May 7, 2014

Film Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

America's favorite stalker
Oh, brother. It's only been two years since the last Spider-Man movie, but it's amazing how the goodwill for the franchise has been zapped in those two years. After the disappointing third installment of the Tobey Maguire-led Spider-Man franchise, Andrew Garfield's web-slinger was a breath of fresh air. And the first movie, despite its many problems, was still incredibly enjoyable. Most of that was due to the one-two punch of Garfield and co-star Emma Stone and the fact that charisma and chemistry can be enough to carry a movie. It's worked for plenty of worse actors in plenty of worse movies.

I wish the same was true of the sequel, which picks up not long after the events of the first film. Still trying to make good on the promise he made to her father, Peter Parker (Garfield)
is staying away from the love of his life, the spunky, smart, and fun Gwen Stacy (Stone). He does this by breaking up with her and then stalking her. It's...actually pretty adorable, but that's really just because pouty-lipped Peter is adorable, and Gwen seems like the kind of person anyone would stalk. She's that awesome. Then, while Peter is busy perching on rooftops near Gwen's favorite luncheonettes, a slew of baddies are born in the most contrived and accidental ways possible. Gone are the days when villains would be created or built by their own faults and desires. Now, all a person needs to be a super-villain is to be clumsy and in the wrong place at the wrong time. That's what happens when Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx, a human yawn), a super-genius, decides that the smart thing to do is to fix an uncoupled electric wire with no supervision or safety harness while dangling above an open tank of ravenous electric eels. You know, like you do. Max's dream is to 'be seen.' – I know that because he says it at least 15 times in his first 3 minutes onscreen. So, he gets his wish, not by tirelessly working to attain it, but rather when his encounter with frayed wires and eels basically makes him a living light-bulb named Electro. Everyone can see him now... do you get it? Then, if that wasn't bad enough, Peter's childhood friend Harry Osborn comes back from boarding school and instantly starts dying from a rare disease that also affected Harry's father (but it affects Harry much faster, because this movie ramps everything up to 11). The only thing that will save him is a vial of Spider-Man's blood, because science, and Peter is less than willing to give it to him because reasons. Also, Paul Giamatti tries to steal some yellow liquid.

A girl with a chip/arachnid
on her shoulder.
If all of this sounds like too much for one movie to sustain, that's because it is. And, not only that, but nothing makes sense. All of the plot elements and characters are only interconnected through random happenstance and characters acting like idiots who don't have cell phones or common sense. Electro and Harry Osborn team up because it makes sense for the plot but not for either of the characters. Electro becomes Electro through poor timing and a serious disregard for his own safety (not to mention his boss's disregard for the fact that people should be able to leave work early on their birthdays). Gwen and Peter have legitimate reasons for not being together, what with Peter being directly responsible for Gwen's father's death and Peter's crippling inability to keep almost anyone he loves alive (which is really his father's fault), yet they keep getting back together. Electro hates Spider-Man because Spider-Man couldn't stop a random sniper from shooting Electro, even though bullets do literally nothing too him. Aunt May, despite not knowing that her nephew is the masked vigilante known as Spider-Man, continues to speechify about heroes and responsibility (every monologue in this movie, including Gwen's Valedictorian address, is ridiculously pointed and ham-fisted). Peter learns about his father's scientific research and consequences through the act of throwing a calculator at a wall, which he does because he is angry, not at math, but at his own inability to learn more about his father (I would understand him doing it because he was mad at math). Also, him learning about his father's research does almost nothing to further the plot. Nothing in this movie makes any sense!

That said, the movie has its charms. Gwen and Peter are still great together, thanks in no small part to Garfield's and Stone's palpable chemistry. Also, the action sequences are really exciting and craftily shot. I'm no fan of the quick edit, where takes are so short that you can barely catch your balance or figure out what's going on, but those are used sparingly in the film. Some of the action during a clock tower sequence is muddled and confusing, but that probably has to do with the hackneyed, foregone conclusion to the film more so than the actual stuff playing out on-screen.

The movie is fun to watch, and Garfield was born to play the role of Peter Parker. Still, it's not a good movie. In the world of superhero sequels, it's trying to be as good as X-Men 2 and landing somewhere closer to X-Men 3. Forgettable, but still pretty watchable.

Film Grade: B-

Now, let's talk about the ending. Spoilers Ahead. Seriously, don't read on if you don't want the ending to this movie spoiled.

What a tangled web we weave.
Alright, Gwen Stacy dies at the end of this movie, just like everyone (who has an iota of comic book knowledge) knew she was going to. It's the worst kept secret in film history. Emma Stone was talking about it on the first leg of the promotion tour FOR THE FIRST MOVIE. In the Amazing Spider-Man films, Gwen Stacy is a character seemingly created to die. With her attitude of always wanting to be in on the action and her Valedictorian speech about how life is finite and the need to make the most of today, it's a wonder that she lives past the opening credits. So, it makes the movie a little depressing, since we know death is around the corner for our favorite flaxen-haired teen. However, just because it's going to happen doesn't mean that the death makes any sense in the story, and it certainly doesn't give us anything new. In the comics, Gwen's death teaches Peter that actions have consequences, that his flippant attitude towards danger means losing those he loves. The only problem is that, in the movies, Peter has already learned this twice, His Uncle Ben dies because of Peter's indifference to the law, and Gwen's cop father dies because he's caught up in Peter's world inhabited by crazy lizard psychopaths and electronic blue people. Peter is haunted (literally) by the ghosts of his past throughout the movie. So, realizing that people near him get hurt is not really new. Also, that lesson is undercut by the movie itself, which makes sure that Spidey gets back in action before the final credits. How much more interesting would the film have been if Peter had decided to leave Spider-Man behind, effectively leaving New York without a protector? That question was rhetorical, but I'll answer it – it would have been way more interesting. Instead, the film gives Peter both feelings of guilt and redemption in only 10 minutes of screen time (in a film that's already 2.5 hours long). So, Peter will basically start the next 'amazing' film with a clean conscience and probably a new girlfriend in the form of Mary Jane Watson.

All-in-all, all Gwen's death really points to is the fact that Gwen makes terrible decisions in life. She should have stayed on her path to college and not let herself get distracted by what is essentially sky-writing. She's the dumbest smart person I know. I'm not saying she deserves to die, I'm just saying that he death means nothing for the story or for the surviving characters. And when I'm saying that about a person who, until her death, was the most interesting thing about the re-booted franchise, that's saying something.

Mandy Patinkin talking to Gwen Stacy.

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