Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"The Amazing Spider-Man 2": A Fatally Flawed Improvement

Now Available on DVD and Blu-Ray

A couple weeks ago, I posted my review of The Amazing Spider-Man, a mess of a reboot that seemed like nothing more than a lazy cash-grab for Sony’s only viable blockbuster franchise.  Needless to say, I did not have high hopes for the sequel, and actually dreaded today’s release of the Blu-Ray, feeling ill at the thought of having to review another one of this franchise.  But then I started watching.  And, yeah, in some ways it’s still pretty bad.  However, it’s still an improvement, and one that I found much easier to sit through.  The Amazing Spider-Man 2 deserves a lot of flak for what it does wrong, but I think credit needs to be given where credit is due.

First of all, the characters of Peter and Gwen exhibit marked improvements over their iterations in the first film.  Peter is finally consistent in his behavior, ditching the Michael Cera-wannabe act and going into full smartass mode, a version of Spidey that I’m much more on board with.  Gwen is also fleshed out more and given her own story arc about her love for Peter and her struggle over whether to go to college in Britain and leave him behind.  The chemistry between actors Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone is tangible in this film, and any scene where the two banter on-screen together is very entertaining.

I also found the plot with Electro to be interesting in its own right.  Jamie Foxx plays a revenge-based villain from modest, slightly deranged beginnings, and while it may not be very true to the comics’ conception of the character, it works well, and if his character arc had been the central focus of the film, it would have been a much better movie.  However, this film did not learn from the mistakes of Spider-Man 3, and it actually made worse mistakes with its handling of its three major villains. 

Though Electro gets center-stage for the first third of the film (with a damn good fight scene with a really nice electro-screamo-dubstep soundtrack), he drifts into the background in the second third to make way for Harry Osborn and his origin story as the Green Goblin.  This doesn’t so much play as a second act to the film as it does a second first act for a completely different film.  And that film’s ending has not been released or even made yet.  The Goblin shows up for the final ten minutes of the film after a redundant final showdown with Electro to deliver the film’s “real” climax, but it does nothing to resolve Harry’s character arc and only tries to serve as a gut-punch for the audience.  While that punch is effective, it would have been nice to see the Goblin-centric build-up more subtly integrated than in a blatant set-up for future installments in the Spider-Man franchise.

And finally, we come to The Rhino, another villain that I think symbolically represents the film quite nicely.  See, The Rhino only shows up in two very short scenes: the first, and the last.  There isn’t really a reason for him to be here except to promise that he’s going to show up in the sequels, but he’s here nonetheless, and the film’s advertising sure let you know it.  And that’s the main problem here.  If the film had just stuck with the Peter/Gwen relationship and incorporated Electro as the villain with bits of franchise establishment littered throughout, this would have been a much stronger film.  However, by forcing Harry Osborn and The Rhino into the film, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 comes out feeling bloated and pandering.  It may be a vast improvement over the last film, and I do predict an upward trajectory in quality from here on out now that the overly-elaborate sequel plotting is done and over with, but this Spider-Man is still pretty far from amazing.

This film has become pretty divisive among moviegoers and Spider-Man fans.  Which franchise do you think is turning out better: the Sam Raimi trilogy, or the Amazing trilogy?  Let me know in the comments below.

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