“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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“JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT” (2014) Review

,JACK-RYAN

“JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT” (2014) Review

There have been four previous movies that featured the literary character, Jack Ryan. But those four movies were adaptations of novels written by the late Tom Clancy. Paramount Pictures released a fifth movie featuring the character called “JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT”. Unlike the previous four movies, this fifth one is not based upon a Clancy novel.

Directed by Kenneth Branaugh and written by Adam Cozad and David Koepp, “JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT” is presented as a reboot that chronicles Jack Ryan’s early years as a C.I.A. analyst. I realize that the 2002 movie, “THE SUM OF ALL FEARS” also featured Jack’s early years as an analyst. But Jack was already established with the C.I.A. in that film. “JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT” also chronicled Jack’s years as a graduate student in Britain, his time as a U.S. Marine in Afghanistan and how he ended up being recruited into the C.I.A. The movie also revealed how he had recovered from a deadly helicopter crash and met his future wife, Dr. Cathy Muller. But more importantly, the movie’s basic plot is about Jack uncovered a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack and send the country into another Great Depression.

Once the circumstances leading to Jack’s recruitment into the C.I.A. was conveyed, Cozad and Koepp’s screenplay began with Jack working undercover as a compliance officer at a Wall Street stock brokerage, looking for suspect financial transactions that indicated terrorist activity. After the Russian Federation loses a key vote before the United Nations, Jack discovers that trillions of dollars held by Russian organizations have disappeared. A large number of those funds are controlled by a veteran of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Viktor Cherevin. The latter and a group of Russian politicans are seeking revenge against the Americans for the latter’s intervention in that particular invasion. Since Jack’s Wall Street employer does business with Cherevin and Jack discovers that certain accounts are inaccessible to him as auditor, he has a reason to visit Moscow and investigate. Unfortunately for Jack, he narrowly survives an assassination attempt upon his arrival in Moscow . . . and is forced to send out an S.O.S. to the C.I.A. for help. Even worse, his fiancée Cathy suspects him of having an affair and flies to Moscow to confront him. In the end, Jack and his C.I.A. recruiter William Harper not only have to find a way to stop Cherevin, but also keep Cathy out of danger.

Russians and terrorist attacks. Hmmmm . . . I have noticed that the use of Russian politics as a bogeyman has been very popular in Hollywood political thrillers lately. Is this due to the unpopularity of that country’s current leader, Vladimir Putin? I wonder. Am I putting down the plot for “JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT”? As I just hinted, I did not find the use of post-Soviet Russians as villains original. And the villains’ goal to destroy the U.S. economy did not seem original, as well. I have four more complaints about the movie. One, I never saw the necessity of including Jack’s years before the C.I.A. – as a graduate student in Britain and his time in the U.S. Marines. In fact, it was not really necessary for screenwriters to designate the William Harper character as Jack’s recruiter, since he was more important in Jack’s efforts to prevent Cherevin’s plot to destroy the U.S. economy. I must admit that I was somewhat disappointed by Cozad and Koepp’s use of the Cathy Muller character as a damsel-in-distress – especially in the movie’s second half. And speaking of the second half, once Jack and Harper fly back to the U.S. to prevent the attack, the plot seemed to rush forward with the speed of a runaway train. As for the movie’s title – I found it cumbersome and amateurish. Enough said.

Despite its flaws, I still enjoyed “JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT”. Despite a plot that lacked originality, I must admit that I found it entertaining. Three-fourths of the plot regarding the terrorist attack struck me as well-paced. And I must admit that possessed a great deal of suspense – especially in the sequence that featured Jack’s attempt to download Cherevin’s files in the middle of a dinner party between him, Cherevin and Cathy in Moscow. The movie also had its share of first-rate action sequences. I was especially impressed by the assassination attempt on Jack inside his Moscow hotel room, Jack and Harper’s attempt to rescue the kidnapped Cathy from Cherevin during a car chase, and the final action scene in which Jack tries to prevent Cherevin’s son from blowing up Wall Street. I thought Kenneth Braunagh handled those scenes very well. I was also impressed by his direction of two particular dramatic scenes – Cathy’s confrontation with Jack and Harper inside the younger man’s hotel room; along with Jack and Cathy’s tense dinner with Cherevin at a Moscow restaurant. The movie also benefited from Haris Zambarloukos’ sleek and colorful photography – especially the Moscow sequences, Martin Walsh’s editing in the Moscow hotel fight scene, the Cherevin dinner sequence and the final action sequence in Manhattan.

“JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT” featured some pretty solid performances. Both Chris Pine and Keira Knightley were excellent as the younger Jack Ryan and Cathy Muller. And the two performers rose above the occasion to really shine in the scene that featured their characters’ Moscow confrontation about their relationship. Colm Feore and David Paymer gave brief, yet entertaining performances in the movie. It seemed a pity that they did not have more scenes. Alec Utgoff was properly villainous in a subtle way as the terrorist Aleksandr Borovsky. But I feel that the movie’s two best performances came from Kevin Costner and director Kenneth Branaugh, who portrayed Jack’s mentor William Harper and the main villain Viktor Cherevin. In a way, it almost seemed a pity that Costner was not the main hero of this story. He was excellent as the cool and resourceful Harper. More importantly, he reminded me – and a relative of mine – that he was charismatic as ever and had not lost his screen presence. Branaugh had the more difficult task of serving as the movie’s director, which he performed with great style; and portraying the movie’s leading villain. And he did a superb job of conveying Cherevin’s frightening personality without being over-the-top about it.

Considering that “JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT” was released in January, I was not expecting it to be some top-notch action thriller that usually rakes in a lot of money during the summer movie season. And the movie pretty much lived up to my expectations. I could never regard “JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT” as one of the better action movies I have seen. And I certainly do not regard it as highly as I do the other four movies in the Jack Ryan movie franchise. But as I had earlier pointed out, Kenneth Branaugh still managed to direct the movie with a good deal of style and energy. The plot may not have been that original, but it still proved to be entertaining. And the first-rate performances from a cast led by Chris Pine did a lot to make this movie somewhat worthy to me.