Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Amazing Spider-Man 2

Director Marc Webb certainly had an uphill battle when he took on the role of directing the first Amazing Spider-Man movie. The decision had been made to reboot the franchise after the disaster that was Spider-Man 3, but in order to clearly establish to audiences that this was a completely new version of the character, it meant retelling his origin story. It had only been a decade since Sam Rami's first Spider-Man movie had been released, so retelling the origin story meant partially remaking a movie that was only ten years old.

Nonetheless, Webb proved himself up to the task, not only opting for a more serious and "realistic" interpretation of the hero, but also putting a new spin on Spider-Man's origins. In Amazing Spider-Man, he hinted that Peter Parker's transformation into a superhero might have been tied to work that his father, Dr. Richard Parker, did on genetics. There were some scenes filmed that made more overt references to Peter's father's work being tied to his super powers, but these were cut before release, possibly due to fan outcry against this new interpretation.

For Amazing Spider-Man 2, Webb chose not to shy away from his twist on the tale, and instead makes it the backbone of the film's story. In this film, Norman Osborn is dying from a hereditary genetic disease, one he had hoped to cure though the research Peter Parker's dad was doing. Norman's son, Harry, learns he also has the disease. However, when his father dies, and Harry inherits the company he discovered that the board of Oscorp destroyed all of Dr. Parker's files have all been destroyed as a show of good faith to the shareholders, after Dr. Connors attempted to use it to turn everybody into lizard monsters in the previous movie. Harry slowly takes on a more villainous persona as he tries to uncover the research, ultimately taking on the persona of the Green Goblin.

Unlike the first Amazing Spider-Man, which only had a slightly different version of Spider-Man's origin from the original, the Goblin story arc feels completely different from the version in Sam Rami's trilogy. While Willem Dafoe was fantastic as Norman Osborn in those movies, lets be honest, James Franco's performance as Harry Osborn was kind of weak, and only became weaker as his character was supposed to become more villainous. ASM 2's version of Harry Osborn, played by Dane DeHaan, is much more convincing, both as Peter Parker's best friend, and as Spider-Man's nemesis.

As you've probably guessed from the trailers, Green Goblin isn't even the film's main villain. That honor goes to Jamie Foxx, as Electro. As much as I like it when movies try to stick to characters' comic book appearances for movies, Electro's getup was one of the campier ones, and his new look for the movie is a welcome change. Foxx does a great job with the role, taking the character from a confused, socially awkward person to somebody who revels in terrorizing the Web Crawler.

Yes, there are certainly campy aspects to Foxx's portrayal of the villain. In fact, the whole film has a slightly campier feel than the previous one, although nowhere near as over-the-top as Rami's trilogy. However, it's well balanced out with the more serious and dramatic parts of the film. I guess Marc Webb realized you can only go so far with the gritty and serious take on comic books before it looks equally as absurd as a campy interpretation, especially when you have characters that include giant lizard-men and a villain made of electricity.

Even though ASM 2 has both Goblin and Electro as villains, with a minor appearance from Paul Giamatti as Rhino, this film isn't the bloated mess that Spider-Man 3 was, trying to awkwardly mould a story with Venom, Goblin and Sandman. Instead ASM 2 follows an arc similar to The Dark Knight, having one character emerge as a villain early in the story, and another character come into the villain role as the story goes on. However, it also teases at the appearance of many, many more villains for sequels, such as Black Cat, Doctor Octopus, Vulture and Alistair Smythe. (Why would you name a villain "Alistair?" Clearly, thats a wholesome and virtuous name, right?) Hopefully these new villains get paced out well, or used in small does, otherwise ASM 3 might become just as big a mess of a movie as Spider-Man 3 was.

The best part of Amazing Spider-Man 2 was, just like in the last film, the onscreen chemistry between actors Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, who play Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. The way they banter back and forth feels like Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday. In this go around, Gwen and Peter have a bit of a falling out as Peter is filled with guilt over going back on a promise he made to Gwen's dead father that he'd stay away from her. However, they work so well together as a team that you can't help but cheer for them to get back together.

Overall, the film is pretty top notch. It's not quite on par with the level of quality we've come to expect from comic book movies, thanks to the Avengers franchise, but the film does find the right balance of lightness and seriousness, as well as campiness and grittiness. The only part I can really single out as needing improvement is the music. To put it politely, there are some questionable music choices in the film. For example, some of the songs selected to play over montage scenes don't quite fit the tone of what's happening on screen, and the first song to play over the end credits sequence is, I kid you not, an R&B slow jam.

However the worst offender is probably Electro's theme music. It starts out clever. When Electro is still his human persona, Max Dillon, he's always accompanied by a chorus of whispering voices. It keys you in to the fact that the character isn't quite stable as a person, even before he undergoes his super-powered transformation. Once he does become Electro, and decides that Spider-Man is his enemy, the voices move from whispers to overt screaming. Suddenly, it sounds less like an internal monologue and more like a rejected song from the Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark musical.

In the end, Amazing Spider-Man 2 felt like a satisfying take on the character that managed to feel faithful to it's comic book roots, while being completely different from the version in the Sam Rami trilogy, which also remained pretty faithful to its comic book roots. I'm a bit nervous about these rumors that Sony plans to expand the franchise into spin-off movies, creating an Avengers-style cinematic universe. For now, as long as they stick with Marc Webb at the helm and Andrew Garfield as Spidey, I'll at least be looking forward to Amazing Spider-Man 3.

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