Monday, May 05, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (PG-13) ***

Peter Parker/Spider-Man: Andrew Garfield
Gwen Stacy: Emma Stone
Max Dillon/Electro: Jamie Foxx
Harry Osborn: Dane DeHaan
Aunt May: Sally Field
Donald Menken: Colm Feore
Felicia: Felicity Jones
Richard Parker: Campbell Scott
Aleksei Sytsevich: Paul Giamatti

Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by Marc Webb. Written by Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci & Jeff Pinker and James Vanderbilt. Based on the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Running time: 142 min. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi action/violence).

Two-years ago Sony, the owner of the film rights to Marvel’s Spider-Man characters, decided to reboot the franchise after a mere five years since the very successful original trilogy. There was some legal mumbo jumbo involved about securing the film rights so they wouldn’t revert back to Marvel, which would’ve made Spider-Man a Disney film property.

Anyway, so “The Amazing Spider-Man” is released in 2012 on an unsuspecting public, rehashing the same origin story we’ve already seen for Peter Parker and his superhero alter ego Spider-Man. Sure, some of the details changed. We get a girl by a different name, Gwen Stacy, instead of Mary Jane Watson. Oscorp—the advanced technology company founded by Peter’s best friend Harry’s dad, Norman Osborn—is somehow involved in Spidey’s origin, including the mysterious disappearance of Peter’s parents. Yet Harry is nowhere to be seen. We get one of the more obscure Spidey villains with The Lizard, who looks great, but doesn’t really have a great beef with the webslinger. The action is great, but the story feels redundant; and it all feels a little like it was slapped together with some pretty sloppy storytelling elements.

Now, we get “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”, which is a foregone conclusion. But now, we’ve already rehashed the origin story and  start getting into those more mysterious elements of Oscorp that were teased in the first movie. Suddenly, this franchise is feeling fresh again, and despite a few of those sloppy story elements hanging around, this thing is starting to click again. Yes, some of the love story elements are similar to those from the first trilogy, but they’re dealt with in a slightly different manner here. There are too many villains, but the main opponent—another of Spidey’s b-class—is given a treatment that makes him seem much more significant than his comic book counterpart. This thing is on again.

We pick up with Spidey still saving the day for the people of New York. He’s even become popular with the police of the city. Only the Daily Bugle still calls him a menace. He and Gwen have embraced their romance despite the fact that her father’s dying wish to Peter was to stay away from her. Peter is haunted by him promise to Captain Stacy, however, and eventually is overcome with guilt about it. It is Gwen who’s had enough, though, and calls it off.

We’ve seen some of this before in Peter and Mary Jane’s relationship from the first trilogy. In that one it got to be a little much. Are they a thing? Aren’t they a thing? Will they be together? Won’t they? Oh, just decide already! This time Peter’s hesitations are a little better supported, and the screenwriters pull the reigns a bit on the whole back and forth thing. It’s a little more of a mating dance than a soap opera. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone do make for very good actualizations of the comics’ Peter and Gwen.

Meanwhile, at Oscorp, Harry returns to his father’s deathbed and it is revealed that all of the corruption and theft of intellectual property in the name of science was not perpetrated just to cure Norman of an affliction that turns his skin green and will ultimately kill him, but he’s done it to save Harry as well. The condition is hereditary.

Harry ascends to the Oscorp CEO chair after his father’s death, but the corruption is so rampant that even the man who has helped his father run the corporation can’t be trusted. Shut out from company secrets that may hold his salvation, Harry sees Spider-Man as his only hope. The spider that bit Spider-Man gave him powers that could help Harry cure himself. He turns to his friend Peter to contact Spidey, but Peter worries about how the notoriously unscrupulous company might use his blood and how it might affect Harry, so he refuses.

Although Harry isn’t given quite as much screen time, this allows his feeling of betrayal from his friend seem a little more justified. It’s also nice that they make the whole persona of the Green Goblin adapted by Harry to be more of a monster than just Harry acting badly. Dane DeHaan, who we saw turn evil with superpowers in the much lower budget “Chronicle”, makes for an easier to accept villain without James Franco’s good looks and charm. It’s good that the filmmakers spend less time with him, as that would run the danger of the rehash problems of the first “Amazing Spider-Man”.

Desperate, Harry turns to another of Oscorp’s castoffs, Max Dillon, an electrical engineering genius whose power grid designs for the city were stolen by the very company he worked for, with credit given elsewhere. Dillon feels invisible, until one of those classic comic book freak accidents finds him shooting electric bolts out of his fingertips. Jamie Foxx handles Max and later his transformation to the really super villain Electro. His Max is just a little too comic book movie nerdy. I’m not sure he’s a person that could function outside of an institution. However, the film’s handling of his Electro personality is quite impressive. With a little inspiration from “Watchmen”s Dr. Manhattan, this Electro is more impressive than any version I’ve seen in the comics. He is an awesome force that makes you believe Spidey just might not be able to handle this.

I’ve read some complaints that this movie is overstuffed. Certainly, putting too much into the movie was the downfall of “Spider-Man 3”. Here it might seem they’ve done the same thing by including so many major plot lines, but unlike the series’ first stumble, Director Marc Webb and his screenwriters take the time necessary to develop these stories. They hold back where it’s not necessary, as with Harry Osborn; but they dig deep where necessary, like in revealing the mystery of Peter’s parents.

If it is overstuffed in any way, its in the same way as “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”. The filmmakers aren’t satisfied with just one ending. Electro holds the main storyline and that conclusion is properly explosive. The second climax with Harry taking the mantle of the Green Goblin felt like a bonus and provided an original—if not entirely unforeseeable to fans of the comic books—conclusion. The third ending felt tacked on from the next installment, however. There is definitely some universe building going on here—who’s heard of the Sinister Six?—but I think the introduction of Rhino could’ve worked just as well as the beginning of the next film in the series.

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