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AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2
(**)
Reviewer:   Jim "JR" Rutkowski
Directed by:
Marc Webb
Written by:
Screenplay by: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner. Based on the character created by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko
Starring:
Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx
Length:   142 minutes
Released:   050214
Rating:
PG13  for sequences of sci-fi action/violence
“There are serious faults with the outing-that air of familiarity that slightly marred Webb’s initial venture still lingers." 

It was ten years ago this summer, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 was released and quickly became perhaps the most critically acclaimed and popularly beloved comic-book superhero movie since Richard Donner’s Superman in 1978. Spider-Man 2 had it all: a cracking villain in Alfred Molina’s multi-tentacled Doc Octopus, a sparky romantic connection between leads Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, and a script by the Academy Award–winning screenwriter Alvin Sargent (with story contributions from, among others, the comics-obsessed novelist Michael Chabon) that balanced the action and special-effects demands of a summer blockbuster with a sweet, smart human story. Spider-Man 2 was the movie that made people who didn’t grow up reading comics get what was fun about the genre in the first place.

2012’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” was a competent work, but its need for being never felt genuine. Repeating an origin story that a superior film-maker had spent the best part of ten years excavating, the reboot was a digestible summer commodity, but hardly a necessary re-evaluation of everyone’s favorite web-slinger. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” doesn’t really make a great deal of progress in justifying Sony’s franchise continuation (at least artistically). The feature manages to ascertain a greater sense of personal identity than its predecessor, but the script’s a mess and much like Sam Raimi’s franchise halting “Spider-Man 3” suffers a severe faulty villain complex.

Peter Parker’s (Andrew Garfield) Spider-Man duties are having a detrimental effect on his relationship with squeeze Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone), leaving the recent graduate with a series of tough personal choices. Opting to preserve Gwen’s safety by ending their courtship, Peter immerses himself in his Spidey routine, attempting to protect a city that’s slowly turning against him. Some support comes in the form of old buddy Harry Osborn’s (Dean DeHaan) mysterious reappearance, but this proves only temporary, as unhinged villain Electro (Jamie Foxx) and toxic secrets from Peter’s past threaten both New York and the hero’s faltering resolve.

A concentrated effort has been made by director Marc Webb to distance this outing from the Raimi originals, opting for a distinctively cartoonish tonality and stylized aesthetic. The action in the first film was well executed but safe; with the sequel Webb goes bigger and occasionally manages better. There’s more dynamism and ambitious composition to the framing here, even if the enlarged scale and quicker pace force the director to adopt a jarringly choppy editorial rhythm. When Webb can find the time to slow things down he picks out some really stunning images; the hero has rarely looked better swinging through concrete jungle than he does in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”. The effects are seamless and have been arranged to fully exploit the spectacle and athleticism of Spider-Man’s movement, allowing for several breezy and genuinely awing bursts of aerial acrobatics. The combat sequences are less impressive, Webb becoming lost in a mire of video-game likening theatrics, filled with slow-motion and an overbearing aura of falsity as CGI characters bump aggressively into each other. No -the thrills of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” come from seeing the character’s daily grind thoroughly realized, aided nicely by Garfield’s sprightly boy-scout performance.

Garfield’s Parker is a clown with a heart of gold. The actor looks trim and muscular, but also imbues the titular character with a likable softness, especially in his dealings with Gwen. Emma Stone proves his adorable equal, and together they possess a zippy, natural chemistry. Their relationship is the cornerstone of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”, and the young performers do a fine job of articulating a complicated but inherently promising romance. We want them to find happiness together, which renders the third act devastatingly striking. Similarly deserving of plaudits is Sally Field, given only one memorable scene, but able to make her constant presence in the periphery count for something. Her obvious comic skills lightly compliment Webb’s less somber modality, but she also rises mightily to the few dramatic demands the movie makes of her. One scene between her and Garfield is beautifully pitched and laced with truth. Here she not only convinces, but also unselfishly draws the very best out of her handsome British co-star.

The screenplay is a murky affair and strives to achieve more than is reasonable even for a bulky 142 minute blockbuster. The film introduces two chief antagonistic elements, one atrocious the other ripe with promise. Sadly it fixates more on the former. As Electro Jamie Foxx is distractingly miscast, distilling the character to a geeky, nebbish caricature, one further sullied by a goofy and unthreatening visual design. Foxx never communicates any emotion fierce enough for viewers to respect him as a threat, and his motivations are clouded by broad, unfocused cliché. It’s fitting then that his final showdown with Spider-Man should also amount to one of the less exciting and suspenseful action beats, a broad punch-up that plays constantly in the hero’s favor. More unsettling and rewardingly dense is Dane DeHaan. DeHaan also has to do battle with a script that over-saturates and molests his arc with contrivance, but the actor is able to rise above the mediocrity, convincing as a person dangerously suppressing vast quantities of rage. He’s the villain that proves most interesting and eventually manifests malice. Unfortunately the static Electro takes center stage, despite the fact he’s devoid of meaningful characterization or subject to a comfortable thespian contribution. He’s a superficial loner, neither intelligent nor physically imposing, and subsequently devoid of necessary malevolence. The fact Foxx is ill-equipped for such a beta entity only adds insult to injury. Way too late in the film, Paul Giamatti lumbers onto the screen in a dinosaur-like suit of mechanical armor as the fearsome yet entertaining Rhino. It’s a throwaway action scene and strangely enough, for this capes-and-tights-weary viewer, it kind of worked. Paul Giamatti can get me into the theater to see almost anything. Call it a superpower.

Webb always keeps one eye on the Gwen and Peter dynamic, so it’s no surprise this proves the movie’s worthiest asset. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” sadly feels obligated to fill out its hero’s back-story with an unrewarding parental subplot, leaving Peter to try and riddle the potentially unsavory reason for his parents’ abandonment of him. This element is the perfect encapsulation of the picture’s scripting mishaps, forcing a baggy and consistently dull addition atop an already bloated and uneven narrative construction. Anytime Peter weeps for his folks, or Richard Parker’s voice crackles over some dated technological device, the movie grinds to a complete halt. We don’t know these people or care for them (despite the efforts of the bombastic opening scene). When it comes to Peter our sympathies extend only so far as Gwen or Aunt May. There’s only so much emotional damage an audience can be expected to absorb and inherit, and the tacked on familial goings on here take the biscuit.

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” isn’t without merit. Webb’s direction is pleasingly giddy, sometimes thrilling and prioritizes an authentically heartfelt love story. Elsewhere things are shakier. There are serious faults with the outing (mostly at a screenwriting level), but that air of familiarity that slightly marred Webb’s initial venture still lingers. Maybe it’s time to cast this character aside for longer than 5 years, because for all the amazement he strives to imprint, Spider-Man is honestly starting to taste a little stale.
 


AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2 © 2014 COLUMBIA PICTURES
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2014 Alternate Reality, Inc.

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