Friday, May 2, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Building on the groundwork laid two years ago in The Amazing Spider-Man, the sequel returns all the core members of the first film (minus the Lizard) while continuing the story of Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and the harsh lessons which frame Spider-Man's mythology.

Although needing to spend the time setting up two different villain origin stories, one of the aspects of the sequel I most enjoyed was the fact that it never lost focus that this is primarily Peter Parker's movie. Jamie Foxx is adequate as Electro, a super-villain with the power to absorb and control electricity, even if he's given a rushed paint-by-the-numbers origin that relies on the introverted electrical engineer going from confused super-powered freak just trying to understand what has happened to him and deal with his new taste for all things electric to full-on super-villain a little too quickly for my tastes. The same could be said for Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan) whose relationship with Peter doesn't have enough time to develop and deteriorate to the point that the script needs to earn its eventual payoff.

Despite the fact that Marvel rebooted the franchise to put Peter back in high school, the sequel wastes little time graduating both Peter and his on-again/off-again girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). And even more than introducing the new supporting characters and three new villains (although Paul Giamatti receives far less screentime than expected), the movie is very much centered around what is arguably the most important relationship in Peter Parker's 52 year comic run. Still haunted by Captain Stacy (Denis Leary, who returns as a figment of Peter's subconscious), Peter's obvious love for Gwen is constantly at odds with the promise he made to her dying father to keep her safe.

Although not without its problems, the sequel is a slight step-up from the first film. Garfield and Stone work well together and separately over the course of the film building to a moment that all Spidey fans are expecting (don't worry, I won't spoil the outcome the film chooses to go with which may or may not satisfy longtime Spidey fans). Garfield is much more comfortable with Spidey's wise-cracking than Tobey Maguire ever was, and Stone balances Gwen's mixed emotions of love, anger, frustration, and fear for Peter with aplomb. The sequel also doesn't forget about Peter's relationship with Aunt May (Sally Field) as it shows a level of closeness between the pair that Sam Raimi's films never quite achieved.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opens by continuing the scene of Peter's parents (Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz) leaving him with his aunt and uncle and giving the audience a glimpse as to what happened next. Although the sequences work well, it's an odd start to the movie and doesn't tie-in well-enough to justify the time spent. From her the film jumps straight into its fast-paced opening action sequence that's cranked-up a bit too much for my tastes with far too many quick-cuts, even if it does provide some fun individual moments. The film's ending is also problematic as the sequel is stuck with a 10-minute epilogue which is only included to set-up the inevitable sequel and tease the eventual introduction of the rest of the Sinister Six.

If it gets off to shaky start and overstays its welcome due to its final sequence, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 does find its legs in the rest of the film where it keeps its focus on Peter, his internal struggles with what to do about both Gwen and his old friend Harry who needs Peter's help, and the new threat of Electro. And aside from the Spidey's first fight sequence, I thought the mix of stunts and CGI-enhanced fight scenes worked well (even if I personally didn't like how much the design of the villains varied from their comic counterparts and I grew tired of the number of times the special effects team used slow motion to pause and admire their own work). By returning to the classic costume, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 also delivers the best-looking Spidey suit yet which is enhanced by Garfield's lanky frame.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn't Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It's got pacing problems, and some questionable story choices which I can't go into here without giving away far more of the plot than I have so far. But as a Spidey flick, understanding and sticking with the basics of a hero whose life was built around loss, guilt, and personal responsibility, and striving to overcome those emotions, it gets quite a bit right. And as an early summer release it succeeds both as a stepping stone to the inevitable Sinister Six sequel and by putting its own spin on one of the most important events of Peter Park's life.

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