Monday, May 5, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 feels like a must-see summer blockbuster only if one intentionally forgets that it is a rushed sequel to an unnecessary franchise reboot, the first installment of which debuted a mere five years after its predecessor trilogy closed. Millions of people around the world managed to achieve this degree of forgetfulness this weekend, though (or, they were small children during the first trilogy's run and are now old enough to see a PG-13 film), filling theater seats almost out of a sense of pop culture obligation. It's Spider-Man! How could we not want to see this film?! While Spidey's reign as the most iconic of Marvel superheroes continues to be threatened by Disney's cinematically superior Avengers machine, this character's adventures remain a huge draw and, since 2002 at least, we'd miss him if he left the screen for too long. That said, this sequel is a cluttered mess that barely manages to satisfy audiences thanks to the outstanding romantic chemistry between its co-stars, Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, reprising their 2012 roles and in a real-life relationship.

Why director Mark Webb and an assemblage of no fewer than seven screenwriters felt obliged to cram so many characters and so many plot lines into this movie, pushing its run time nearly to the 2.5 hour mark, we cannot say. Don't they know that two more sequels are already green lit?! That's at least four (or, at this rate, five) more hours to fill. Here is an incomplete list of subplots we are asked to juggle while being entertained by this film:

  1. Peter's on again/off again relationship with Gwen
  2. Peter's search for the truth about his parents
  3. Peter's strained relationship with Aunt May (Sally Field)
  4. Peter's inexplicable friendship with a clearly evil Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan)
  5. Spider-Man's efforts to save New York from Electro (an almost unrecognizable Jamie Foxx)
  6. Spider-Man's efforts to save himself and others from the Green Goblin
  7. Spider-Man's efforts to save people from yet another villain named Rhino (Paul Giamatti)
Spider-Man flying from skyscraper to skyscraper while a quasi-human blue battery electrocutes Times Square's flashy signage may be a fun spectacle, and the special effects are as good as should be expected. But the quiet scenes of dialogue between Mr. Garfield and Ms. Stone end up being the film's most compelling. Though they redeem the movie they also expose it as one that is merely going through the big-budget summer franchise motions, one that seems intent on keeping us from emotionally investing in the villains, their intended victims, and even Spider-Man himself. A touching scene in the epilogue in which Spidey is assisted by a little boy is a nice addition, but it's too little humanity, too late. There is simply too much going on in this story. Here's hoping 2016's third chapter will better balance the awesome CGI action visuals with intelligent characterization; it seems to us that this could be accomplished by reducing the number of principals and having the protagonist thrown into an apparent moral catch-22, narrative strategies at which several other recent superhero movies have succeeded.

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