05 May 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Two years ago, I really, really, really dug The Amazing Spider-Man. From a character standpoint, I thought it was brilliant, pitch-perfect even. The blossoming relationship of Peter and Gwen, the relationship between Peter and his Aunt May, Peter's struggle dealing with unanswered questions from the past, a thirst for vengeance instead of justice, and a moving climax about secrets, promises, and what's right. In the two years since, it appears I am a member of a very, very small minority who wholeheartedly love The Amazing Spider-Man and don't find it as "gritty" and "grab" as the criticizers commonly label it, although I won't comment on the effectiveness/cartoonishness of Curt Connors. I don't watch these movies for the villains, I watch them for the characters, and Amazing Spider-Man delivered on character in magnificent glowing spades.

So naturally, mega amount of excitement and enthusiasm for Amazing Spider-Man 2. But then they started casting, and the likes of Shailene Woodley, Paul Giamatti, and Jamie Foxx coming out of nowhere to do roles that seem shoehorned in? Yeah, I got worried. And then production ended ahead of schedule, Woodley's Mary Jane arc was cut entirely from the finished product, and trailers started making the rounds. Visually, the film looked pleasing. Story-wise? Oi vey, looked like shit was about to hit the fan, where story and character were to be sacrificed for world-building, bad comedy sketches, and villains. Lots and lots of villains!

The good news is, there's plenty to like/love about The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but there's also a helluva lot to bitch about, and, I feel, rightly so. But before that, can I just say . . .

I need to see every big-budget epic blockbuster in IMAX 3-D. No if or but about it, this is my new preferred way of watching these types of films. There's something so spectacular in being immersed in the film, as this giant screen literally takes over your vision and you're just in the middle of every little detail and story beat. Moreso in the awesome category, watching Amazing Spider-Man 2 in IMAX 3-D was the first time I really felt the merits of 3-D, especially the opening Spidey-flying-around-Manhattan shots, where were just gobsmacking in their level of detail and dimension. It would be a bit boisterous to say I was flying along the New York skyscrapers with Spider-Man, but I sure as hell felt the dimensionality of his actions. Naturally, the 3-D effect didn't sustain all that well during the more intimate talking heads stuff, but when the film switches gears into a full on CG-frenzy of explosive action, the 3-D was just mind blowing.

Even further in the 'cool' category, this super nifty IMAX exclusive poster, designed by British artist Matt Taylor, was available for free at the concession stand. Can you say 'gorgeous?!', and a perfect representation of one of the key amazing shots in the films opening minutes. Anyway, all this to say, the environment for the film was just all kinds of awesome, and this flick really opened my eyes to the benefits of 3-D when utilized correctly. As of right now, I've decided, through Hell or some magical Minnesota return to winter, I will watch Godzilla on IMAX 3-D. I just gotta.

Anyway, onto the quasi-review. Oh, and SPOILERS!

THE VISUAL EFFECTS. Good Lord, these are about as close to photo realistic as I could possibly hope for a movie about a guy in a home-stitched Spider outfit swinging around New York. I know I praised the 'opening' webslinging sequence up above in the intro, but it's so damn impressive it's worth another honorable mention in "the good" column. Finally, a Spider-Man movie that feels authentic, that gives dimension, scope, and above all, fun to the whole superhero thing.

There's a lot of VFX shots, but this is one of the few times where the level of detail and realism are at such a high caliber that even if my subconcious knows it's all digital fakery, it LOOKS and FEELS real enough that, for the first time, I fully believe that I'm watching a documentary of New York's superhero web crawler. This all might be reaching hyperbole, but damn if the VFX weren't terrific. 

THE PETER/GWEN ARC & CHOICES. Look, I love me some romance, and I especially love me some romance with Emma Stone involved, and I uber-especially-mega love the romance established between Gwen Stacey and Peter Parker in the first one, so naturally, I love the romantic aspects of Peter and Gwen here. But let's move past that and give accolades to where it deserves - the ARC of these two characters as people. Peter's been haunted by the oath he swore to Gwen's father, and that's caused friction between them ever since, apparently causing this endless round of off-again/on-again/off-againness that once again comes into play here.

What I love about it is that this is a relationship of equals. Both highly respect one another, both are defined human beings who are not dependent on each other, but instead compliment. I love that Gwen is heading to London on a scholarship, I love that she has the gusto to speak her mind and be frank, I love that she is who she is and doesn't apologize for it. Above all, I love that when she saves Peter from Electro, she doesn't care what he says, because it's HER choice. And I love that Peter respects her enough to accept it, give in and ask for her help. It's possibly one of the most mature relationships I've seen in a comic book-affiliated title, and the funny thing is that these are (supposedly) teenagers.

I will not apologize for how much I adore these characters and their interactions together, and this couple is possibly the only thing I can give the screenwriters credit for creating pretty much 100% write. So, as we get to The Bad column, I'm just gonna have to remind myself how much I love this dynamic, cos, man, this script gets really, really, really, REALLY bad.

THE HERO. As pretty much every review site has remarked, it's great to have Spider-Man be quip-y again. It was his signature thing in the comics, and was barely a thing in the Raimi movies, but Spidey's spunk and wit is back. Sometimes the humor when he's Peter Parker ("okay, laundry Sheriff") is rubbish, but usually, when he's in the Spidey outfit ("a God named Sparkles?"), that's when the funny really gets to shine.

SLOW-MO SPIDEY. I love, love, LOVE this. Time slows down and we see Peter figure out how to save people, and as time speeds up, he sprints into action. The level of detail on these digital images is just beautiful. I'm already gleefully anticipating going shot-by-shot with my future Amazing Spider-Man 2 Blu-Ray. The 300 movies may have exhausted my tolerance for slow-mo sequences, but how it's used here as revitalized my love for it, when done correctly. So, so, so cool!

AND THIS. For so long I was hoping Marc Webb & Co wouldn't do this. Despite the on-set paparazzi shots of Emma Stone in the signature The Night Gwen Stacey died regalia, I was hoping it was misdirection and instead it would lead to something different. Alas, it didn't, and it did.

The real genius of all this is the level of responsibility that rests on Peter with this death. If Gwen had just died in some other way while he was doing his crime fighting, we can chalk that up to consequences, but it was his webbing that snapped her. Sure, she would have died if he hadn't done a thing, but the fact that he caught her, that adds an extra layer of guilt and responsibility.

Personally, in my imagination of where all this would go, I would have loved to see a Stacey family reaction to being told another family member died, and I was thinking how emotionally gut-wrenching it would be to have a distraught Peter (in his Spidey outfit, sans mask) just rushing into his home, rambling in front of Aunt May, crying, saying how it was all his fault, all his fault. Instead, we take the easy way out, and we cut away from the clock town after The Event. Although I would have liked a bit more of the heart-pulling - more of an emphasis on the what happened right after she died - it does lead to the following 15 minutes, and for that, I guess I can't blame it that much . . .

THIS ENDING. Gwen has died, and in one of the most powerful and emotionally devastating montages in recent memory, we get quick glimpses of Peter standing by her grave as the seasons roll past, unmoving, stuck, destroyed and lost. No words, just images, and a breeze-like Zimmer cue, and without a doubt, it's the most compelling 20 seconds of film in the entire feature. Just wow. So Peter is consumed completely by his failure to save her, by her death, and thus, Spider-Man has vanished. The public is clamoring for his return, and the police need him back, but there's Peter, at home, just totally obliterated emotionally. He's like Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight Rises, he can't move on, he can't move past this big, lumbering wall. And one speech and TV news reporter leads to the Return, and it's cinematically and storytelling-ly glorious. The one shot of the valiant and heroic kid in a Spider-Man costume facing down the Rhino, and Spider-Man standing behind him, in high respect. The hero has returned from his self-imposed exile. He's found - if not meaning - the will to be Spider-Man again. And he springs into action.

Some have complained that the movie just stops, that somehow it's some horrible storytelling gaffe. Not so. It's perfect. It's the perfect way of saying 'the story continues' and the 'fight keeps going'. Add in Peter's hilarious quips to the Rhino - "You want me to come down there so you can kill me? I'll be right there." - and it's about the most perfect conclusion to this cinematic story and personification of the Spider-Man character. It doesn't have the same tragedy as The Dark Knight did at its pulse-pounding, heartbreaking conclusion, but it pulls at the same strings and succeeded in turning me into a weeping child.


ELECTRO/MAX DILLON. Now, as far as aesthetic is concerned, Electro is very pleasing. The translucent blue skin, the kind of dopey outfit he dons in the penultimate climax, and his Angry Voice, all work together to make a very formidable and intimidating foe. It's just a huge pity that Electro the character (aka Max Dillon) is possibly one of the worst written characters in a comic book affiliated movie since Bane and Mr. Freeze in Batman & Robin.

Actually, speaking about the Schumacher films, many apt comparisons have been made between Max Dillon and Edward Nygma, played to loony hilarity by Jim Carrey in Batman Forever. Both characters feel slighted by their role model not remembering them/appreciating them. But enough of that comparison stuff. The fact is, character motivation for Max Dillon is paper thin. There is absolutely no reason why Dillon wouldn't see what he became and been all, 'Oh, shit! I'm fucking BLUE! Look, sorry man, I'm out' and just vamanosed. But instead he gets glamorized by the entire public looking at him (for once in his life).

There's this scene, early in the movie, that's just embarrassing on an epic level (especially for Jamie Foxx). Max, at the pinnacle of hero worship, talks to himself the entire time he's getting ready for work. He narrates that it's his birthday, he does a Gollum and appreciates the thoughtful cake (he put) in the fridge, and he smiles at the many photos of Spider-Man he has taped on the walls. It's just horrible. Absolutely horrible. Horribly written. Horrible character. Horrible motivation. WHO LET THIS SLIDE? Who thought this was a good idea, to make a character this thin?

This isn't even a nitpick. This is Screenwriting 101. Make characters nuanced! There are characters in the 1990s Spider-Man cartoon series with greater depth.

Electro - he looks amazing, but written so, so bad. Just imagine nine thousand Jean-Luc Picard facepalm images hitting the web in relation to Electro, and there's a good idea how bad it is.

VILLAIN DIALOGUE. "It's my birthday, time to light some candles." "Right as rain." "Harry's dead!" "You're a fraud Spider-Man!" These are just a couple examples of genuine, honest-to-God in-the-movie bits of dialogue that should NEVER HAVE MADE IT PAST THE FIRST DRAFT!

HARRY OSBORN. Introduction scene. He's with his father. Father invites Son to tell him how much he hates him, AND, OH! You're gonna die. And just COINCIDENTALLY, you're gonna start showing symptoms (outside of shaky hand syndrome) pretty much immediately after I reveal this information to you. And boom. Norman's dead. Harry has a new motivation - live. He discovers Spider-Man's blood could save him. Alright, I'll give kudos to that motivation. It's interesting, I'll give it that. Honestly, interesting. But how about this version instead, sorta:

Screenwriters: instead of Harry showing symptoms for the first time in this movie, have him enter the picture already suffering big time. Have him hardened by his pain. Have him already desperate. Have him speak back against his father (which, BTW, was one of the worst exposition info-dump scenes I've ever had the displeasure of enduring). And in those few instances where Harry and Peter interact, that's when the Angry, Bad Boy persona dissipates and we, the audience, see the Harry worth saving.

Instead, we have a Beginning, Middle, and a Psych! Cliffhanger! end for Harry. Way too much stuffed in this basket, unless we eliminated the Electro storyline and just centered it on Harry. But, again, credit where credits due, I think the screenwriters went the wrong way about writing the character, etc., but with the story they chose, it was kinda brilliant having a desperate Harry use and manipulate an vulnerable Electro to do what he wants. It makes the 'too many villains!' debate seem kinda mute because they compliment the other, sorta. 

In the end, I like the character, I hate the depiction.


I feel like there's more to discuss regarding The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but these are my immediate thoughts after two screenings. When customers would ask me what I thought about the movie, I usually responded, "There's a lot to hate, and there's a to love", and I think there's plenty of merit to that. I'm frustrated by the ineptitude of this movie, and I'm in love with some of the choices it makes. The first movie is still leaps and bounds superior, but, I guess - even though I prefer the gritty over the bright and shiny - this is a decent follow-up. 

How about you? What did y'all think of Marc Webb's sequel, and I are you pumped for a third outing in two years time?


Kumsal Ecem Çolpan said...

That's the most beautiful and the usefullest Blog about Films and Series, i have ever seen :) Congratulations!

Ayush Chandra said...

Really very deep and detailed review. I saw this movie, i only liked the action in it....

Zach Murphy said...

I really liked The Amazing Spider-Man, but I thought this one was cringeworthy.