as Spidey cracks wise while swinging through danger.  Like The Dark Knight, there are two villains and main character deals with a romantic dilemma.  But that movie made their world more tangible and gritty and real.  That movie took a big risk but it paid off handsomely.  The Amazing Spider-Man 2 could have gone that way, but they decided to play it safe and it paid the price.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 should have soared.  Instead, like Spidey swinging through the streets, it starts out high, swings low in the middle, but rises at the end.

3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.

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