Sunday, May 4, 2014

Review: "The Amazing Spider-Man 2"

Director: Marc Webb
Runtime: 142 minutes

For a movie as jam-packed with incident as The Amazing Spider-Man 2, it's frustrating how little any of it lingers once the lights go up. Coming off of 2012's decently received Spidey reboot, this sequel goes for the bigger-is-better approach, and ends up doing very little. The cluttered script and awkward tonal shifts keep the web-slinger's new outing grounded, despite the barrage of VFX-heavy stunts.

With two sequels already set (for 2016 and 2018), Spider-Man 2 feels like nothing more than empty set-up for future installments. Worse, neither the villains nor the personal drama has any weight to it until the final minutes. Main villain Electro (Jamie Foxx), a timid scientist who is transformed into a being of pure electricity, is as half-baked as they come. Additional villains Harry Osborn (Dane Dehaan) and the Rhino (Paul Giamatti, used for bookends rather than plot), follow suit.

And as much as the writing and directing deserve blame for the failure of the story's villains, the quality of the acting isn't doing the film any favors either. Foxx starts as a cartoonishly mannered nerd (one obsessed with Spider-Man), before evolving into a flashy stock character with a digitally altered voice. The idea that hell hath no fury like an adoring nerd scorned is alright, but the execution here pales in comparison to, say, Pixar's The Incredibles

Even more disappointing is DeHaan, who doesn't have the right charisma or presence to capture whatever the script wants Harry to be. DeHaan's mannerisms suggest a damaged, yet cocky, emo kid, yet the writing gives him a persona that seems more in line with a WASP-y jock. This results in some truly baffling acting choices that only further the idea that the script had no idea what it was really going for with its characters. As for Paul Giamatti and a cameo performance from Marton Csokas as a German scientist, the less said, the better. 

The saving grace, though just barely, are the interactions between Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), as well as those between Peter and Aunt May (Sally Field). Though Peter and Gwen's exchanges sometimes clash with the drama around them (they often stammer as though in a parody of indie rom-coms), the actors remain charming to watch as they play off of each other. Despite still being wasted as the hero's girlfriend, Stone emerges as the film's MVP, and proves that she deserves better than the mess around her. 

Only at the climax does Webb's film really come alive. Despite the heavy reliance on VFX stunts, the final battles are actually engaging, though this has more to do with Garfield and Stone's presence than the conflict between hero and nemesis. In the only noticeable improvement from the previous Spidey entry, the effects and overall sense of movement of the digital action figures has much more fluidity. The big moment at the end also packs a genuine emotional punch, at least ensuring that the film (more or less) ends with its best foot forward. 

Yet, like the previous "amazing" Spider-Man flick, the whole enterprise still feels wholly unnecessary other than as a reason for Sony to hold onto the rights to the title character. Aside from one major moment, this bloated sequel accomplishes remarkably. It feels like an attempt to re-do the previous film (the revelations about Peter's parents), while also pushing forward with its own world-building (future villains). It's a film at odds with itself at every turn, and that's something that all of the flashy effects and high-flying stunts can't conceal. 

Grade: D+

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