Cam's Eye Review: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014)

It's great to be Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield). For Peter Parker, there's no feeling quite like swinging between skyscrapers, embracing being the hero, and spending time with Gwen (Emma Stone). But being Spider-Man comes at a price: only Spider-Man can protect his fellow New Yorkers from the formidable villains that threaten the city. With the emergence of Electro (Jamie Foxx), Peter must confront a foe far more powerful than he. And as his old friend, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), returns, Peter comes to realize that all of his enemies have one thing in common: OsCorp.

First off, when I normally review a film it's based on three things: entertainment value, how the story narrative flows, and how visual it looks overall. After viewing The Amazing Spider-Man 2 with this in mind, I'm left much like a Chinese meal I consume: after an hour I wanted more. And with this particular offering, I expected more. Not to say it has its pluses, but it has its minuses. Overall, my personal overall opinion is mixed at best.

Usually, films that feature multiple villains don't work well. Take George Clooney's version of Batman. Please... take it away. Even George himself felt terrible after this disaster. And upon viewing TASM 2, I can see that the good action distracted from an uneven story with plots and subplots galore.

So how do I sum up this movie? Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone, recently Oscar nominated actress for Birdman) is aware of Peter Parker's (Andrew Garfield) alter ego from the first movie and enters into a complex romantic relationship with him while Peter deals with post-graduate life, his promise to stay away from Gwen by the haunting memory of her father (portrayed well in the first film by Denis Leary), his repeated patrolling of the city, the return of an old school friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan, best known for playing Jesse on the HBO series In Treatment), the mystery of his parents' (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) disappearance, and the rise of a crazed electrical nemesis which may be more powerful than Spidey can handle.

All of these things coalesce into a question of why Gwen breaks up with Peter in a mock version of Chinatown. With so many people he cares for keeping safe, it boggles my mind that isolation would be the answer to it all. I was quite perturbed at this development and that meal I consumed so far needed more meat to it. But maybe that's just me.

Director Marc Webb does a good job showing us the cocky side of a teenager with humor and genuine angst (when appropriate), who has little wisdom but a budding intelligence and charm that Garfield pulls off on the screen. With the help of a somewhat decent if uneven script written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci & Jeff Pinkner, we're taken into Peter's world where he can verbally play off of others and give us an all-too-human insight into saying almost the right things in the start of a romantic relationship.

Stone is the perfect partner in her role as Gwen, and we're drawn into a sense of ease and familiarity that all couples do in real life. In that sense it's lovingly playful, and Gwen's character fumbles adoringly and possibly outshining Garfield's good-natured, "Aw shucks!" attitude. In a scene that re-establishes their friendship, both lay down ground rules on the attractive things neither can do if they're to be just good friends. But we all know that deep down, their magic is undeniable and gives us the opportunity to witness the stronger bonds that keep them together. It may be a Hollywood thing  I don't know for sure  but the chemistry between them works to their advantage as partners. And it saves the film in my opinion.

How can I sum this up? It's like a bus ride with multiple stops, hitting a few potholes before getting to your final destination. Individual scenes lead into others without a viable flow of connection to it and some singular storylines don't pick up where they leave off. There's the love story between Peter and Gwen, the struggles of Harry Osborn and his unrequited love for Gwen, the conspiracies at Oscorp, and uncovering the past of Peter's parents. Storyline overload? Unfortunately, I would say yes.

Most especially glaring was the rise of Max Dillon/Electro (Jamie Foxx) which I felt wasn't explained reliably well. I'm unsure whether it was in the writing or the editing but I felt this was rather disjointed in converging two characters together in some semblance of logic. So, the black nerdy guy who loves Spidey and is consumed with helping others wants to do the same thing but never given the chance? Then zapped by eels in a Batman Forever type scenario like Edward Nigma was? This is one of the minuses that should have been done better. Two people on separate paths, each one with similarities of being disregarded as unimportant we needed some form of connection here. Where one decides to rise up as a force for good, the other gets mired in his own twisted world where he feels unloved and unappreciated by a hero.

Thus, we come to Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper, 2002 Academy Award-winning Best Supporting actor for Adaptation as John Laroche). Although Harry plays the archetypal abandoned rich boy persona whose father places him in his multi-billion dollar organization, Oscorp, like tossing a child into a pool and letting it know how to swim all by itself, Cooper's portrayal cuts to the quick and looks savage from a take no prisoners kind of scenario  as if he had carved up a live frog slowly in his old prep school's anatomy class and learned business skills from that experience.

While all of these origin stories tend to be exceedingly dull with certain characters, it struggles along without any smoothness whatsoever and repeats even the simplest of concepts and by a plot point where we're told this thing or that thing happens. Norman Osborn is no exception to this rule and I found that explaining what left field is to your son as something very important to know kind of cut Norman off at the knees, character-wise.
The only sharp writing that keeps it together is between Peter and Gwen. This is about two people who can't figure out their commitment to each other. Scenes where they fight aren't immediately followed by scenes where they make up or apologize. Their behavior evolves into an exploration of a fast-forming relationship.

Where the writing is weak, the actors do enough heavy lifting to make the film work. Garfield engages with humor or the sweet ever-present sarcasm while pantsing The Rhino, a tattooed-up Russian thug by scene-stealing Paul Giamatti (of Sideways fame) or wearing a diving mask for safety during an at-home experiment. Yet Stone reminds us that Gwen has a brain behind her looks and personality as she deals with her own moments throughout.

As for Peter's discovery of his parents' fate, that should have been better placed by the end of the first film. There was an awful lot of fried rice (sorry!) in this particular sequel. It was all too little, too late. Like eating a ton of Chinese food at one sitting (there's that dreaded reference again!), a little here, a little there your palate feels worn out. My mental palate was filling up fast.

Now we come to the action portion of the film.

The action suffers a bit from its use of slow motion in spots, but I'm guessing they want the audience to be acclimated and utilize it for dramatic effect, especially near the end. We're carried along with Spidey like reading a comic book and the scenes are marvelously tied to reflect that. Otherwise, it's a lot sharper and cleaner than most modern action films in the marketplace. Plus, the action does a lot to make up its shortcomings with the story. I have found most of the actions scenes with Electro like a ballet, flowing effortlessly from one scene to another, wowing us with a choreography missing from today's fare. Near the end with Green Goblin is where things get messy. We'll get to that in just a bit.

Gary Ray Stearns (Tekken), stunt/fight Coordinator, does a superb job in giving us one-on-one fight sequences that are sharp and focused exclusively on character fighting. I found a certain elegance and style between Spidey and Electro to be visually stunning and kudos to VFX Supervisor Jerome Chen (Academy Award-nominated senior visual effects supervisor at Sony Pictures) for giving us something that's appealing and compelling at the same time. Chen himself said that the real challenge was that all three villains (Electro, Rhino, Green Goblin) required extensive visual effects to realize them into film.

As for the fight scenes with The Green Goblin, I was distracted more by the slightly over-the-top acting by DeHaan than anything else, snarling through his lines, and otherwise forcing his abilities as GG but managing to at least have some humanity and compassion when he was Harry, although it seemed low-key. How he manages to be villainous, it's beyond the scope of this reviewer to fathom but I kept missing another actor that was brilliant as Harry/GG in the regular Spider-Man films. The suit and flight wing notwithstanding, I couldn't help but do multiple facepalms. First of all, how in Hades could he have used that experimental wing so fast? Short learning curve? And he gets all Shaun White on Spidey's butt.

If you've already seen The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (I'm sure most of you have by now) or read The Amazing Spider-Man Vol 1 #121-122, you are undoubtedly aware of the ending for one of the film's major characters. While I won't reveal what happens for those who have yet to see this movie, but I am sure most of you already have, I will note that I thought the scene was done superbly. When I read the comics on which this sequence is based, I was duly impressed with the basic plot details. Although set in a clock tower instead of the George Washington Bridge, I was still intrigued. Especially the costumes mirroring the comic book story itself and I remember the last remaining pages of #122 vividly (1973  yes, I'm 52; do the math). And the filmmakers pay a great homage to this plot line. Any Spider-Man comic fans won't be disappointed. The emotional aftermath of the scene is beautifully shot, well-acted, and the film could have and should have ended right there instead of going for a few more minutes.

Through its flaws, if you are looking for a good romantic thrill ride with plenty of action and subplots (and chicken curry...Sorry! I'm just hungry again), this could be a good date flick with your significant other that he or she would possibly approve. For pure entertainment value, action, story, and a visual experience, check it out. And buy some Thai take-out to watch it.

Cameron Farmer is a freelance writer based in California with a shared interest in several topics other than film which you can learn more about via his Facebook fan page over at Kingspirit Entertainment. Feel free to subscribe to his page and follow him on Twitter @CameronFarmer8.


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