Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Movie Review – The Amazing Spider-Man 2

***There will definitely be SPOILERS***

The first time I saw The Amazing Spider-Man I didn’t get to see the movie in its entirety. It seems a little crazy to think that he was only four, but I had Lil’ Troublemaker with me and the fight scene in the sewers with the Lizard freaked him out. I’m not a jerk, so we left.

When the movie came out on Blu-Ray I bought it and we watched the whole thing. I hated the Lizard and the fact that he talked. But I loved everything else about the movie. It looked fantastic, I thought that Andrew Garfield got Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a way that Tobey Maguire did not, and the world building that the creative team were attempting was clear.
Over time I’ve come to accept what they did with the Lizard. I’ve watched the movie quite a few more times and I get that he needed to be that way to fit with the plot and the world they were trying to establish. And while I still am not crazy about his too-human face, I can’t fault the CGI work. It was just about flawless. 
When I heard that they were bringing Marc Webb back I was happy, not only because I liked the first movie but also because I felt like he had a distinct creative vision for the world that was being created. It felt much more Ultimate Spider-Man than traditional Spider-Man and it would have been a shame if somebody else had come on board and tried to shoehorn the standard Marvel Universe mythos into what had been created with the first movie.

Then I saw the first interview with Jamie Foxx after he had been cast as Max Dillon and I knew there was going to be at least one significant problem with the sequel. When asked about playing a comic book villain Foxx said that the most important thing, the thing that audiences would be looking for, was catchphrases
This was such an outrageously stupid statement that I really thought he was joking.

He wasn’t, and that became clear as I watched The Amazing Spider-Man 2. But I’ll get to that.

The movie opens with a reprise of the flashback scene from the first movie where Peter Parker’s parents leave him at Aunt May and Uncle Ben’s house before fleeing whatever it is they’re fleeing (which is revealed later in the movie). The familiar abandonment scene is played out again, but then we jump to the Parker’s airplane. An unfortunate series of events leads to the pilot dying, Richard Parker uploading a mysterious “Roosevelt” file, an Oscorp goon getting sucked out of the cabin, and the Parkers dying. 
This was a pretty depressing way to open the movie. I guess they wanted to go ahead and eliminate the possibility that Peter’s parents would turn up at some point.

From there we go to a spot high above New York City where Spider-Man is doing that thing that skydivers do to accelerate – he’s made his body as narrow as possible and has his arms tucked into his sides and everything. This is important for later. At what seems like the last possible moment he shoots out a webline and starts a series of web-slinging acrobatics through the streets of New York.

The aerial stuff in the movie was fantastic. The only issues I had was that at times not only did the Spider-Man character model look a little too computer-generated, it outright didn’t match up with the costume Andrew Garfield wore in the live scenes. The color palette was slightly off somehow. It was weird. But the web-slinging was a focal point of the movie and even a plot point later on. It was filmed beautifully and incorporated into the character of Spider-Man quite nicely.

This scene leads into Spidey foiling the attempted robbery of some Oscorp plutonium by none other than the guy who will eventually be Rhino. Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti) is played almost entirely as comic relief in this movie, and yet is still less silly than Jamie Foxx’s Max Dillon.

Side Note: I’m gonna be talking a lot of shit about Jamie Foxx in this review, so let me go ahead and get my feelings about the actor out of the way. To me he’s kind of like Tom Cruise in that I don’t ever have any interest in seeing the movies he’s in, but usually once I do he ends up being really good. That one movie where he’s the cab drive and Cruise is the hitman was hard for me to deal with because I didn’t want to see it, both men were great in it, and I ended up not liking the movie at all. But Cruise and Foxx were good.

I thought Foxx was great in Django Unchained, but being great in a Tarantino movie and being great in regular movies can be two entirely different things.

The worst Spider-Man scene in the movie happens during this sequence. Spidey ends up in the back of a truck juggling canisters of plutonium. It looks super fake and took me right out of the narrative. It was like watching a cartoon character that had been inserted into a live action movie. The CGI in this flick was top-notch, but it wasn’t quite up to the task of making this scene look good. Thankfully once he got out of the back of the truck everything looked great again. Lil’ Troublemaker, however, did not notice any of this. He was laughing his head off and I think that was the point.

All of the Spider-Man action in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (which I wish had a subtitle like “Osborn’s Revenge” so I could stop typing The Amazing Spider-Man 2) is brilliant and sharp and comic-booky. I absolutely love the way they characterized Spider-Man’s fighting style and there’s one scene in particular where we see how his Spider-sense works that’s just brilliant. It’s when Electro first shows up and there are a bunch of people on some steps. 
There are a series of cuts that show Spidey’s perception of many things happening at once followed by the steps he takes to prevent those things from happening. It’s only used once in the movie and it gets across how this power works. If it had been used too much it would have become a tiresome gimmick, but as with a lot of the action effects in the movie restraint was shown.

This Peter Parker is very much the Ultimate Peter Parker. He’s not quite as geeky as the standard MU Peter. He’s still awkward and a little weird, but in a different way. I think this was the way to go because this Peter is going to be more relatable than the uber science nerd of the traditional narrative. But the real key to Andrew Garfield’s performance is how incredible he is at being Spider-Man. He ramps up the New York accent. His body language is casual and confident. And the way he delivers the one-liners is absolutely perfect. He has the Spidey charisma that Tobey Maguire did not. He’s charming and outrageous and you totally get why New York loves him.

That’s another key piece of this Spider-Man world – New York is a character in the movies. I feel like the creative team watched Ghostbusters 2 and thought, “That is our New York”. The New York that supports its heroes and does what it wants; never mind the rest of the world. It’s a place of vitality and personality and the filmmakers take total advantage of that. Now, I’ve never even been to New York, but having watched tons of New York movies I have an appreciation for the essence that comes across in the media. These Spidey movies make use of that. New York loves Spider-Man and screw you if you don’t.

Early in the movie there is a sequence of new reports from across the country questioning the morality and legality of Spider-Man’s vigilantism. There is also the plotline of the promise that Peter Parker made to George Stacy before he died from Lizard-related wounds in the first movie. At the end of that movie Peter chose to ignore that promise and the consequences have been haunting him ever since. He’s still involved with Gwen, but he’s having visions of Captain Stacy.

This was another brilliant decision. If you had told me about it beforehand I probably would have said it sounded stupid, but it was executed so well that it worked. Denis Leary – who I did not even know was in the sequel – would appear to Peter at certain points. He didn’t talk – he simply had a very subtly disapproving presence to him. It culminates in distraction at a crucial moment later in the movie.

These plotlines represent essentially the same ones from Spider-Man 2, only those were handled with the annoying and heavy-handed method of having Peter lose his powers. This time around his doubts about being Spider-Man were manifested in a much more human and relatable way that, rather than interfering with the story helped to move it along. It also folded neatly into the overarching theme of both Amazing Spider-Man movies – With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility. Martin Sheen’s Uncle Ben never said it, but this Peter Parker has been living it since he was bitten by the spider.

Emma Stone returned as Gwen Stacy and was wonderful. There were times where she looked like a panel taken directly from the old comics. She plays the character smart and strong and despite the effect she’s having on Peter she never feels like a drag. There are so many times where the love interest in a superhero movie feels like a distraction from the narrative, but here Gwen feels integral to the plot. Which is a good thing considering what happens later on.

Spoiler – she dies in one of the best death scenes I have ever watched.

The death scene is amazing. I was on the edge of my seat from the time Green Goblin snatched Gwen until the “CRACK”. The sequence is a callback to the earlier web-slinging and acrobatics and diving acceleration and you just know that Peter’s going to save her. We’ve spent the entire movie watching him being amazing. I knew for a fact that Gwen Stacy was going to die in this movie and I still wasn’t sure until the scene was over. That is some fantastic motherfucking filmmaking. We as the audience feel every second of Peter’s realization that the love of his life is dead.

Dane DeHaan was outstanding as Harry Osborn. I liked his character immediately. Even when he started to get pretty evil I liked him because I could totally understand his point of view. His story unfolds quickly and efficiently, as everything he has is being taken away from him. It’s a different and interesting take on Harry and I liked it. The Green Goblin transformation wasn’t as extreme as I would have liked, but as with the Lizard’s appearance in the first movie it turns out there is a reason for this. Harry’s going to be sticking around for a while and is going to need a human face.

Felicia Hardy was introduced as Harry’s assistant. She didn’t do much other than help him out when he was getting screwed over, though it did show that she has no problems with breaking the rules.

We also see B.J. Novak as Alistair Smythe. This was a pleasant surprise for me and made me glad that I don’t follow movie production too closely on the internet. Smythe is the head of R&D at Oscorp and is immediately established as a douchebag. Younger readers might remember Smythe from the 90s Spider-Man cartoon as the guy with the gross things growing out of his shoulders and a kickass mullet growing out of his head:
He was also the one that invented the Spider Slayer robots. I’m very curious to see what the Amazing Spider-Man universe does with him. B.J. Novak is a heck of a talented guy and I’m excited to see him in a potentially major villain role.

Going into this movie it seemed like there was a good chance we were getting a repeat of the overly-crowded and genuinely awful Spider-Man 3. It looked like there were too many villains and too much going on. But Aleksei is introduced early on and only returns at the very end as a plot device to introduce the Sinister Six concept (and Spider-Man’s return after Gwen’s death). Harry Osborn’s story unfolds over the course of the movie and while it does feel a bit rushed, that momentum is what leads to the inevitable climax. And Electro isn’t even really the main plot point. The movie doesn’t feel like “Spider-Man versus Electro” as much as it does “Several months in the life of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man”. It’s a subtle difference that is crucial to the narrative.
Finally I need to talk about Electro. The way that the character was portrayed was pretty awesome. It was – like Peter Parker – the Ultimate version of Electro and it worked very well due to the varying levels of the character’s powers. His story played out well. When he first appeared he was confused and disoriented. The NYPD was ready to take him down, as his powers were out of control and he was causing damage. Then Spidey showed up and we got another critical Peter Parker character moment where rather than just attacking Max he tried to talk him down. This was one of my favorite scenes in the movie. Spidey was perfect, the New Yorkers watching the confrontation were perfect, and the thing was shot beautifully. Foxx’s scenery chewing was the only detriment.

Here’s what I came up with – Jamie Foxx was in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 acting like he was in one of the Schumacher Batman movies. He was delivering corny lines like, “It’s my birthday, so I’m going to light the candles,” and just generally being goofy. His early scenes as Max Dillon were straight-up Jim Carrey as Edward Nigma. I don’t blame all of this on Jamie Foxx. It was Marc Webb’s responsibility to reign all of that in and get Foxx under control. And some of it was just bad scripting, like Electro using the pylons at the power plant to play “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” during his climactic fight with Spider-Man. That was dumb. No other character had such drivel to deliver and deal with. I don’t know if these were Foxx’s suggestions or if maybe the creative team ended up not liking Foxx and just made him do a bunch of stupid shit as a result.

I’m kidding. Obviously nobody would sabotage their own franchise just to get back at a bad actor.

But anyway, visually Electro was awesome. The effect of the light under his skin looked great and all of the different ways he used his powers – from using bolts of electricity to disincorporation – were very cool. I still don’t quite understand how his rubber suit went with him when he traveled through electrical lines, but I also don’t care. He looked awesome and was used well enough that Foxx’s hamminess was a mere distraction instead of ruining the movie. Also he got blown up and it was the first time I have ever been glad for a villain’s apparent death in a comic book movie. Granted, he could easily come back (I don’t know if Foxx is signed for the Sinister Six movie), but I’d be happy if we never saw him as Electro again.

Oh – I need to address the origin of Max Dillon’s power. He falls into a vat of mutant electric eels, gets bitten, and wakes up in the morgue with electric powers. I think I could’ve accepted it without the eel bites. The idea is that it’s the same sort of Oscorp experimentation that gave Peter Parker powers. The eels have been bred to supply organic, renewable power. But I think he could have just fallen into the vat and I would have accepted it.

It does make what they did with Rhino a little more palatable in comparison. I’m not crazy about him being just a big mech, but at least he didn’t get bitten by a mutant Rhino.

My only other issue with the movie was the lack of resolution surrounding the facts of Gwen Stacy’s death. We jump from her dead body being cradled by an unmasked Spider-Man to her funeral, which is obviously being attended by a ton of cops. First her father dies while hanging out with Spider-Man and now she does. Some of those cops must have questions. I find it hard to believe that Spider-Man just delivered her corpse to the cops and was like, “Hey, this chick just died while I was fighting a mutated rich guy,” and the cops were like, “Oh - thanks, Spidey.”

Did he leave a note at the scene? And how was Harry apprehended? After Gwen died the last we saw of the Green Goblin was him laying at the top of the clock tower where the battle took place. It wasn’t even clear that he was incapacitated. I was totally expecting the fight to continue. It wasn’t until the scene faded into Gwen’s funeral that I knew it was over. There were definitely a lot of big questions left unanswered there.

Overall The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a rewarding experience. I’m still on board with Andrew Garfield’s portrayal and I can’t wait to see more of Harry Osborn. I can’t imagine how they’re going to pull off a Sinister Six movie, but I want to see it. Most of all, though, I want to see The Amazing Spider-Man 2 again. I thoroughly enjoyed it and so did Lil’ Troublemaker.

4 out of 5

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