Spider Strong

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Columbia Pictures. Written by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. Directed by Marc Webb. 142 minutes. PG-13 (action violence)

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn’t good enough to make me confident that a franchise reboot was necessary, but it is good enough to help me forget about that question anyway. This is a strong, bold film that adds credibility to the series.

Is the whole series just one, George Lucas-sized cash cow? Probably. But what does that actually prove? That producers and studio executives want to make money? Stop the presses. Films should be evaluated by their intrinsic qualities and whether they accomplish what they set out to do. The fact that Marvel and Sony are producing a reboot of a franchise only 10 years old may reflect on the quality of the first three pictures (though I wouldn’t say so), but it definitely says nothing about the new pictures.

Ok, we’ve gotten that out of the way. What about this film?

I won’t bother recapping the plot of the last film. Comic book franchises are like daytime TV: Either you know about it or you don’t. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” picks up where the first film left Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and a city full of highly unfortunate New Yorkers, perpetually unable to fight off the Marvel universe’s freak show of villains. This time the baddie is Electro; you can guess what his special power is.

The two most important additions to the cast are Jamie Foxx as Electro and Dane Dehaan as Harry Osborne. Dehaan has the unenviable job of following James Franco in what turned out to be the latter’s marquee film role. Dehaan gives an admirable effort but his Harry is the weakest link in the film, lacking color and real credibility as a villain.

Foxx is another story. Though Foxx is present in his normal body only a part of the time (before assuming a kind of Avatar-Meets-Pikachu embodiment), his charisma and skills make Electro one of the more interesting Marvel villains, including the last film’s boring Lizard Man, Kurt Connors. While his battles with Spider Man are predictable, they are interesting and human.

Already we can see that Marc Webb’s films differ from Sam Raimi’s in one crucial emphasis: Acting. Webb is able to consistently get good performances from his ensemble, something Raimi struggled to get especially in the last of his Spidey flicks. The keys to the whole show are Garfield and Stone, who may have the best chemistry of any superhero couple ever (of course, it never hurts when your actors are *actually* dating). Sally Fields is in fine form once again as Peter’s Aunt Mae. Veteran actors have a tendency to elevate the performances of their young co-stars; Fields’ scenes with Garfield are among the movie’s best.

The script does not significantly further the development of Peter, which is understandable, given that audiences have been treated to four films about his orphaned, geeky self. I admired in the first “Amazing” that Garfield did not simply replicate Maguire’s goofy heroism, but truly reinterpreted the character as a more self-confident, angrier, perhaps less altruistic web slinger. We see some advancements in the true story of Peter’s parents, including a cool sequence in an secret train station that invites all kinds of fan fiction. At day’s end, however, Peter is fairly simple: He wants to be Spider-Man, wants to know the truth about Mom and Dad, and is in love with Gwen Stacy. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” makes these paths collide violently.

The action scenes are top notch. I like how in Webb’s films the camera flies *with* Spider-Man through NYC. While the effects in “Amazing 2” don’t have quite the visceral touch that made Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2” so effective, they are more exciting, and probably a better competitor to the high flying, Avengers-style CGI that is the industry orthodoxy now.

The film works in all departments: Script, performance, execution, editing. Its length is ambitious (140 minutes is basically Schinder’s List in comic book filmdom) but the story is tight and makes good use of subplots to keep things fresh. The one glaring weakness is Harry Osborne, and its hard to be too critical on the actor here. A little more creativity could have left the Osborne story behind in this reboot.

It’s Emma Stone who continues to shine brightest. She is an elegant, beautiful, confident actress who brings the best out of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” The film’s ending will leave many indignant, which is simply exhibit A to Stone’s star power.

You will enjoy “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” unless you are philosophically opposed to super heroes in general or Spider Man in particular. If that’s you, reconsider your life’s direction.

 

 

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One comment

  1. CMrok93 · May 7, 2014

    A fine summer blockbuster that shows me why superheros can be so entertaining to watch when they’re charming. Good review.

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