THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 Review

Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy set a high standard for comic book films. Not only did they have ambitions to be the best of their kind, but the best kind of film period. They looked to transcend the genre and that is more than well and good because I am a huge fan of Nolan and what he did for Batman, but in many ways that can only be the right approach for so many comic book heroes. Not every super hero benefits from being dark, brooding and grounded in reality. This idea of grounding everything from these fantastical, imaginary worlds into the reality that surrounds us will not always be possible and that is what director Marc Webb seems to have tapped into with his re-booted Spider-Man series that looks to fully embrace the world of the comics. Unlike many I was a big fan of the 2012 re-boot starring Andrew Garfield as the masked webslinger for despite the fact it lacked credible or sometimes even remotely intelligent dialogue (an issue that continues here) as well as relying too heavily on special effects in its clumsy action sequences (an issue both improved upon while still heavily leaning on the computer generated crutch) it was a Spider-Man film, that for the first time felt like it captured the spirit of the comics. I'll be the first to admit I am not a big comic book reader, but Spider-Man is an exception and was always a personal favorite of mine growing up. Not only for the little bit of comic reading that I dabbled in, but like Batman and the X-Men it was for the 90's animated series that pulled me into these worlds in the first place. What I enjoyed about 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man was that it seemed to fully immerse itself in the world of its relatable protagonist and was unafraid to try and bring to the screen the more ridiculous of Spider-Man's villains which included a giant lizard in a lab coat. Seeing these actual worlds jump off the pages and onto the screen is what comic book fans have presumably wanted for years yet now that Nolan's Batman films have re-defined what a credible super hero movie is it is easy to look at those that don't adhere to the same rules as something of a lesser accomplishment. It is by the fact fans should come to the realization that this may be the closest in regards to all aspects of the way a movie can be made that a motion picture has captured the essence of what makes a comic so entertaining and endearing through its world building, its dramatic beats, its character development and most of all, its silliness. In short, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 really bowled me over.

Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) have an on again/off again relationship.
Beginning where we left off at the end of the first film Peter Parker (Garfield) has settled into his role as the vigilante of New York City that some are warming up to while others (namely an unseen J. Jonah Jameson) still classify him as a threat and a nuisance. Parker is back-on with his forbidden love Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) whose father (Denis Leary, who keeps popping up here and there to remind Peter of his promise) had the dying request that Peter and Spider-Man leave his daughter alone and thus safe from peril. As highlighted in the first film, the relationship between Peter and Gwen is one that is as key to Peter being Spider-Man in a successful fashion as are his actual powers, but that bond is put to the test over and over again here. The main cause of this stress seems to continually come from Oscorp. After filing away everything having to do with Curt Connors aka the aforementioned lizard and setting their image straight with the shareholders the large corporation seems to be on a path to better public relations as they have designed a unit that will power the entire city more efficiently (I bet you can't guess how that might come into play later). This is, of course, due in thanks to the unrecognized work of Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) who is a bit of a loner who becomes obsessed with Spider-Man after being saved by him only to fall in a vat of eels after being electrocuted and turns against the friendly neighborhood hero when his starved for attention mentality is betrayed by public perception. Add into this the return of Peter's childhood friend Harry Osborn (the always welcome Dane DeHaan) to the big apple after being away at boarding school for eight years. Harry's return is greeted by his father, Norman's (Chris Cooper), death and an illness that has been passed on to Harry and is beginning to set in. There is some strange connection between this disease and the work Peter's father was doing when he abruptly disappeared from his sons life and the script does a fair job of balancing the looming threat of Foxx's Electro and DeHaan's Osborn with the personal agenda of Peter to discover why his parents abandoned him and why he can't seem to abandon Gwen.  

Many state that their main issue with the studios approach to super hero films today is that they are not merely to exist as a sole entity or to serve a singular story to a point that it is given the attention it deserves to really resonate with viewers. Instead, studios and their controlling repercussions on the writers and directors creative processes are what allow for strict guidelines on what can and cannot be done in certain films and how they have become more of a very expensive TV series than anything resembling old fashioned motion pictures, merely episodes that only come out once every other year. There is no denying that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has some serious ambition behind it and that it is clearly another chapter in a saga that Sony wants to return to time and time again, but with all of that aside this is also a very precise and calculated piece of entertainment that both serves to move the story forward, offering real insight into mysteries established in the first, and setting up characters and circumstances for future films that will only feed off the inherent drama present among the ridiculousness that is all of this super hero silliness.

The inferior sections of the film only occur when it gets bogged down in trying to convey too much exposition for the future, but even here we get slight nods in the form of Felicity Jones, B.J. Novak and Paul Giamatti as to what may come in the future and while the marketing did a botch job on this thing and a serious disservice to spoiling some of the better action beats and character involvement the film itself, taken on its own terms without any reference to marketing or future projects already announced, does a fine job of weaving the multiple storylines together and allowing them to add up to something of a cohesive finale and knowing which ones to focus on and more importantly, where not to go at all. I had a small fear about halfway through the film that the mystery set-up with Peter's parents in the first film would go unresolved and that it was only a ploy the screenwriters came up with to create a sense of freshness in this re-booted franchise, but luckily the film knows where it needed to go to make the most of its promise and in its execution creates a singular belief in destiny and that the Spider-Man we're watching was truly meant to be a hero (which is only enhanced by the iconic Hans Zimmer score). The only major issues that still sit with me deal with the baddies of the picture in that of the underdeveloped Foxx character that serves more of a secondary role to DeHaan's Harry than the featured protagonist I expected as Foxx does his best Jim Carrey/Edward Nygma impression for forty-five minutes or so before being turned into a complete special effect. His performance is slightly haunting once he's been transformed into the shape-shifting bundle of electricity, but this is mainly due to the rendering of his voice and how it is made to sound even more than the inflection or delivery in which Foxx operates. I would have liked to have heard a little more about Harry as well, even a throw away line in the first film would have helped to sustain the credibility of his boarding school excuse for just now showing up rather than it being more of a way to shoe-horn him in. Once he is there though the film does much better than expected in handling his character arc than I expected, even if we don't fully buy into he and Peter's relationship, and DeHaan is simply a force to be reckoned with making what could have been an underdeveloped cliché with a bad haircut into a menacing nemesis that will change the course of this franchise for better or worse.    

Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) is flustered when he meets his hero face to face.
That said, there is obviously a lot of good stuff going on here and so let's focus on what is really enjoyable. First of all you have the chemistry between Garfield and Stone that never brings the film down as Tobey Maguire's incarnation allowed his love interests to do, but instead it is in these pure character moments that the film shines in giving us core characters not only that we can understand and really get to know, but truly demonstrate Webb's ability to craft a stirring human drama under all the hollowness of what is expected from a summer blockbuster. It is not just between the two love birds though that this skill is demonstrated, scenes between Garfield and his Aunt May (the wonderful Sally Field) are nearly tear-jerkers while the uneasiness of going in expecting one too many villains is soothed by the way in which Foxx and DeHaan bounce off one another. Typically these kind of positive attributes are balanced out by some other detractor in this kind of fare and we feel there is a cap for just how good a movie like this can be and while the film very much exists within the comic book genre it plays up the qualities of these films in the best way possible. This is, of course, in reference to the action scenes and they are pretty spectacular here. The way in which Webb weaves his colorfully shot New York City with the flawless special effects is exhilarating. I've found that the soul of a film can sometimes be defined by a key scene and here there is a sequence that allows both Gwen to witness the drive behind why Peter must be Spider-Man (which thankfully, is never questioned) and the level of skill and thought that went into the big action set-pieces. This comes when Foxx's Electro mistakenly becomes public enemy number one in the middle of Times Square. The scene also serves to sway those against Spider-Man into his favor while turning the unsuspecting, undeserving Max Dillon into an evil mastermind of sorts that justifies his villainous turn while speaking volumes about the tragedy of this mans sad, lonely life. What stands out the most though is the camera work illustrating the length of Electro's power in a one shot clip that is maybe the coolest thing I've seen at the movies all year. Films such as this are meant to be spectacles and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 delivers on all fronts in that regard (See it in IMAX 3D if you can and for local readers that would be Chenal 9 in Little Rock) while balancing what it needs to in order to make the quiet moments mean something more and the architecture of the story a part of something bigger.