Monday, May 12, 2014

Summer Cinema: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

While Summer doesn't officially begin until June 21st, the cinematic season started last weekend on Friday, May 2nd with the release of Sony's The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  If you'll recall, Sam Raimi had directed 3 chapters in the Spidey-verse with Tobey Maguire playing the brilliant but struggling and lovelorn genius Peter Parker and his radioactive spider bitten heroic alter ego Spider-Man.  After budgets continued to climb and quality lowered, plans for a 4th Raimi directed Spidey adventure were scrapped in favor of a reboot by 500 Days of Summer's Marc Webb that would allegedly put more focus on the awkward teen still reeling from the mysterious disappearance of his parents.  Coming in at a hefty $230 million, The Amazing Spider-Man wasn't a bad time at the movies, it just didn't seem that different from the 2002 version.  Instead of being a nerdy photographer, Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker is just more of a loner.  Not an emo or goth kid, not an outcast, just a kid who wears hoodies and rides a skateboard.  Which today, doesn't seem that odd.  Instead of the vivacious redhead Mary Jane, we get Parker's first love from the comics, Gwen Stacy, played by Emma Stone. 

Part 2 of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's comic creation adaptation starts out by delving further into the origins of Peter's father, Richard.  If I'm not mistaken, you don't hear much about his real parents in the comics, he's just with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben from the start.  But now, everything has to be connected with some grand threat and inherit legacy involved blah blah so Richard Parker is shown to be a scientist working for Norman Osborn who doesn't want his top secret work on regenerating spiders weaponized so he dumps young Peter with his relatives and goes on the run.  I don't know what it is that we have to explain everything about everyone these days as Man of Steel was arguably more about his two dads than it was about him.  Here, large chunks of the narrative hinge on Peter finding out what dad was up to.  Are our current heroes so bland their stories can't fill the runtime of their own movies?  Maybe the makers should consider trimming these movies down to 2 hours even so you could save a good 20 minutes from having to up the stakes at the cost of our protagonist.

Anywho, Spidey comes across overlooked, overworked and socially awkward Oscorp electrical engineer Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) who after a horrible accident at the office, harnesses the power of electricity and becomes Electro.  Meanwhile, childhood bud Harry Osborn comes back to the city to greet his dying father Norman and becomes obsessed with using Spider-Man's blood to find a cure for a disease he and his father share.  The opening of the film is quite fun with lots of wisecracking from Spider-Man but right away the movie lost me a bit because they have Spidey rescuing this person and that, his saving Max Dillon and showing him kindness is a story jump off point but then he just lets a rampaging semi run right into traffic causing what looks like horrific accidents.  I know they need to blow shit up to keep our attention but couldn't they at least had the truck driver escape the hero instead of just being let loose to cause havoc and innocent bystander deaths?

The flick moves at a nice clip and there's sweet, nearly saccharine scenes between Garfield's Parker and Stone's Stacy as they try to make their relationship work in the midst of going to college, Peter promising her dying father to leave his daughter alone and him being Spider-Man in general.  Everything is set up pretty quickly which is nice, you get a sense of the drama and issues and it's a jump off point for the story and action to come.  Simple beats of Foxx's put upon and lonely Dillon lead up to his wild outburst when he's granted super powers and wishing to be finally noticed while Harry Osborn quickly deals with his father's ailing health, taking over a $200 billion dollar empire, swimming with corporate sharks, having a friend in Peter and a suddenly fast moving flesh eating disease.  There are plenty of nods and straight giveaways to future cinematic Spider adventures with Doctor Octopus' arms, The Vulture's wings and a suit of armor for The Rhino as part of Oscorp's secret, military style division.

If you've read the books, you know that Gwen Stacy doesn't make it and Amazing Spider-Man 2 addresses that head on.  The scene came as a shock as I had forgotten that piece of Spidey's history.  It gives the film a bit of weight and I commend the filmmakers for having the balls to do that to such a major character played by a famous actress instead of just making everything work out fine in the end.  Divergent's Shailene Woodley shot scenes as future love interest Mary Jane but were cut so we'll see if she pops up in part 3.  Facing some stiff competition in the form of Seth Rogen and Zac Efron, Spidey 2 has taken a bit of a tumble at the box office and won't scale the financial heights of it's Sam Raimi helmed predecessors but is cleaning up overseas so more web slinging, city swinging, wise cracking, Spidey-sense tingling (only used once, lame) shenanigans should be on the way.

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