The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Columbia Pictures, PG-13)

The-Amazing-Spider-Man-2 75I don’t know if that qualifies as a recommendation, but I went in hating it and came out kind of liking it, so I guess that’s a win for this team. 

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I went into The Amazing Spider-Man 2with the lowest of expectations. I know some people liked the last movie, but I thought it was pretty terrible. Even the oft-cited chemistry between Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield, which many people saw as a saving grace, left me cold. I hated the villain. I hated how episodic and incomplete it felt. I hated the retelling of the origin story, which had been done so well only ten years earlier. And I didn’t like Andrew Garfield in the role. He’s a fine actor, but in that movie he really just came off as a jerk, and not someone I would actually want to root for. So now the same filmmaking team has returned with a sequel, and from the trailers I could see that there were too many villains, they were again retreading ground that had been tackled by Sam Raimi, and there would be more focus on this relationship I didn’t care about. I figured I would probably hate it, so keep that in mind for the rest of this review when I tell you that I actually kind of liked it.

I know that the big fear of most fans going in is about the overabundance of villains. This was certainly a crippling element of Spider-Man 3, but this movie is a bit different. Spider-Man 3 felt like a movie built around the Sandman, with Green Goblin and Venom thrown in as unnecessary subplots. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 feels like two complete stories that just happen to be happening at the same time. It’s not that much better, but it helps a little bit. The A plot is the story of Max Dillon, a nerd who is saved by Spider-Man and develops a seemingly psychotic, stalkerish obsession with the hero. Then, one day while working at Oscorp, he is made to reattach a disconnected wire up on the ceiling of a laboratory. The wires electrocute him and he falls into a pool filled with electric eels who electrocute him some more. This scene is every bit as hilarious as it sounds. For reasons that are never even questioned, all this electricity doesn’t kill him, and instead turns him into Electro, a blue glowing guy who can control electricity, or is made up of electricity, or something. While stumbling around Times Square, he starts causing some electricity-related problems and putting people in danger. Spider-Man shows up to stop him, and Electro sees this as a betrayal by his hero.

On paper, Electro is an interesting character. I like the idea of him playing this introvert, similar to Peter Parker, who becomes obsessed with Spider-Man in a way that quickly turns aggressive. In execution, it doesn’t quite work. Jamie Foxx plays Max as an outdated caricature, complete with gapped teeth and a pocket protector. He tends to verbalize things to himself in a way reminiscent of Travis Bickle. I guess this makes his transformation more believable, because he seemed unhinged from the get go. Once he’s Electro he’s less annoying, but I can’t say that I ever really grew to like him as a villain. I don’t completely understand his powers or his plan. He’s just a force for Spider-Man to fight, and as such, he’s serviceable.

The more interesting villain is Harry Osborn. He’s played here by Dane DeHaan, who is becoming a go-to actor for disturbed creeps. At the beginning of the movie, his father Norman dies from a failed super serum that he had injected, and this serum is also in Harry. Harry realizes that he is dying, and wants to get Spider-Man’s blood in hopes that the regenerative properties will cure him. Obviously, this doesn’t go so well. Harry Osbourne was in the Raimi films, so there’s a bit of a been there done that feeling to it, but I like DeHaan in this part, and his transformation to full-on villain is done better here than in Spider-Man 3.

But the villains aren’t the key to this movie’s pseudo-success. There are two elements which are much improved from the first film that make this one a significant step up. The first is the action. Marc Webb made the first one after he made (500) Days of Summer, and I felt like his action scenes were pretty bland and forgettable. Here, he steps it up. I liked the use of Spidey sense in this movie, where time seems to stand still and we see all the various things happening at once that Spider-Man has to deal with. It all feels very video gamey, but it’s quite effective.

The other thing that improves on last time is the aforementioned romance. Since the first film, Stone and Garfield have been in a relationship, and it shows. Their chemistry works much better for me here, which is important, because their relationship is crucial to the success of the film. The fact that I actually cared about them made the climax work, despite the fact that I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on. Garfield is better throughout the film, and while I still don’t love that his Peter Parker persona is almost identical to is Spider-Man persona, I came away feeling much more positive towards him in this role.

I don’t think I’ll ever love this new Spider-Man franchise. It’s not made for me, it’s made for young people who don’t remember Sam Raimi’s films. I can’t relate to them, and I assume they will be scared and upset by some parts of this film. As for me, my experience with this film is very similar to my experience with the Hobbit films. I’m kind of against the whole thing on principle, I don’t think it’s that great, and I doubt I’ll ever feel the need to revisit it, but while I was watching it, I had a reasonably good time. I don’t know if that qualifies as a recommendation, but I went in hating it and came out kind of liking it, so I guess that’s a win for this team. | Sean Lass

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