Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

So this is particularly annoying to me.  I had nothing but bad feelings about "The Amazing Spider-Man 2".  I listened to the critics and the Spider-Man fanboys who warned me about Sony, about how the film was going to be nothing but a soulless production to force out too many villains, too much plot, and open the floodgates to an endless swam of mediocre Sony-brand Spider-Man films.  I walked in expecting a new "Spider-Man 3", an unholy mess of studio-interference and half-baked concepts, which would prove all of the huge holes and bad filmmaking "The Amazing Spider-Man 1" managed to somehow hide, because that's what the critics warned me and that's what comic book fans were foretelling.  Because these were the same people who managed to convince me that movie was merely mediocre.  This was one of those movies that I drove to bitterly and alone, with my negative damning review already half-written in my head.  Then I saw it.

Sony, how dare you make a good goddamn movie!  You've made a fool out of me!  This is the biggest upset I've suffered since "Men in Black 3", another summer film that indignantly chose to be very good.  You had no right to be good, "Amazing Spider-Man 2!  So if I've learned anything from this experience, it is this:  don't listen to people.  Especially comic book people, they know nothing.  "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" is a lot of fun, a big messy two hour experience of sight, sound, respectfully developed characters, and great action combined with great romantic chemistry.  And unfortunately I cannot stay angry at it for proving me wrong - even though it is completely in my rights to be furious - because it is really good, and thanks to director Marc Webb and soulless Sony syndicate, I saw a really good movie.

So now that I have proven myself to be a complete fool with no free will who knows nothing, let me somehow use this useless brain of mine to explain why "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" is amazing, if not the best Spider-Man film ever made.  The answer is simple:  it might be bloated, it might be trying to do too many things at once, but "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" is the first film out of the five to make Spider-Man seem cool.  It is not just the gorgeous actions scenes, or Spider-Man's wisecracks, or that Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker is a refreshingly confident figure compared to Tobey McGuire and Sam Raimi's dweeby pathetic hero of the early 2000s.  This Spider-Man is a friend to everybody, especially the children, he's a living person able to get over his complications and live a real life without obsessing over some old uncle.  This is the kind of character growth I've always wanted Batman to have, but which comic books would never allow him.  Maybe all this is too different for the Spider-Man fans to deal with, and this movie definitely overreached.  But it overreached in the best way, making a fun Blockbuster that I thoroughly enjoyed despite myself.

The plot of "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" is a huge pile of characters, subplots, and villains, making for a summary that would seem like a jumble of emotional tones, nonsense, and studio interference.  Some movies when attempting to pull off too much crash and burn, resulting in such disasters as "Spider-Man 3".  What's weird is that "Amazing Spider-Man 2" actually takes a good deal of the plot points of "Non-Amazing Spider-Man 3" and actually pulls them off well.  There are two central villains*, about a dozen new characters are introduced, Harry Osborn turns towards evil, and Spider-Man suffers an extremely complicated relationship with several near break-ups with his romantic interest.  In a way, I fear, the movie is really trying to pull off too much, since Harry Osborn was entirely missing in the first "Amazing Spider-Man", and now has to be introduced as Peter Parker's lifelong best friend.  But also we need a new villain, Electro, to cover the time between Harry's introduction, turn towards darkness, and eventually rise as the Green or Hob Goblin (I'm not sure which one he was).  Then of course, that's not enough:  Aunt May has to do something, Peter Parker has to look for his long-lost parents, and the Ghost of Dennis Leary is haunting Peter.  Marc Webb is somehow game to pull off this off, and pull it off well, which really says something for his skills as a director, somehow juggling so many items at one, and the skills of his actors.

You two are just so charming together!  Screw the webslinging, this should have been a romantic comedy.
Returning leads Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker and his real life and in-universe girlfriend, Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy are the most adorable couple on screen yet for 2014.  Marc Webb had to understand that "Amazing Spider-Man 1" was a mess, if not a near-disaster, saved only because he managed to capture bottled lightning with these two stars together.  So "Amazing Spider-Man 2" indulges in them together, making for the real heart of the movie.  They're so cute, you want them to stay together, despite everything.  Even the harshest of grumps will have their hearts warmed when the two are flirty cheerfully together.  And since the two stars are easily the most bankable parts of the new Spider-Man franchise, it makes the events of the later part of this film so much bolder.  No film as coldly calculated as the nay-sayers accuse "Amazing Spider-Man 2" to be could pull off such natural chemistry, and definitely no studio would dare throw that away.

Joining the crew is Harry Osborn, played by Dane DeHaan, star of "Chronicle" and a young actor who is slowly morphing into Leonardo DiCaprio.  Since Harry was added as a second-thought in this second film, the movie has to do an cumbersome catch-up act establishing that Harry and Peter were long-time friends, and explaining Harry's absence.  Again, shockingly, Marc Webb completes even this feat, as Andrew Garfield and Dane DeHaan are completely natural together, joking and happy, but with a strange awkward distance that comes from meeting your best friend again after so many years.  Harry's life is made much more complicated by inheriting the villainous Corporation of Evil, OsCorp from his dying father, Norman (played by Chris Cooper in a single scene).  But it isn't just a company that seems to produce nothing but supervillains that Harry inherited, he also received a genetic syndrome that will slowly kill him, meaning Harry has to turn towards comic book experiments or die painfully.  And thus is set his predictable path towards Goblin-hood.

Peter attempts to spice up their relationship with a little role play.
Also joining the ranks of evil in this movie is Max Dillon (Jaimie Foxx).  Max is a character so nerdy and pathetic that Spider-Man's rescue of him is the highlight of his miserable lonely life where the entire world has ignored him.  With that, he begins to obsess over Spider-Man, and grows completely insane once being bitten by Radioactive Electric Eels which grant him the power to control New York City's power grid.  This seems like an extremely simplicistic and one-note storyline, a la Jim Carrey from "Batman Forever", done completely over-the-top with the nerd stereotype.  But I think Max's problems are perhaps even deeper and more tragic then the cursory glance would give.  He seems to be a person that has a legitimate mental illness, perhaps schizophrenia or a kind of mild autism, since he is highly delusional and obsessive, while terrified of other people, more than just a cliche would be.  It goes from being merely a crazy blue man with electric powers terrorizing the city into a very depressing monster movie where the creature just wants to be left alone by the aggressive humans.  This is all symbolized by a fantastic dubstep** character theme from Hans Zimmer, giving the audience a semi-diegetic window into this character's frazzled mind.

One detail that separates "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" from other modern superhero films is that in the midst of its complicated plots and maniacal scheming, it manages to remain a superhero film.  "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" was a very well-made action movie, but it wasn't a superhero film.  Captain America never is out there protecting regular people, he's basically in a Metal Gear game.  "Man of Steel" was a complete mess, failing to capture any of the iconic heroism of its title character.   "Amazing Spider-Man 2" gives itself time to have smaller moments where its hero can go down and work with the regular people.  One of the best scenes is one that has nothing to do with the main plot, it is just Spider-Man saving a little boy from bullies and walking him home.  I feel like somewhere in the bloated production of these films about caped warriors, we forgot their roots as pulpy children's entertainment.  It is so lovable to see Spider-Man take time out of his day to walk a kid a home, or ignore the bad guys to save a man from a crashing car.  Here we are, working directly with the fanbase, who are mostly kids., and actually being a symbol of hope and wonder that made superheroes such a magnetic genre in the first place.  "Amazing Spider-Man 2" has this really Silver Age vibe of hopeful action and nonsense science, the kind that allows it to be accessible to everybody.

The action sequences are the best of any Spider-Man film to date.
Even the crowd of virulent negative critics towards "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" have to admit the raw visual spectacle of Spider-Man swinging around has been perfected here.  We've come a long way from the fluttery effects of the Raimi movies, which have not aged very well.  "Amazing Spider-Man 1" had very good action scenes, and "Amazing Spider-Man 2" continues that, with Spider-Man's flying webshooting and strategic use of web being turned into an artform of visual splendor.  Just him leaping around, hookshotting himself across the city is this magnificent scene of freedom - this is why Spider-Man is awesome, I never realized before.  Even better, Marc Webb is confident enough of his own movie to keep the action beats down to a minimal.  They are there, they are fantastic, but they do not devour the entire movie.  Long stretches take place with Peter out of his spandex, being himself and driving the plot.  Then when the action happens, you will not feel cheated at all, as extreme CG super slow-mo effects allow us to have a visual metaphor of Spidey Sense and the acrobatic websling' dazzles the audience's eyes.

There are plot problems though.  This is the not the script they should have used, frankly.  Peter's blood is apparently a cure for Harry's disease, but he is very reluctant to give it away, which seems less than heroic.  Harry's arc from well-meaning young man way over his head to Willem Dafoe is rushed, I wished there could have been more with him and Peter.  Gwen and Peter are too much in love for their break-ups to really be believable.  And the Ghost of Dennis Leary is a stupid idea, no disrespect to Dennis Leary.  Who as it turns out, probably should have been listened to more.  But that's minor problems for me, for others it might be enough to make you so depressed you want to stop watching movies.  If you are one of those people... say, a Bob of the Movie variety:  it's just fucking Spider-Man, and this movie wasn't that bad.  Get over yourself.

Marc Webb with "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" has truly accomplished something amazing impressive.  The movie is huge, probably too long, and full of faults, but so was "The Dark Knight Rises", and that movie was equally amazing fantastic.  This is a movie that is visually striking, brilliant-acted, filled with characters that are immediately likable and well-rounded.  Spider-Man himself finally has become something impressive, a true superhero after so many movies.  "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" is a movie that a lot of people hate, but I think I'm going to champion, I really see something amazing wonderful in this film.  If it could make me go from sighing bitterly to riding happily along in just two hours, it will entertain you to no end.  It is a movie that accomplishes a great deal, takes bold steps into the overall story of new Spider-Man franchise, and has made one of the most enjoyable theater experience of 2014.

* Not three like the marketing suggests.  The Rhino played by Paul Giamatti only bookends the film, first as a minor threat for Spider-Man to capture, then in a powered-armor suit to set up the rise of a greater class of supervillains.

** Trust me, I despise dubstep, it has to be really great music to make me admit it is any good, let alone great.


  1. Wow, I wasn't expecting you to like it! I loved this movie, too! I really think it's the best Spider-Man movie, and if Webb returns to direct the rest of the movies, hopefully it won't feel too bloated or drawn out.

  2. Seems this movie is really a love it or hate it kind of deal. I really didn't like it all that much. To me it suffered the same issues as Spiderman 3 did, only worse. Love Garfield as Peter Parker though. He's fantastic.