Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Dir. Marc Webb

2 out of 5

Can you remember a time when a Spider-Man movie wasn't a commercial slam-dunk?  In 2002, Sam Raimi's lavishly-budgeted take on the webslinger was considered a flashy gamble in a genre that only had a couple modest hits to its recent credit.  These days, Spidey is the unofficial mascot of Sony, a financial bulwark that's counted on to bolster the film division's balance sheet.  Though he's forever a teenager (or a young adult), Peter Parker is undoubtedly a major Hollywood breadwinner.  

With great grosses comes great responsibility.  The stress of competition is written all over The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a follow-up to the so-so 2012 reboot that treats current blockbuster trends as obligations and desperately clings to a borrowed personality.  In the sequel, Peter (Andrew Garfield) is still struggling to cope with loss, from the impending departure of his Oxford-bound girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), to the recent deaths of both his adoptive uncle and Gwen's police captain father, to the mystery of his own parents' disappearance when he was a young boy.  Once again, Peter's investigation into his "secret history" creates more adversaries with an all-important link to the tech monolith OsCorp: Max Dillon/Electro, a mousy electrical engineer (Jamie Foxx) who experiences a horrific industrial accident and turns into a human battery because electricity; and Harry Osborne (a shifty Dane DeHaan), the OsCorp heir who needs a transfusion of Spider-Man's genetically-altered blood to cure the poorly-explained hereditary disease that is quickly ravaging his body.

While the first film could fall back on an origin story so compelling that you kinda sorta liked hearing it again, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 tries to get by with a pu pu platter of material that struggles to achieve coherence, let alone convey excitement and adventure.  The tone varies wildly from scene to scene, and, despite a few bright spots courtesy of his talented leads and visual effects team, director Marc Webb can't replicate Raimi's patient buildup of tension leavened with trademark Spidey humor.  The movie also feels weirdly hermetic.  Besides a single confrontation with Electro in Times Square, this Spider-Man is rarely seen interacting with the outside world.  It fundamentally changes the narrative from one where we can see and relate to Peter's struggles to one where super-people remain frustratingly aloof and unknowable until it's time to punch each other.

To be fair, the filmmakers seem to realize this, but are unwilling or unable to come up with more creative ways to create an understanding of Peter/Spider-Man's dual life and the strain it places on his relationships.  (They even recycle the "costume staining the laundry" joke from Spider-Man 2.)  The Amazing Spider-Man 2 also fails to broaden the franchise mythology in any interesting way, with problems starting from the iffy opening scene in which respected scientist Richard Parker (Campbell Scott) channels Liam Neeson's hulking air marshal in Non-Stop.  Indeed, the movie's only real risk is to play up the silliness to a degree that suggests the influence of the Schumacher Batman films (right down to the misguided character designs), which is not the comparison you want in this more discerning era of comic book cinema.

But at least succumbing to camp - instead of teetering on the brink of it - would signal some sort of creative agency.  Unfortunately, Webb and his crew are far too content to imitate rather than innovate.  It's the product of a perceived superhero arms race where building a foundation for a promised future payoff is prioritized over a wholly fulfilling dramatic experience in the present, with the obligatory over-compensation of the last twenty minutes unable to salvage the alternately dippy and banal experience of the preceding two hours.  With more to prove than ever, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 discouragingly doubles down on the familiar. 

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