Saturday, May 3, 2014

"The Amazing Spider-Man 2" (2014)

Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and Dane DeHaan
Written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner
Directed by Marc Webb
Rated PG-13 - Language, violence, peril
Running Time: 142 Minutes

Things are going pretty well for the amazing Spider-Man, superheroic alter ego of high school nerd Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield). Though there's a good amount of debate, New Yorkers seem to like having him around. He gets to fight crime, have a blast swinging about the city, and go home to his cool girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). But something nags at him: the promise he made to Gwen's late father that he stay away from her, for fear that his adventures as Spider-Man would put Gwen in harm's way.

After too many months of this putting strain on their relationship, Gwen finally dumps Peter just after the two graduate high school. Around the same time, Spidey saves a hapless electrical engineer named Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) who becomes obsessed with Spider-Man, even thinking that the two are friends. Dillon works at Oscorp, and one night while attempting to fix an electrical problem in one of the facility's genetics labs, he falls into a vat full of genetically engineered eels. When he emerges, he discovers that he, too, has fantastic powers - the ability to absorb and control electricity.

Meanwhile, Peter's old friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), son of billionaire and founder of Oscorp Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper), returns to the city after years at boarding school. The two old friends reconnect, and Harry makes a strange request of Peter: it seems whatever ailment killed his father is genetic, and Harry believes that Spider-Man's blood may hold the cure. But Peter fears what his genetically-altered blood might do to his friend, so he refuses.

Harry grows more and more desperate in his search for a cure, willing to make dangerous alliances that could spell doom for Spider-Man and the city of New York.

This film is tough to write a synopsis for. There's just so much going on. To the film's detriment, it's jampacked with subplots. There's the strife of Peter and Gwen's relationship. There's Max's obsession. There's Harry's obsession. There's Peter's search for the truth about his parents. There's even a few scenes with Aunt May trying to make extra money by becoming a nurse.

"The Amazing Spider-Man 2" nearly collapses under its own weight with so much going on. Thankfully, the amount of good stuff happening in this film keeps it going. First and foremost, there's Peter and Gwen. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have wonderful chemistry together, and very nearly every scene in which these two interact is absolute gold. The two are simply a joy to watch together, as they were in the first film. They form the heart and core of the movie, and they keep it together when it threatens to fall apart.

Jamie Foxx does well enough as Max Dillon/Electro - the problem is that the character isn't very developed. Now, that's not to say that he doesn't have interesting things going on. It's just that he has no real arc. Dillon, you see, suffers from the ultimate self confidence problem. He thinks he's a nobody, doesn't really believe that people ever notice him or care about him. So when Spider-Man saves his life, he becomes obsessed because if someone like Spider-Man tells him he's important, then, well, he must be... right? And the betrayal and resentment he feels after he believes Spidey was lying to him is immense, and drives him to vengeance and villainy.

Which is all well and good... but that's just it. The same goes for DeHaan's Harry Osborn. He starts out well enough, but again the character never does much more than rage about needing a cure. He's thematically linked to Electro in that he also feels betrayed by Spider-Man, but for all the good scenes he has, there are enough times where Harry just feels tacked onto a movie that's already too stuffed.

The action sequences are first-rate. Even just since Sam Raimi's first "Spider-Man" film in 2002, special effects have progressed to the point where Spidey's battles are loaded with the kind of athletic craziness that artists have been drawing by hand for decades and letting our imaginations fill in. Spider-Man moves exactly like you think he should, spinning and twisting and leaping and crawling about. Director Marc Webb's handle on the action has matured since 2012's "The Amazing Spider-Man," and he throws us into it with gusto and never holds back.

Not holding back, though, might be this film's problem. I was impressed with how restrained and grounded the first film seemed. Webb brought a sort of indie sensibility to a major superhero film, and it worked. Here, he takes a kitchen-sink approach that greatly expands the universe of Spider-Man, but does so at the expense of character and cohesiveness. By the time Green Goblin shows up at the film's climax, it feels like we already watched the final battle and someone in the writers' room said, "oh, right, we... had that thing..."

None of this is to say that "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" isn't greatly entertaining. It is. I had a blast watching it. It could have been a chore to sit through, like Raimi's "Spider-Man 3." Instead, it moves along at a brisk pace and never feels boring. And, it's chock full of stuff for Spider-Man fanboys to ogle and analyze (if you're a fan of the Sinister Six, you're gonna see some superbly tantalizing images here). But, it still could probably have benefited from one or two fewer subplots.

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