Sunday, 25 May 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
Directed by Marc Webb; Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx

Rating: 3/5

I’ve said it before, but it feels like an overwhelming number of mainstream films these days are superhero films. Better yet, the Amazing Spider-Man 2 manages to tick the box of being a sequel in a franchise that has already been rebooted since the millennium.

When the first Spider-Man came out in 2002, the 21st Century superhero juggernaut was still in its infancy. The only other one we’d had was X-Men (2000), which was pretty great. Fourteen years later, and we’re anticipating the release of the seventh X-Men film… which is also slated to be pretty great, but we’ll see what happens there – get back to me next week.

Other criticisms which apply to superhero movies and sequels in general, but which this film takes no steps to avoid, include obligations to have a baggy film in excess of two hours, culminating in a high-octane, explosion riddled finale that goes on about 20 minutes too long; but this is clearly an unavoidable adherence to convention.

Another problem with these new Spider-Man films is the sense that we’ve gone through all of this before. Sure, the sets and the actors are different, but everything is played out on screen exactly the way it was ten years ago. First, we had to watch Peter Parker get bullied at school, go on an ill-advised trip to Oscorp and get bitten by a radioactive spider, and then agonise over the death of poor old Uncle Ben – am I describing Spider-Man (2002) or The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) here?

Now, we get to watch Harry Osborn deal with the death of his dad, start a vendetta with Spider-Man and then discover the truth behind what the company was really doing – just in time to take up the ‘goblin’ mantle and join the fray in the final fight, whilst taking some of the focus away from the main villain: Spider-Man 3 (2007), anyone?

With the open-ended conclusion of Spider-Man 3 still fresh in our minds, this retelling of a story we’ve already heard reminds us what the future probably holds for superhero movies; a series of reboots with unsatisfying conclusions when the franchise loses steam – something which I suppose is directly reflective of the unbroken series of arcs and reinventions that actual comic book fans have been experiencing since the 1960s, so really, it’s just another way in which these films are staying true to their sources. Well done, guys!

Criticism aside, I’m moulding the similarities a little too much with that last one – Harry’s arc here is different. He suffers from a debilitating genetic disease, and the anger at Spider-Man is not due to the death of Norman Osborn at the webslinger’s hands (this Harry hated the guy), but because Spider-Man refuses to contribute his unique DNA to the project.

I am a James Franco fan, but the new guy (Dane DeHaan) gives a compelling performance. He’s great as a troubled rich kid, who’s just inherited the company and has to deal with the sneering disapproval of his board of directors. His complete absence from the first film is a little jarring when he’s supposed to be one of Peter Parker’s oldest and dearest friends: ‘Hey dude, it’s me, Harry, remember? That guy who you haven’t seen in ten years? Remember the good times? Yeah, the good times were good, weren’t they buddy?’ Remember that good old Franco was there from the beginning.

Harry does get one of the most satisfying moments in the film though – a brilliant comeuppance (albeit temporary) for the corrupt corporate executive who ousted him from control of Oscorp. Harry’s set up as a villain, but he’s one of the most sympathetic characters in the film, certainly more so than the main villain, Electro (Jamie Foxx).

Electro started life as a downtrodden and introverted technician at Oscorp, who was given electrical superpowers in a freak accident. Oscorp’s definitely the place to start hanging around if you want something to give you superpowers. He teams up with Harry, whom he sees as a kindred spirit, I guess, and while it’s hugely satisfying to see him calling the shots for once, after all the trouble everyone’s been giving him, he does act a little creepily in his spare time, and has a misguided sense of what the world owes him.

Foxx does well, although it’s not as compelling a performance as some of the highlights of his career (Collateral, Miami Vice, Law Abiding Citizen, Django Unchained, he’s had quite a ride, and I haven’t seen all of his movies. It’s a shame I missed White House Down, but I digress). To be honest, you can barely tell who’s playing the character once the accident turns him into a computer-generated cloud of sparks.

The final fight with Electro, amongst the transformers of a high-tech power station massively over-exploits the contrast between orange and blue which is used so often in film, especially in posters, to the extent that it’s become a cliché. Here, they’re almost the only two colours on screen. The soundtrack during this fight however, is really inspired; a rock and dubstep influenced score with a huge, satisfying power chord echoing through the cinema every time Electro destroys a transformer. He even teases Spider-Man by using this musical ability to play The Itsy Bitsy Spider.

While I’ve waxed about how the ‘new’ (or as the producers would have you believe ‘amazing’) Spider-Man is just like its predecessors, I haven’t touched much on the differences. They’ve drawn fresh villains from the existing rogues’ gallery, so that all five Spider-Man films pitch the titular hero against a unique villain, the one exception being Harry Osborn’s goblin. His appearance immediately after the fight with Electro does feel a little tacked on; Sam Raimi’s trilogy spread the Osborn arc over three movies, with Harry’s vengeance bubbling in the background for quite some time.

Andrew Garfield is a more self assured Spider-Man than Tobey Maguire was, at least at first. He approaches crime fighting with a teenager’s light-hearted humour, frequently improvising and dropping mid-fight wisecracks. There’s a great moment when he disappears for a few moments and then blasts Electro out of the sky with a fireman’s hose – when the camera cuts to Spidey, he’s wearing a fireman’s helmet.

There’s a lot going on in this film – in addition to everything I’ve mentioned, there’s a clock tower, an abandoned subway station, eels, a mental asylum complete with evil scientist, and one of those investigative walls of crazy where keywords are drawn on post-it notes and everything is connected by lengths of red string.

There’s also a romance in there somewhere – Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) and the dilemma of the promise that Spider-Man made to her late father are at the forefront of Peter Parker’s human dilemma. It’s got problems, but this is mainly baggage associated with the superhero/reboot/sequel world the film inhabits. Treat it as a standalone piece of work, and it’s still a decent film, and I forgive it everything for the director being named Marc Webb. That’s got to be providence.

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