Friday, May 2, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Andrew Garfield is back as the titular web-slinger in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but surprisingly I wasn't extremely hyped for it. I thought the original film was pretty good (see my review here), but I didn't know where they were going to take that story that we hadn't already experienced in the original trilogy directed by Sam Raimi. However, when Sony began to unveil their plans for a supervillain team-up, I started to see some promise in the upcoming blockbuster. It was comforting to see director Marc Webb return the project, as well as Emma Stone and Sally Field, but it was even more intriguing to see the new cast members that had joined the team (Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, etc.). However, with sub-par reviews appearing on Rotten Tomatoes, I really didn't know what kind of Spider-Man film I was about to get.

Peter Parker has finally come to understand his identity as Spider-Man, risking his life every day to protect the people of New York. On one such occasion he rescues the put-upon electrician, Max Dillon, who instantly forms an obsessive adoration for the hero. Max feels invisible to everyone, and relishes every moment that someone remembers him. However, after a disastrous accident at the Oscorp lab where he works, Max is transformed into a blue monstrosity called Electro, feeding on electricity and becoming more powerful by the second. Meanwhile, Peter is struggling with his decision to break his promise to Captain Stacy by continuing to date his daughter, Gwen, and sabotages their relationship in a moment of guilt. However, during a brief moment of reconciliation, Peter must leave Gwen to swing into action as Electro begins to suck all the electricity from Times Square and inadvertently puts hundreds of lives in danger.

I had to cut myself off at that point, because I don't want to get too far into the plot and spoil something important. Let me just take a moment to quash a terribly misconstrued criticism of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 - there are NOT too many villains! This isn't Spider-Man 3 (thank goodness) where multiple unconnected characters come together under terribly contrived scenarios. Really, there are only two villains in this story, and both of them are actually quite sympathetic for a good part of the film. The third villain everyone seems to be counting is merely teasing what is to come, as he only has about five minutes of screentime. Don't prejudge this movie by its trailer (as many critics on Rotten Tomatoes seem to be doing), but give it a chance to tell the story. It's a good one. This is a very dense movie with lots of interconnecting relationships and complex characters, and I actually think it's really well done.

As to be expected, the visuals in this movie are absolutely incredible, with some of the coolest Spider-Man action ever portrayed in film. The only issue I have with it is the 3D (which I rarely enjoy as it is), as it always seems to call attention to the CGI and making it seem out of place, rather than integrating it smoothly with its more realistic surroundings. Having said that, some of the swinging scenes with Spider-Man diving from ridiculous heights really made me feel like I was on a roller coaster at times. His fight scenes with Electro are other-worldly and quite beautiful, even if they do take a little too much from the Matrix at times.

Speaking of Electro, I found Max Dillon's character to be a little pathetic at times and clearly by design. We are meant to feel sympathy for the guy, forgotten by everyone and put down by his superiors. He's sort of an accidental villain in some ways, though his eventual turn for the worst is surprisingly satisfying in its evolution. A lot of that can be attributed to Jamie Foxx, who does a great job of creating a character who's both relatable and frightening. His scenes are also where some of the coolest music is brought into the film, with ground-shaking electronic beats and schizophrenic chants underlining the dangers of his expanding power. I've said it many times, but I think Hans Zimmer is easily the best composer working today. With an eclectic group of collaborators, he took one of the weakest elements of the previous film and made it a great strength with his work in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Some people may not enjoy it as much as I do, but it's certainly more memorable than James Horner's rather lackluster score for the last movie.

Andrew Garfield completely owns the character of Spider-Man at this point, and I think I'm finally ready to say that he is much better than Tobey Maguire ever was in the role. He not only sells the snarky, smack-talking superhero we all know and love, but his relationship with Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy is far more believable than anything Maguire and Kristen Dunst were able to develop over the course of three movies. Their love story is one of the primary focuses of this film, and it's a crucial element to Peter's evolution into the man he has to become. There were genuinely touching moments in this film, and I couldn't believe how invested I was in their relationship.

Another important relationship in this film is between Peter and Harry Osborn, played brilliantly by Dane DeHaan (Chronicle). Something about his eyes and his thin face give him such an innately creepy vibe that he has no trouble selling the audience on his dark side. However, I appreciated seeing a side to Harry that we never saw in the previous movies that actually gave him a legitimate reason to turn against Peter and become such a terrifying foe. There's also a great symmetry between Harry and Peter, particularly between their relationships with their fathers. Not only do we finally get some answers about Peter's parents, but we get a unique backstory about Norman Osborn and the inescapable inheritance Harry receives from him. The result is a satisfying conflict that will surely bleed over into future installments.

While I really did enjoy this film quite a bit, there are a few things that I wasn't crazy about. Electro's motivations are a little thinly explained, and the resolution of his character is also slightly underwhelming. It's difficult to talk about it without going into spoiler territory, and I definitely think the movie is good enough for you to experience it for yourself, regardless of whatever minor qualms I had with it. The final scenes by themselves are worth the price of admission, so I feel confident that you won't be sorry taking a chance on this film (regardless of what the unenlightened critics say).

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 might be the best Spider-Man movie yet and is probably the best non-Avengers Marvel film since X-Men: First Class. This is a very underrated superhero film and will most likely end up somewhere on my top ten list for the year when it's all said and done. I'm excited for where the future sequels and spinoffs will take us, but I'm almost as excited to see this movie again. I give it a solid three and a half stars.

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence