Action Adventure

Friendly Neighborhood Film Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

May 2, 2014Ben MK

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Colorful in more ways than one

By Ben Mk

Peter Parker is no Bruce Wayne, but Spider-Man's eclectic rogues gallery is rife with just as many formidable foes as the Dark Knight's, if not more. From Kraven the Hunter to Mysterio, there's no shortage of super-powered crazies seeking to slay our favorite webhead. Keeping with that line of thinking, it's perfectly understandable why The Amazing Spider-Man 2 features not one or two, but three of Spidey's arch nemeses. But despite all of the villains that come crawling out of the woodwork, the core of the film remains the relationship between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy.

The sequel picks up where 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man left off, by continuing to make Richard Parker's scientific research, OsCorp and Gwen Stacy central to the story of Peter Parker and his alter ego, Spider-Man. As New York City's iconic web-slinger, Peter (Andrew Garfield) is more comfortable than ever with performing incredible acrobatic feats high above the city's streets and doing heroic deeds wherever he sees a need; but the more lives he touches, the more enemies he makes.

Peter finds this out the hard way when he pulls Maxwell Dillon (Jamie Foxx) — a brilliant yet socially inept OsCorp engineer — out of harm's way during a high-speed police chase involving Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti), aka the Rhino, and some stolen OsCorp property. Lonely and desperate for attention, Max begins to idolize his rescuer; but that admiration quickly turns to hatred — after Max is involved in an accident that grants him the power to control electricity, becoming the supervillain Electro. The same goes for Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), Peter's childhood friend and the son of Norman Osborn, OsCorp's founder and CEO. When Harry learns that he suffers from the same rare, genetic disorder that's killing his father, he pleads for a sample of Spider-Man's blood, which may the only thing that can cure him. But when Peter refuses — not knowing what negative effects it might have on his friend — Harry takes matters into his own hands, becoming the cackling Green Goblin and setting out to make Spider-Man pay.

Their mutual hatred of Spider-Man is what brings Harry and Max together, and caught in the middle is Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), Peter's on-again/off-again girlfriend. Haunted by the promise that he made to her dying father — to protect Gwen by keeping away from her — Peter is torn between staying true to his heart and staying true to his word. But even as their post-high-school-graduation plans begin to take them on different trajectories, Gwen and Peter find themselves inexorably drawn to each other — and ultimately, it's their love for one another that threatens to tear them apart.

Penned by scribes Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner (whose combined talents have helped bring the rejuvenated Star Trek and Transformers franchises to the big screen, and shows like Fringe, Lost and Alias to the small screen), the story widens the scope considerably from the previous film. From the explosive action set pieces to the larger stakes, not only do things play out on a grander scale, everything is louder and more colorful to boot. The plot does take a few dark turns; but on the whole, director Marc Webb lifts a page straight from the Batman Forever playbook for this, his second spin on the Marvel Comics franchise. In many ways, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 feels like a spiritual successor to that Joel Schumacher film, embodying the same sense of crazy, campy comic book fun. But it's a fine line to walk, and you need look no further than Batman & Robin for the proof.

The implications for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 are clear, and Webb certainly seem to be mindful of the dangers of going overboard. He infuses the film with an infectious comic book brashness — tossing in references to the source material left, right and center, including characters such as Alistair Smythe (B.J. Novak), aka the Ultimate Spider-Slayer, and Felicia Hardy (Felicity Jones), aka Black Cat, and locations like the Ravencroft Institute, the equivalent of Gotham City's Arkham Asylum — but he also tries to underpin it with the dramatic threads that are Peter's relationship with Gwen, his relationship with his aunt May (Sally Field) and his memories of his mother and father (Embeth Davitz and Campbell Scott). It works to a certain extent, helping to ground the film and prevent it from collapsing in on itself under the weight of all the bombast.

But part of what makes Spider-Man so interesting as a character are his enemies; and even with nearly two-and-a-half hours of breathing room, the story still sells them short, particularly Paul Giamatti's Aleksei/Rhino (who barely registers as a footnote in the film, serving more as comedic relief than genuine antagonist) and Jamie Foxx's Max/Electro (who isn't nearly as menacing as he ought to be, instead coming across as a bizarre amalgam of Jim Carrey's Edward Nygma and Arnold Schwarzenegger's Mr. Freeze). Fortunately, there's Dane DeHaan, who makes an impact as Harry/Green Goblin, even though his evolution from friend to foe manages to set a new land-speed record for a superhero film. The shadow of Willem Dafoe and James Franco's performances from Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy may loom over his portrayal, but DeHaan manages to make the role his own by delivering a meaner, nastier rendition than both Dafoe's Green Goblin and Franco's Hobgoblin combined.

However, depicting the story of Peter and Gwen is where The Amazing Spider-Man 2 really shines — and spectacularly so. Those who are familiar with the comics will know the pivotal role Gwen plays in Peter's arc, and the film doesn't treat their relationship lightly. Garfield's performance is as nuanced as ever, nailing the delicate balance between wise-cracking quipster and tortured soul, while Stone's portrayal of bold, headstrong Gwen runs circles around Kirsten Dunst's comparatively bland Mary Jane. Their chemistry together is palpable to the point of crackling right off the screen, and amid the visual spectacle of Spider-Man's confrontations with Electro and the Green Goblin, it brings some much needed emotional gravitas to the otherwise frenzied proceedings.

The Bottom Line

Spider-Man's strong suit may be the superhuman strength and agility that he gained from a radioactive spider bite, but The Amazing Spider-Man 2's forte is the human element provided by the relationship between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. Director Marc Webb's second foray into a world of heroes, villains and conspiracies overflows with eye-catching splendour and colorful comic book distractions, but it would all ring hollow if not for the subtle movements of the film's emotional undercurrent — proving once again that the little guy (or in this case, the little details) can make a big difference. [★★★]

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