May 12, 2014

[Movies] The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

I've always been quite the Spider-Man fan, at least the classic version of the character. Things got a little sour after the Clone Saga, but that's neither here nor there. And I suppose that's why I've patronized the various Spider-Man movies so much over the years - they're a nice glimpse of who the character used to be before all the clever comic book gimmicks came around and continually muddied the character.

The transition from the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies to the Andrew Garfield Spider-Man movies has been a rather interesting shift to things. Garfield's Spider-Man is certainly written to be closer to the original character and he's done a pretty good job of bringing the web slinger to life on the big screen. And as much as it initially felt like it was too soon for a reboot of the movie franchise, it's hard to argue against how much I'm enjoying these movies. 

They're far from perfect though - and I say this as a guy who watches a lot of movies and not just some obsessed comic book fan.

Synopsis: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a 2014 direct sequel to The Amazing Spider-Man, released about two years ago. It was directed by the ironically named Marc Webb with a screenplay by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinker. Do these write like 80% of all genre movie scripts these days or what?

The movie starts with a short bit focused once more on Peter Parker's parents - Richard (Campbell Scott) and Mary (Embeth Davidtz). We get to see a bit more of what happened the night they had left young Peter (Max Charles) behind and how they died trying to keep certain secrets safe. Back in the present, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) continues to try and keep New York safe from crime as the superhero Spider-Man but is often distracted by remembering his promise to George Stacy (Denis Leary) to stay away from his daughter to keep her safe. He also finds himself thinking back to the mystery of his parents having disappeared those many years ago.

One thing leads to another and Peter's girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) decides to break up with him given Peter's determination to fulfill his promise to her dead father. Around the same time, Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan), a childhood friend of Peter's, returns to New York from boarding school to be with his dying father, Norman (Chris Cooper). It seems Harry is fated to die of the same hereditary disease that is killing his father and is pretty much fated to take over his father's company. Lastly there's Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx, OsCorp industries employee who is randomly fated to become the super villain Electro.

First, the Peter Parker side of the story is pretty great. The on-screen chemistry between Garfield and Stone is pretty undeniable (which probably explains their off-screen chemistry these days) and the two continue to be amazing movie avatars for the comic book characters of Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. The movie has the classic highs and lows of the comic book given Peter's never ending struggle with wanting to get close to people but being afraid that proximity to him puts them in danger.

That said there, the rest of the movie was a little overloaded and it's clear that this movie was really designed to act more as a setup platform for future sequels. Given how the Spider-Man movies remain isolated from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe because of licensing rights, it's clear that they wanted to make up for the lack of interaction with other characters by adding in so many teasers and Easter eggs that may or may not lead to future movies. The post-credits scene alone is a blatant promotion for villains that are hoped to feature prominently in future movies.

My biggest problem with these two movies has been the mishandling of the villains for one reason or another. The strange design to "modernize" them somehow has led to strange caricature characters who are nowhere near as complex as their comic book counterparts. Just look at Electro in this movie, who has gone from a petty criminal with a carnival act in the comics to a socially awkward electrical engineer who just wants to be noticed and remembered. And seriously, a gap between his front teeth and a pocket protector? What where they thinking in creating this clown of a character?

Harry Osborne here is a pale imitation of his former self and I'll have to give it to the Sam Raimi movies for handling the Osborne family as a whole in a much better fashion. Here he hasn't seen Peter since they were very young but for one reason or another it only takes 5 minutes for them to rekindle a brilliant new friendship. His obsession with finding a cure to the disease becomes a rather weird plot point for him and his transformation into the Green Goblin just felt really cheesy.

And don't worry, Rhino is still in the movie, but not in the manner you'd expect it.

On the whole, the movie was okay but it felt like a lot of the stories within this particular film suffered from obligations to establish future sequels. Even just dropping in character mentions like Alistair Smythe (B.J. Novak) and Felicia Hardy (Felicity Jones) all just contribute to efforts to pique fan interest but not really going anywhere with these characters just yet. And all that fluff ended up cheapening some of the more emotional moments crafted for the latter part of the movie.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was generally okay but the franchise as a whole seems to be going in a weird direction as Sony Pictures tries to map out as many Spider-Man movies and spinoffs as possible. I'm probably still going to watch future releases, but I can already feel my expectations slipping lower and lower. The movie gets 3.5 inconsistent expansions of Electro's powers out of a possible 5.

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