Friday, May 9, 2014

Amazing Spider-Man 2

I don’t get it. I thought this reboot was more focused on realism. So why is science thrown out at every turn? I thought, maybe stupidly, that the lead actor should sorta kinda set the tone for a film. Right? Don’t cast Arnold’s Mr. Freeze opposite Christian Bale’s Batman. So why is Jamie Foxx’s character, in his downtrodden nerd form, the most unbelievable thing in a movie about a kid who gets spider powers? It feels like everyone and everything is working against Andrew Garfield’s stellar portrayal of Peter Parker. With a plot that feels equal parts inevitable and filler. This movie was meant as the groundwork towards building Spidey his own universe to play in. As rich as what Marvel is doing with The Avengers. Yet the bigger this one gets, the less focus on Garfield, who was the saving grace of Amazing Spider-Man.

The absurdity of Foxx’s take on Max Dillon cannot be overstated. It is so stupid and over-the-top… but that’s Jamie Foxx. The man has only been good in two movies and in each he mostly kept his mouth shut and let the stronger lead carry his worthless ass for two hours (Collateral, The Soloist). Thankfully when he becomes Electro he does shut-up, and lets his pulsing blue skin do all the characterization for him.

There is fun to be had, though.  The first act is a riot. It was a genuine pleasure watching Spidey be Spidey. The action was fresh, at times exhilarating, that smartly used the CG effects. Even Paul Giamotti’s atrocious take on Rhino can’t really dampen the high spirits. Spider-Man saving a young dork from bullies? Genius! Offers to walk him home? My heart melted. This is where Spider-Man shines. He doesn’t have the powers or time to be saving the world. He’s your buddy who’s also a Superhero. And the filmmakers blew every ounce of creative juice they had for this first act. So enjoy it. What follows may cause you to smirk, or nod your head in sympathy, but it will lack any power to really excite or move you.

Emma Stone is there. I feel like all of her dialogue with Garfield is made-up on the spot. It reaches toward something poignant, funny, but falls short. They talk in circles, padding out the few arguments, but never addressing the core issues. I would kill for ONE! direct conversation. It’s nothing new either. “Oh Peter, I wished you saved fewer lives so you had more time to indulge me”. Might be better if they framed it in terms of Peter protecting his personal life (a la Batman), since losing his mind will become a real issue when groups of villains unite to kill him. And it’d make Gwen seem less The Most Selfish Person on Earth.

The Parker Parents subplot isn’t really allowed to move anywhere. Peter is frustrated, Aunt May is cryptic and unhelpful, I’m frustrated, then a breakthrough! But it’s fragile. If anyone calls Peter, or the fancy catches him to do anything else, or this whole thing takes more than 10 minutes screen time, he’ll drop the mystery of his parent’s death in a heartbeat. Never to rejoin those narrative threads until, presumably, Amazing Spider-Man 3. I want to care but, when the whole thing is used as filler, I can’t.

Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) invigorates the middle act. Like, maybe things will get back on track! The guy is fun, pretty weird, but puts a good tension into Peter’s relationships. Plus, the kid just has a look. If this is your first Spider-Man movie you will point to DeHaan and say “Oh yeah, he turns into something, doesn’t he?”. A lot of the work DeHaan does is by implication. He just seems like a guy who would have a ball running a giant corporation. Or doing whatever he wants around town. Peeks are offered, hints, but the dude should have gotten more screen time. Huge asset.

Then Amazing Spider-Man 2 becomes a turd. I hate to be so crude in describing it. The fighting, though? Becomes really video gamey. There’s one obvious way to damage the boss, so Spidey has to jump through a few hoops before it happens. At one point Goblin holds Spidey’s girlfriend above his head, taunting him. Are we back in Elementary school? The trashy form of CG comes out full force. I feel bad for the artist who meticulously “drew” those buildings fall to pieces over who-knows how many hours but I glazed over it. I’ve seen it a few times before. Thank you Norman Osborn for having a form-fitting rubber suit with lightning accents ready to go. I don’t know if it was the weak script or DeHaan but the Harry Osborn character falls apart. Grinning villains were thrown out decades ago, bud. At least he didn’t speak in puns… The shame is that Garfield could play off a competent adversary so well! He’s not even given a chance.

Amazing Spider-Man 2 doubled down on every mistake from the previous movie. Reneges on its predecessor’s promise of authenticity. It is, unequivocally, a step backwards for Spider-Man. 

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