“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2” (2014) Review

 

“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2” (2014) Review

Following the success of the 2012 movie, “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN”, Marvel and Sony Pictures continued the SPIDER-MANsaga with the second chapter. Unlike the first movie, “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2” proved to be quite controversial.

“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2” begins in the past, when Richard and Mary Parker left their son Peter behind with the former’s brother Ben and sister-in-law May. The couple leave New York City on a private jet, but the latter gets hijacked by an assassin. Unfortunately, a deadly fight ensues between the Parkers and the assassin, the pilot is killed and the plane crashes, killing everyone else on board. The story then jumps to the present, which finds Peter as Spider-Man pursuing a criminal named Aleksei Sytsevich on the day he graduates from high school. During the chase, Spider-Man saves OsCorp Industries engineer and ardent fan Max Dillon. Following Peter and girlfriend Gwen Stacy’s graduation, Peter has a vision of her father, NYPD Captain George Stacy, reminding him of a promise he had made to keep Gwen out of his life as Spider-Man. When Peter reminds her, they break up. The young couple eventually reconcile, but Peter also learns that Gwen plans to attend Oxford University on a scholarship.

Peter eventually discovers that he has more to worry about than Gwen’s departure for Europe. While attending to maintenance in an OsCorp laboratory, Max Dillon falls into a tank of genetically modified electric eels and transforms into a being known as Electro. When he wanders into Times Square and causes a blackout, Spider-Man tries to calm him down. But the police attack, causing Max to lose his temper at them and the web-slinger, who eventually captures him. Meanwhile, Peter’s old childhood friend, Harry Osborn returns to New York to see his dying father, OsCorp Industries CEO Norman Osborn. Harry eventually learns that he has inherited a disease that is killing his father. Upon Norman’s death, Harry feverishly searches for a cure to his disease and discovers that Spider-Man’s blood might be able to save him. At the same time, Harry is forced to deal with the corporation’s Board of Directors, who wants to oust him out as CEO. Peter’s personal life and his dealings with both Electro and Harry eventually clash when the two form an alliance on a fatal night.

Before I saw “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2”, I had stumbled across criticisms of the movie that was not so kind. Usually, I try to ignore criticism of any kind, but for once I found it difficult to do so. I did not exactly approach the movie with any high expectations. But to my surprise, I actually found myself enjoying it . . . well, most of it, with the exception of the last 10 to 15 minutes. Mind you,“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2” does not exactly reek with any real originality, despite not being based upon any particular past comic book story arc. But Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner and James Vanderbilt created a solid story. This movie featured the origin of at least three Spider-Man villains – the Rhino, Electro and especially the Green Goblin. I thought I would be upset when the story line regarding the disappearance of Peter’s parents would eventually form a connection to the creation of the Green Goblin. But no . . . I did not mind at all. The screenplay accomplished a good deal for me. It continued Peter and Gwen’s romance in a believable way, allowing it to be threatened by Peter’s promise to Captain Stacy and Gwen’s ambitions to study at Oxford. Not many people were fond of the Electro character in this movie, but I was impressed not only by Jamie Foxx’s performance, but also by how the screenwriters handled the character’s story arc from worshipping geek to enraged super villain. I was very impressed by the movie’s opening scene that revealed the details of Richard and Mary Parker’s death. It reeked with good performances, along with plenty of action and suspense. I thought Webb’s direction in this particular scene was first-rate. The scene also benefitted greatly from Pietro Scalia and Elliot Graham.

Harry Osborn’s story arc proved to a bit more problematic for me. Mind you, I had no problem with him becoming the Green Goblin, instead of his father Norman. And I was impressed by Harry’s problems with the OsCorp board members. But the friendship between Peter and Harry was not as firmly established as it was in the three Sam Rami films. I also thought the screenwriters had stretched it a bit by allowing Dr. Parker’s formula to be responsible for the emergence of the Goblin. The idea of a a genetic spider formula being responsible for someone transforming into some kind of malignant green elf does seem somewhat ludicrous. And I wish that the Green Goblin had made his appearance a little earlier in the film, instead of in the last half hour. Of course, this probably means an appearance of the Green Goblin in a future “Amazing Spider-Man” film. Probably. I am not really sure.

But if there is one thing I had no problem with in regard to the Goblin’s appearance in the movie was how it led to Gwen Stacy’s death. Many are in an uproar over the character’s death, due to their fondness of actress Emma Stone’s interpretation of the character and her screen chemistry with lead actor Andrew Garfield. Personally, I saw it coming a mile away. When the Captain Stacy character promised Peter to keep Gwen out of his life before dying in the 2012 film, I knew that sooner or later, Gwen was a goner. The fact that director Marc Webb and the producers have plans to include the Mary Jane Watson character into this particular series of Spider-Man films only confirmed my suspicions. I really enjoyed Stone’s portrayal of Gwen and I found the character’s death rather heartbreaking, but I had no problems with Webb and the screenwriters including her death into the plot. Especially since I thought it was well handled by them.

I had other problems with “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2”. One of the biggest problems I had was the character of Aleksei Sytsevich. It is a good thing that the character had a small appearance in this film, because I really disliked him. One of the problems I had was Paul Giamatti’s performance. I am a big fan of the actor, but his portrayal of the comic book villain has to be one of the worst in his career . . . possibly his worst. I have never encountered such hammy acting in quite a while. And I certainly did not welcome his reappearance in the movie’s finale as the Rhino. One, I had to endure the hammy acting again. And two, his reappearance reminded me of the ending of the 2004 Disney/Pixar animated film, “THE INCREDIBLES”. And the latter handled this same scenario a lot better. In fact, I really do not like the ending. I wish Webb and the screenwriters had simply ended the movie with Sytsevich’s sudden reappearance. But no, they had to subject the movie audiences with this ludicrous scene that featured Spider-Man, the Rhino and some mentally disturbed kid who thought he could serve as Spidey’s replacement. Even worse was the movie’s mid-credit scene that was basically a trailer for the upcoming movie, “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”. Really? They could have used the hint of OsCorp’s involvement with the creation of the Secret Six for the mid-credit scene, but . . . no. Webb and the screenwriters thought otherwise. Pity. It is a good thing that I enjoyed most of this film.

But I cannot say the same about two other performances. Felicity Jones was wasted as Harry Osborn’s new assistant, Felicia Hardy. Comic book lovers remember the character as Spider-Man’s most ambiguous lover, the Black Cat. Instead of giving audiences glimpses of the extroverted character, Webb and the screenwriters forced Jones to portray a not-so interesting character with little screen time. But she was not alone. Also wasted in this film was B.J. Novak, who was given one (or possibly two) two scenes as Max Dillon’s supervisor at OsCorp. All he did was sneer at Fox’s Dillon and disappeared from the movie. What a waste! Marton Csokas portrayed Dr. Ashley Kafka, the head of Ravencroft Institute for the Criminally Insane, where the captured Electro . And he did it with a hamminess that almost . . . almost rivaled Giamatti’s performance.

Thankfully, most of the performances were excellent. Aside from his occasional penchant for early Brando-like behavior, Andrew Garfield gave an excellent performance as Peter Parker aka Spider-Man. I was especially impressed by his scenes with Sally Field and Emma Stone. Sally Field gave a wonderfully emotional performance as Peter’s Aunt May, especially in one scene in which she admitted to her nephew the difficulties in dealing with life as a widow. Dane DeHaan gave a very interesting and complex performance as the young Harry Osborn. He did a great job in taking Harry’s character from the young man wary over a reunion with his cold, dying father to the inexperienced CEO dealing with backstabbing corporate executives to the super villain with blood on his hands and vengeance in his heart.

Colm Feore appeared in his second Marvel film as OsCorp’s back-stabbing Vice-President Donald Menken and gave a subtle, yet scary performance. Chris Cooper’s portrayal of OsCorp’s CEO Norman Osborn was equally subtle and scary . . . and he was portraying a dying man. As I had earlier stated, I was very impressed by Webb’s direction and the editing featured in the movie’s opening sequence regarding Richard and Mary Parker’s fate. But that scene would have never worked without the skillful performances of Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz as Peter’s parents.

The two performances that really impressed me came from Jamie Foxx, who gave a surprisingly effective performance as Max Dillon aka Electro and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy. There had been some negative criticism regarding Foxx’s performance. But honestly, I was impressed. He did an excellent job in developing the Max Dillon character from an insecure geek with a pathetic crush on Spider-Man, to a very angry super villain with an enormous chip on his shoulder. And I could see why so many were upset over Gwen Stacy’s death in this movie. One has to thank Stone for giving an exceptional performance as the strong-willed, intelligent young woman whom Peter fell in love with. Her performance also struck me as very charismatic.

Yes, “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2” is not perfect. It featured at least two characters that were criminally underused, two characters that struck me as unbearably hammy, some lack of originality in its plot and a godawful ending that featured a confrontation between Spider-Man and the Rhino. But despite these flaws, I still believe it was a first-class movie thanks to a decent, yet flawed screenplay, excellent direction from Marc Webb and first-class performances from a cast led by Andrew Garfield as the web slinger. I think it is a lot better than many give it credit for.

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“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN” (2012) Review

amazing-spiderman

 

“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN” (2012) Review

Five years after the release of 2007’s “SPIDER-MAN 3”, Sony Pictures and Marvel Films decided to release a newSPIDER-MAN movie. The latter proved not to be a third sequel to the 2002 movie, “SPIDER-MAN”. Instead, it turned out to be a franchise re-boot featuring a new actor in the lead and the first film of a new trilogy. 

With Andrew Garfield now portraying Peter Parker aka Spider-Man and Marc Webb directing, “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN” commenced upon an entirely new saga about the web slinger. In this film, Peter is a geeky high school student and science major who lives with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May in a suburb of Queens, New York. At least a decade earlier, he had witnessed the mysterious disappearance of his father and mother, scientist Richard Parker and his wife, Mary. After discovering his father’s old briefcase, Peter makes the acquaintance of the latter’s former lab partner, Dr. Curt Connors, who is now working as a geneticist at Oscorp. Dr. Connors is working on cross-breeding experiments in order to discover a formula based on lizard DNA in order to regenerate missing limbs. During his first trip to Oscorp’s Manhattan offices, he discovers that the fellow Midtown High School student that he loves, Gwen Stacy, is working there as the chief intern. Peter is also bitten by a genetically engineered spider.

During the subway ride home, Peter becomes aware of his new abilities. He also continues his visits to Dr. Connors at Oscorp. His new powers and visits to Oscorp lead to his growing neglect of his household duties. Peter also manages to help Dr. Connors by giving the latter Richard Parker’s “decay rate algorithm”, the missing piece in the scientist’s experiments. After a quarrel with Uncle Ben, Peter storms out of the house and the latter hit the streets looking for him. Unfortunately for Uncle Ben, he encounters a thief who had just robbed a convenience store and is shot dead. Determined to find his uncle’s murderer, Peter decides to assume the identity of the costumed vigilante, Spider-Man. When Oscorp executive Dr. Rajit Ratha decides to fire Dr. Connors and use the latter’s formula at a VA hospital under the guise of a flue shot, Connors tries the formula on himself and becomes the human/lizard hybrid, the Lizard.

Many Marvel and Spider-Man fans had complained about the lack of need for a Spider-Man re-boot so soon after the last Sam Rami film. What many did not know was that Sony Pictures had signed a deal, guaranteeing major control over the Spider-Man franchise as long as the studio releases a movie every five years or less. Sony originally had plans for a fourth Spider-Man movie with both Rami and actor Tobey Maguire. But the plans fell through and the studio decided to re-boot the franchise with a new actor, a new director and a new trilogy.

Some fans and critics claimed that “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN” was a lot closer to the original comics tale than the Rami films. I found this claim ironic, considering that the movie proved to be no more faithful to the comics than the films made in the last decade. Comic book fans know that Peter Parker’s first love was Betty Brandt, whom he dated in high school and who eventually became J. Jonah Jamerson’s secretary at The Daily Bugle. Peter met both Gwen Stacy (of this movie) and Mary Jane Watson (from the 2002-2007 films) in college, not high school. He was a lot younger when his parents died. But hey . . . I managed to enjoy both the Rami/Maguire trilogy and this film.

That is correct. I enjoyed “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN”. It had plenty of well choreographed action. The special effects team from the Pixomundo company did an excellent job with the action sequences featuring Spider-Man’s battles with the Lizard. The company’s efforts were ably supported by Marc Webb’s direction and the three cinematographers – Alan Edward Bell, Michael McCusker and Pietro Scalia. One of my few complaints about“SPIDER-MAN” was that the film almost seemed like two separate stories. I could never accuse “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN” of that flaw. Screenwriters James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves made sure that Peter’s transformation into Spider-Man and Dr. Connors’ transformation into the Lizard were connected plot-wise. After all, Peter’s visit to Connor at the Oscorp labs led to his painful encounter with a genetically altered spider. And the visit, along with Peter’s discovery of his father’s notes, led to the creation of the formula that enabled Connors to become the Lizard.

The movie also boasted some excellent performances by the cast. Andrew Garfield was outstanding as Peter Parker aka Spider-Man. He did an excellent job of portraying a fatherless boy in search of a father figure, who is forced to grow up on his own. Emma Stone portrayed Gwen Stacy, the girl whom Peter dated during his early years in college. Stone’s Gwen was a smart, witty and earthy young woman who found herself torn between Peter and her father’s opinion of Spider-Man and vigilantism. Another excellent performance came from Rhys Ifan, who did an excellent job in revealing the complex man whose disappointments in life led him to utilize the formula that transformed him into the Lizard. He also managed to convey Connor’s darker personality through the CGI figure of the Lizard.

Other first-rate performances came from Denis Leary, who portrayed Gwen’s father – NYPD Captain George Stacy. The latter role seemed a slight cry from Leary’s usual roles. Although he managed to utilize his usual rapid fire wit, Leary also conveyed the image of a stern and responsible man, who harbored concerns not only for his daughter, but also the citizens of New York City. Martin Sheen and Sally Field created excellent chemistry as Ben and May Parker, the couple left to raise Peter after his parents’ death. It is a crime that the pair never worked together before, because I thought they really crackled with chemistry. I could say that both had great chemistry with Garfield, as well. But I feel that Sheen had more interesting scenes with the young actor than Field. Irrfan Khan had to be convinced by his children to take the role of Oscorp executive, Dr. Rajit Ratha (a character created for the movie). I am glad they did, for he proved to be very effective as a shadowy representative for the corporation’s reclusive CEO, Norman Oscorp. The movie also boasted solid performances from Chris Zylka as Flash Thompson; and from Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz as Richard and Mary Parker, Peter’s parents.

I will not deny that “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN” was a very entertaining movie for me. But it had its flaws. One, there seemed to be a minor lack of originality in the script. A good deal of the story seemed to be borrowed from the previous SPIDER-MAN movies. As with Maguire’s Peter, Garfield’s Peter started out with an unrequited crush with the leading female character. And Dr. Connors’ career faced extinction, just as Dr. Otto Octavius did in“SPIDER-MAN 2”. However, the movie also borrowed a subplot from the 2000 movie, “X-MEN”. Just as Erik Lensherr plotted to transform the world’s population into mutants via a machine, the Lizard in this movie, plotted to transform New York City’s population into reptilian/human hybrids. In fact, his scheme struck me as lame. The problem for me laid in the fact that Connors did not transform into the Lizard, until the second half of the movie.

Speaking of the Lizard, as much as I had admired Ifans’ performance, I was not that impressed by the villain’s role as Spider-Man’s foe. I mean, honestly . . . the idea of Spider-Man facing a giant lizard rampaging all over Manhattan did not do anything for me. Frankly, I saw dealing with the problem of the Lizard as a job for the Men in Black, not Spider-Man. Everyone seemed to be filled with praise for Emma Stone’s portrayal of Gwen Stacy . . . including me. However, I had a problem with the screenwriters’ portrayal of Gwen in this movie. Frankly, she seemed too perfect . . . too ideal. She lacked any real personal demons that could have made her interesting to me. I could never say the same about the comic book Gwen – even if she had a tendency to be a crybaby.

Could someone explain why Peter suddenly decided to end his search for the thief who had killed his Uncle Ben? It seemed as if the entire subplot had been dropped. And what happened to Dr. Ratha after Peter saved him on the Williamsburg Bridge? I have one last complaint . . . and it has to do with C. Thomas Howell’s character, a construction worker named Ray. In the Williamsburg Bridge sequence, Spider-Man saved Ray’s son from falling into the East River. Ray reciprocated Spider-Man’s actions during the latter’s final battle with the Lizard by using several cranes to help convey the web slinger (who had been shot in the leg by the NYPD) to Oscorp’s tower, in order to stop the Lizard from using the formula on New Yorkers. I found that minor scene so incredibly cheesy that I practically cringed with embarrassment. It seemed as if the screenwriters were trying to re-create those moments from two of Sam Rami’s films in which New Yorkers came to Spider-Man’s aid. Only in this movie, I found Ray’s actions embarrassing, not inspirational.

“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN” had much for me to admire. It had excellent performances from the cast led by Andrew Garfield. Marc Webb’s direction in the action sequences and intimate scenes was first-rate. And the screenwriters managed to avoid the mistake from the Sam Rami 2002 film of creating a fragmented plot. Unfortunately, I believe that “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN” had other flaws – including a lack of originality – that made it difficult for me to embrace the idea that it was the best SPIDER-MAN movie ever made.