Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Oh, Snap!
Why Gwen Stacy Wears Such an Ugly Coat

The best of the Tobey Maguire "Spider-man" movies was the second one. It was a nice combination of melodrama, humor, Spidey "tropes" ("I will be!" *Choke!*), some ingenious action sequences, and a great villain in Alfred Molina's Doctor Octopus. Credit writers Gough and Millar (the guys behind the "Smallville" TV show) and Michael Chabon and Alvin Sargent for hammering it out and director Sam Raimi for a rather graceful directing job. After the first film took itself so seriously, the second one was like a tonic.

Now, the second of the Andrew Garfield-starring "Spidey" movies is out (The Amazing Spider-man 2) and I thought the first one was a big improvement over the "Tobeys" for a couple reasons: the casting, which made Garfield's Parker thinner, geekier and more neurotic, and Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy Garfield's match in awkwardness; also, there was a through-story about the secret behind Oscorp and the disappearance of Peter's parents.  The second film begins with a sequence expanding on that (with some interesting foreshadowing right off the bat) and then as soon as the title hits the screen, it is abandoned in favor of this chapter, featuring Parker's dithering about his promise to the late Captain Stacy (Dennis Leary) about staying away from Gwen, his struggles with his notoriety in New York, and a new villain, Max Dillon aka "Electro" (Jamie Foxx, playing, frankly, a minor villain, and they way they did it caused some wincing over memories of Richard Pryor in Superman 3). Meanwhile, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan, who reminds one of Leo DiCaprio's demented brother) returns to his family home in time to see his father Norman (Chris Cooper), the head of Oscorp, kick the bucket, and promising Harry that he's going to meet the same fate. Gee, thanks, Dad.
W-wow, dude.  That's a lot of back-story!
When do we get to the review?
What makes this one good is what made the first one good—Garfield's scattered Peter Parker has the best comics timing since Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark, and he's matched here by Emma Stone spasm for spasm, and even by Sally Field, who does some nice sparking off him.*  There was a danger with this one of being top-heavy with villains—not only is there Electro, but also an appearance by Harry's version of The Green Goblin (much improved, I have to say) and even an appearance by a Spidey villain called The Rhino, which, thankfully, is thrown away for laughs (despite Paul Giamatti's trying to do something with it). The other thing is Garfield tries to make Peter Parker a genuwyne New Yawker, which is a nice touch. These Spider-man films feel more ingrained with The Big Apple than the first trilogy, which is essential in the Marvel Universe, especially with Spider-man.  New York is more than a backdrop (as it was in The Avengers), it's a part of the movie, even the not-so-attractive parts of it.  I like that.
It's also a good mix of comedy and tragedy. Spider-man not only swings between skyscrapers, but between moods as well. The focus on Peter's parents keeps an under-current of sadness throughout, of conflict, and his struggles with the folks in his life (mirrored by the physical altercations with the villains) makes his life a very tangled web, indeed. The gang-ups he participates in on the streets work their way into the hang-ups in his civilian guise.** Yeah, Spidey's always been a weisenheimer super-hero, but like so many of them, their origins are based on tragedy and their efforts to ensure that such things never touch others. Spider-man has the worst luck, though, with friends and family constantly at risk due to his "great power" (and subsequent "great responsibility").
Anybody familiar with the character may have some suspicions about this one, and I won't say anything (other than they already pulled the trick in the very first "Spider-man" movie, and they haven't repeated themselves), but director Webb still manages to build invisible suspense in the film that will set "spider-senses" tingling, and some brilliant execution in the action scenes. We've seen way too many super-fight scenes to get excited about them anymore, but Webb and crew manages to make them easy to follow, whether they're sped-up, slowed-down, "Sherlocked," or bullet-timed. And they're reasonably short, not out-wearing their welcome, as there's too much story to fit in. I did check my watch at one point (in the extended Time Square sequence), but most of the time, I didn't quite care, involved with what was happening on-screen.

* Here's how good Garfield is: he makes a comic cliche funny and surprising.  When Aunt May enters Peter's room—he's still in his Spidey-suit and hiding under the covers, protesting he's naked—she notices his face is grimey from all the crime-fighting he's been doing in the not-too-clean city of New York.  "I-I was cleaning the chimney!" "Peter, we don't HAVE a chimney!" Garfield's shocked and surprised "Whaaaaaaaat?!" is full of "I did all that for NOTHING?"

** BTW, I mentioned in my review of the first "Amazing Spider-man" movie the absence of the "Spider-man song."  It's here—it's Peter's ring-tone when Gwen Stacy calls.  Talk about blowing your secret ID.

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