Sunday, May 25, 2014

This Spider Man Isn't So "Amazing"

Hollywood has cranked out remakes, reboots & sequels throughout its history. The ongoing popularity of superhero sagas & big budget action franchises ensures that the trend will continue as long as such films are successful. Several years ago, Sony/Columbia decided not to make a fourth Spider Man movie with Sam Raimi & star Tobey Maguire, and instead chose to reboot the franchise. Director Marc (500 Days of Summer) Webb’s The Amazing Spider Man, with Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, and Emma Stone as his girlfriend Gwen Stacy, was released in 2012. Even though three films with the character had already been made, the film retold Spider Man’s origin. The movie was similar in style to Marvel’s Ultimate Spider Man comic series, which had reimagined the classic storylines for a new generation of readers. The film was a success, largely due to Garfield & Stone’s chemistry, and a streamlined narrative that focused on a single villain: the Lizard, portrayed by Rhys Ifans, unlike 2007’s Spider Man 3 which had three villains, and an over-complicated storyline that rewrote Spider Man history.
Now the follow-up, The Amazing Spider Man 2 (also directed by Webb) has been released, but it’s a messy, over-plotted film that feels too much like an extended trailer for upcoming sequels & spinoffs. This time out, our hero faces two villains, Electro & The Green Goblin. Peter’s relationship with Gwen has gotten more serious, despite a promise to her late father (who learned Peter’s secret in the previous movie), that he would keep her safe by staying away from her. A battle with some bad guys causes Spider Man to cross paths with Max Dillon, a nerdy, put upon employee of OsCorp. Max idolizes Spidey, and when the web slinger saves his life, he thinks they’re pals. Peter also reunites with his childhood friend Harry Osborn, who has returned to town. Both men will affect Spider Man’s life before the story is over.

An accident at OsCorp causes Max to become Electro, a creature who is powered by electricial energy. After a confrontation with the police and Spider Man, he’s captured. Our hero is also having his ups & downs with Gwen; after deciding to honor his promise to her father, he splits with her, but later regrets his decision, and they re-kindle their romance. Harry reveals he's dying from a mysterious illness, and the only thing that can save him is Spider Man's blood. At the same time, our hero is also looking into the long ago disappearance and death of his parents. How does OsCorp & Harry's father tie into all this? And when Electro & a new villain, The Green Goblin, unite to take down Spider Man, what will be the cost for our hero?

While the film features good character development for Peter and a realistic relationship between he & Gwen, the superhero elements often feel out of sync. Much of the action takes place in the film’s final third, and when The Green Goblin is finally introduced, he’s not in the film long enough to make an impression on us as Spider Man’s greatest foe. As you’ve probably seen in the trailers & media coverage, the film portrays an iconic scene from Spider Man history, featuring the death of a famous character. This was a turning point in the comic series, and this powerful & emotional moment is squandered with a bad payoff. Instead of allowing Spider Man to deal with his grief, and let the moment linger a bit, we get a tacked on final scene featuring a cameo by a third villain, leaving the story open for the next film. As a lifelong Spider Man fan, that felt like a little bit of cheat to me. There are also hints of upcoming follow-ups; two sequels to this film, and two spinoff movies, featuring The Sinister Six and Venom, have already been announced.

It’s a shame the narrative is so unfocused because the movie wastes some of the best character moments in the series since Raimi’s Spider Man 2, as well as good performances by Garfield, Stone and Sally Field as Peter’s Aunt May. Things are a little different for the villains: Jamie Foxx’s Electro is never fully developed, and while Dane DeHaan is effective as Harry, he’s given too little to do as The Green Goblin. There are just too many plot elements to develop effectively: the Peter/Gwen arc, the search for the truth about Peter’s parents, the two villains and their stories, and scenes laying the groundwork for further films. This is a patchwork story, and it shows. It's truly a mystery why Sony/Columbia felt they had to entirely reboot the series after creative differences with Raimi, instead of just recasting the role and moving forward with a new creative team & further sequels. While there are good elements in the film, it just isn’t on a level with some of the other recent movies done by Marvel Studios & Disney. Sony/Columbia owns the rights to Spider Man, and their films are separate from the “shared universe” projects being produced by Marvel. The movie is worth a look for fans, but you can safely wait for the video release on this one. The film is currently in theaters in both 2D & 3D versions. Here’s a link to the film’s trailer:

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