Amazing Spider-Man 2, TheReviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 05/01/14 15:00:00
Once the Batman series had run its course with one of the most reviled comic book movies, Warner Bros. took eight years to revive it and did so for the better in the hands of Christopher Nolan. After listening to outraged fanboys, Universal tried to reboot The Incredible Hulk five years after Ang Lee's underappreciated effort and get in on the pending Avengers launch. The results were less than thrilling. Though it seemed much sooner than anyone wanted (or needed) Sony just could not let it's Spider-Man cash cow go. Without Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire to guide it (after the studio helped overstuff their third film into mediocrity) they decided to go the reboot route as well. The promise of a darker more mysterious backstory to Spider-Man (covering up how it was all basically an excuse to merely tell the tale of his "other" girlfriend) was lost in a thoroughly mediocre setup that completely fell apart down the stretch. Yet Marc Webb's 2012 effort feels positively Raimi-esque compared to the sequel which deserves placement amongst some of the worst comic book films to date (Marvel, DC or otherwise) and is the kind of travesty that should draw the wrath of its most fervent fans and kill the prospects for further entries into the franchise.Beginning with a flashback to remind us once again that Peter Parker's parents were involved in some experimental dealings at Oscorp that caused them to abandon their own son, it appears the film is ready to answer some of the lingering questions of the original's almost forgotten backstory. Instead it is just an excuse to shoehorn in an extra action sequence before moving to another one involving Spider-Man's cavalier handling of a stolen truck filled with viles of explosive material driven by Russian mobster Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti). Peter (Andrew Garfield) is missing his own graduation for this moment but arrives on time to plant a big kiss on girlfriend Gwen Stacy and act like the cock of the walk.
Garfield's decision to turn Spider-Man and by all accounts Peter Parker from awkward teen to a swaggering Tony Manero may be his attempt to distance himself from Maguire's shy, doe-eyed interpretation. But it is far more detrimental for him to act like he's taking cues from Tony Stark when he's called on for almost full breakdowns as he spots the ghost of Gwen's father (Denis Leary in silent disapproving stares) reminding him that he was asked to stay away from his daughter so as not to risk her life. Peter and Gwen's relationship is reduced to interruptive exchanges about who is going to stay away further from the other. Peter for fear of breaking his vow and Gwen for possibly, just maybe, accepting a job in England.
Meanwhile, a far more geeky Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) is introduced, not that anyone would notice. Basically Oscorp's version of Milton from Office Space, Max one day is asked to put in some overtime and ends up getting himself eletrocuted and attacked by eels. Reborn with the abilities to absorb and launch electricity from his fingertips, Max brands himself as the villain Electro after he recognizes people notice him for the first time. There's an interesting psychology there if anyone was willing to explore it. But let's put him on the sidelines to follow the introduction of Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan, taking over for James Franco), Peter's old friend. After his father Norman (Chris Cooper, taking over for Willem Dafoe in the film's one good and all-too-brief performance) dies, Harry inherits both dad's company and the debilitating illness that claimed him. Realizing that Spider-Man's blood could potentially heal him, he asks for Peter's help to set up a meet-and-greet. When that does not go as planned, well, you can figure out the rest.
Recognizing the various arcs - if they can even be called that - through ASM2 should be as easy as it was for screenwriters Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci to lift from some of their favorite comic book films. Not that co-writer Jeff Pinkner cannot have a share of the blame, but the stank of Kurtzman & Orci is all over this mess. From Max's turn of admirer to adversary (The Incredibles) to the mere casting of Chronicle's Dane DeHaan as the friend-turned-enemy with out-of-control superpowers, there is nary an original thought or a competent digression throughout the narrative. It takes 40 minutes for Max to make his transition to Electro and after a quick defeat that would make the aliens from Signs roll their eyes, he is stuffed into captivity to allow time for the Osborne boy to have even less of an impact than Venom in Spider-Man 3. And if The Rhino is your favorite Spidey villain, be prepared to throw tomatoes at his poorly-conceived bookended appearance that once again calls into question just how organized this shadow company is beyond visiting bad guys in jail.
It has been 22 years since Batman Returns began the downward slope into overstuffing these comic book universes with too much, too soon. Tim Burton's film still had enough twisted empathy for its characters to keep it interesting. That all changed when Two-Face was shoved aside for The Riddler in Batman Forever and fan favorite Venom was practically an afterthought in the wake of The Sandman in Raimi's failed third chapter. Christopher Nolan found a way to keep track of all his antagonists and make them a greater part of a collective whole. There is almost no structure to ASM2 or how Max, Norman and Aleksei affect Peter's direction as either a superhero or a human being. Until it's all over, of course.Waiting over two hours for the filmmakers to spring its one surprise (to non-comic readers mostly) is an inhumane bore that doesn't so much setup what's in store for Spider-Man's life to be "changed forever" but to trace how they were setting us up for the kill with all the subtlety of introducing a cop a week from retirement. Audiences were blindsided during The Dark Knight because of the connection between its characters, what they stood for and its immediate aftermath. There is almost no chemistry between anyone on screen with relationships ranging from one-dimensional writing to flat-out annoying. Laundry becomes a major source of contention between Peter and Aunt May (Sally Field, just itching to go full Steel Magnolias.) Stalking becomes a central theme. Motion-challenged action sequences have one longing for the subtlety of Zack Snyder. There is nothing to recommend about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to comic or movie fans who may flock to it in the hopes that its overkill is enough to wash down the initial mediocrity of the reboot. Instead they are liable to find a series that has been officially Schumacher'ed that may generate enough poisonous word-of-mouth to kill the franchise. At least until the next reboot.
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