Though many questioned Sony’s wisdom in rebooting Spider-man while casting a shadow over the Sam Raimi trilogy’s still warm remains, Marc Webb demonstrated skill in providing a perfectly entertaining summer popcorn distraction, if not entirely acquitting Sony against accusations of a shameless money grab. Sure, it was entertaining enough, but not really necessary. More importantly, die-hard fans of the character had much to complain about.
Sony appears to have listened carefully to fans, ensuring a much more faithful embodiment of the Spider-man canon while still providing the expected mega-blockbuster thrills in The Amazing Spider-man 2. The lessons learned are showcased front and center in the first few minutes of this second installment, an unspoken mea culpa, and if it wins you over there you know you’ll enjoy the rest of the film.
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The film actually begins with a prologue, revealing a little more of Richard Parker’s backstory. This intrigue establishes the mystery dogging Peter Parker and threatening his adversaries’ agendas. Minutes later, we’re treated to scenes of Spider-man gliding across the Manhattan skyline, and it looks terrific. The 3D effect in ASM1 was exceptional. In ASM2 it’s the CGI. While ASM1 featured a real human filmed web-slinging through the streets, ASM2 sticks to particularly effective CGI. It’s evident that significant effort went into creating a more defined anatomy, a suit that’s separate from the body, bunching and wrinkling like clothes naturally do, and a much more convincing and ‘spider-like’ body mechanics. Parker’s glee is palpable, and the visual panache carries us along with him.
Webb knows he must provide the expected action thrills, but Peter Parker is a complicated character. It’s well known that Spider-man has long been Marvel Comic’s most popular character, and it’s his psychology, his humor, and – much like Hamlet – his angst that makes him so compelling. So, it’s interesting to observe how meticulously Webb integrates the action and the personal drama. Leveraging very tight editing to fit a lot into the film, Webb intermingles the dueling plot lines like a beautifully shuffled deck of cards. Moments are spent on Peter’s relationship with Gwen, but not too many, and we’re quickly detoured into an ominous underground bunker, or foreboding meeting with a long absent friend…or is he an enemy? Somehow, Webb manages to avoid these constant shifts feeling tonally dissonant or merely the checking of plot point boxes in triptik fashion.
That first action sequence, that mea culpa from Sony, it delivers on bringing us the Peter Parker and Spider-man personas that made the comics so much fun. Parker is conflicted, shy, and an outsider. But when he puts that mask on, someone else emerges. Webb’s first incarnation had little of any of that. Parker seemed pretty cool, smart-alecky even. In the comics, that was Spider-man, not Parker. Yet Webb’s Spider-man was hardly engaging at all. ASM2 rectifies this, right from the character’s first moments on screen. In the comics, it’s not the super-human feats that wow the reader – it’s Spidey’s hysterical one-liners. So, wise-cracks, jibes, sarcasm, and his trademark gonzo physicality demonstrate Parker’s love for being Spider-man, and they’re on full display throughout this film. We also have: guns ripped from bad guys’ hands by webbing shot from off screen; criminals hanging from lamp posts; media commentary belying the status of Peter’s love-life; imagery ripped from old Ditko/Lee cells, those supercool McFarlane acrobatics and webbing, and finally, a little help from Peter’s heretofore absent spidey-sense.
Angst features heavily as well, in the dramatic scenes. Fans of the comic may find themselves more in tune with Parker’s emotive lamentations, but we know how the story ends, eventually. It’s a defining aspect of who Parker is. One should note, it’s been well publicized that Sony filmed scenes with Parker’s other love interest, Mary Jane Watson, for this film, and then cut them. This speaks to their recognition of how sacred the Gwen Stacey character is to the canon, and how successfully they’ve embodied the relationship in these films. They don’t want to move on to MJ without fully honoring the Gwen Stacey storyline first, and Emma Stone couldn’t possibly be better in her portrayal of the character. Spanish soap operas have nothing on these two.
Similarly, the Osborns are also represented fairly well. Dafoe was great in the original, and they don’t try to out-do him with Chris Cooper here. Interestingly, Retroviral Hyperplasia almost sounds like a real disease, and Norman’s blisters are actually pretty accurate depictions of Hyperplasia. More significantly, despite violating established history by filling in what happened to Peter’s parents, it does serve to faithfully render Harry’s love-hate-obsession with Peter Parker/Spider-man. Though it starts a little wonky, by the end, Harry has become exactly who he’s meant to be, and it works within the film’s own logic.
Jamie Foxx’s Max Dillion proves an amiable and sympathetic character, and there can be no doubt much of it comes from Foxx’s ad-libbing. Electro is equally impressive as a villain, as much as he is a CGI wonder. One would be hard pressed to find as cool a looking villain on film as Electro is here. He’s truly awesome to behold – a worthy adversary to the nearly indestructible Spider-man.
So, where does the film fall short? Well, it’s 2 hours and 22 minutes long. It’s actually 2 hours, and then two or three codas. True believers wont mind, but the general movie going audience may feel everything a bit overcooked.
Then there’s the camp. There’s lots of it, including silly songs and oversized MacGuffins more suited to the Batman TV show. The songs may amuse (there’s an ironic use of the ‘Blue Danube Waltz’ midway through the film, as, apparently, Rick from The Young Ones experiments on Electro) and oversized set elements (something akin to a giant door with “Secret Hideout” stenciled on it) harken to nostalgic 70’s and 80’s action flicks – but these clever nods distract from what’s usually an earnest attempt to draw us in to these characters’ lives. Then, there’s Peter and Harry looking like they walked out of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue, right down to both slinking off their shirts at some point during the film. No doubt, that’s not so much a downside to the film – they’re handsome for sure – it’s just not accurate to the original characters. Also, there seem to be some curious continuity issues, though hardly as egregious as the editing hacks that marred the first film. And, J. Jonah Jameson off-stage presence remains inferred, given one incidental, but quintessentially JJ, reference early on. You’ll hear J.K. Simmons voice in your head. The only explanation could be that Sony had established that no actors from the first films would be used in the reboot, and nobody, simply no one, can top Simmons. So, why try?
Incidentally, it’s becoming more and more popular to embed easter eggs in film: insider information, props, names, logos, imagery, codes or numbers – anything that references other films or their makers, somehow related to the film at hand. Marvel has made something of a science of it, and ASM2 is steeped in it. Though omitted from the advance screening, the general release does include a clip from another current Marvel film breaking into the end credits. And, keep an eye out for posters, graphics, the inevitable Stan Lee cameo, and if you’re familiar with screenwriters Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci’s other recent film credits, take note of the license plates on some vehicles.
While adhering to a safe, established blockbuster formula, Marc Webb’s second outing, though unnecessarily long, builds solidly on the first film, providing equally exciting thrills, and improving significantly on honoring the elements that made the comic the most popular in the world. Web-heads should find much to appreciate, and little to take exception with, while mainstream audiences should find this a perfectly entertaining, spectacular looking summer actioner.
tASM2 copyright 2014 Sony Pictures / Columbia Pictures
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