Sean K. Cureton

Business as Usual

In Movie Reviews: 2014 on May 10, 2014 at 11:19 am

Theatrical Poster

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Directed by Marc Webb
2 out of 4 stars

After the tepid reception to Marc Webb’s first Spider-Man movie in 2012, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 stands as a film that at times exceeds its predecessor in terms of sheer blockbuster spectacle, its larger than life set pieces and spandex clad protagonists stealing the show for much of the film’s oversized run time of 142 minutes. At the same time, however, Webb’s innate talent for character development and subdued dramatic tension, as evidenced in his far superior cinematic debut (500) Days of Summer, feels misplaced within an otherwise formulaic superhero epic, throwing the whole fabric of an otherwise solid action film off balance. Where Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man trilogy was rooted in the romantic melodrama of Peter Parker, Webb’s reincarnation of the series is primarily focused on the daring feats of Spider-Man, a fact that seems to have eluded Webb in the production of this ambitious, but misguided, sequel. Whenever Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) are on screen together in their multiple, and mercifully brief, scenes together as a couple, the film comes to a grinding halt, suggesting an adopted depth of character and intimacy that is otherwise absent and unearned. Like the first film in this re-boot of the Spider-Man franchise, Webb appears to be out of his depth in his attempts to compromise the demands of a big budget franchise blockbuster with his own penchant for melancholic drama, and in the process has offered up another film for Sony Pictures that will be sure to leave fans in both movie going camps disappointed and vaguely confused.

Like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, Webb’s new film about everyone’s favorite web slinger suffers from the age-old problem of having one too many super villains in one movie. While Webb at first seems to be intent on focusing on Jamie Foxx’s Max Dillon/Electro antagonist, played off as a good-intentioned nobody turned misunderstood socio-path, the film rather quickly shifts its focus over to Dane Dehaan as Harry Osborn/Green Goblin, the soul inheritor of the insidious Oscorp company and former childhood friend of Peter Parker. While the origin story for Electro is well executed and immediately engrossing, we soon learn that Harry is afflicted with a genetic disease that can only be cured with the blood of Spider-Man, taken willingly or not, making Green Goblin the show runner yet again. While each of these characters is interesting in their own right, with performances from Foxx and Dehaan that far outshine any of the other characters in the film’s impressive cast, the plot quickly becomes overburdened by its own ambitions, effectively short shifting what could have been two fairly interesting movies into a single, lack-luster cash grab. While the film’s climax boasts some of the best special effects and action sequences in the franchise to date, there’s ultimately no reason to care about any of the characters involved, leaving little incentive to see the next film in the series, Sinister Six teaser notwithstanding.

All of this leaves the film in a rather precarious position as to where to take the franchise next, whether to stay the course set by Sony Pictures and pave the way for a Sinister Six movie set to rival the Marvel Studios powerhouse that is The Avengers franchise, or to hand the reins back over to a capable auteur, surrendering the potential monetary gains of the franchise in favor of individualistic aestheticism. If Webb means to keep the director’s chair going forward, will he be allowed more artistic and creative freedom with the series’ plot and characters, or will Sony Pictures maintain its tyrannical hold over the Spider-Man property, offering up more of the same, and running the franchise, along with Webb’s track record, into the ground? As the series stands, Webb will find himself even more hard pressed going forward to break out of Sony Pictures’ expectations for the direction of the films, as there is very little room left for deviation from the set course of super villain overload, promising yet another special effects extravaganza, with little to no narrative substance, in the next installment. In a similar situation, Sam Raimi came away from Spider-Man 3 feeling defeated by the studio’s demands, leading him to opt out of directing a fourth film for Sony Pictures. In direct contrast, Webb appears to be more willing to cow to the demands of a studio that has essentially taken him under their wing, offering him the opportunity to direct a major motion picture, an opportunity, moreover, that would be hard to turn down for any new director in the same position. If this is indeed the case, then The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s failure should not be attributed to Webb as the director, but rather to Sony Pictures as the producer, a studio that has become infamous for its tenacious hold on the few superhero properties that it owns, putting out films periodically if only to maintain the rights to said properties, and squandering the potential of said properties’ intrinsic values; the re-boot of the Spider-Man property thus falls into the territory of business as usual, a ready made cash cow for a major Hollywood studio eager to cash in on the latest craze among the main stream movie going audience.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is thus an even more disappointing installment than the first in this new series of Spidey operas, full of promise and blind ambition, un-tempered by any respect or consideration for the audience of eager fans of the character. As was the case the first time around, Webb revels in bringing Spider-Man to life, and watching Andrew Garfield don the red and blue tights is a marvel to behold, feeling truer to the loose lipped demigod of the original comic book serial of the 1960’s than Raimi’s angst-ridden Tobey Maguire. However, when it comes to setting aside the mask and becoming Peter Parker, Garfield struggles under Webb’s direction to bring the character from the comic book to the silver screen, awkwardly attempting to trade in Maguire’s superior down-trodden selflessness for a Parker who is, for lack of a better word, cool. In doing so, the character and the film to which he is attached loses its ability to connect to the very same audience that loved Spidey the first time around back in 2002, as much of the appeal of the Spider-Man franchise stems from Peter Parker as the relatable social outcast and nerd. Marc Webb is still a more than capable director, however, whose work on the Spider-Man franchise is an unfortunate set back, as any attempts for narrative and authorial control have been no doubt wrested away from him by a studio with no artistic integrity, insight, or faith in its chosen director; The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is not a bad movie, but will never be held in as high a regard as Sam Raimi’s original trilogy, which set the bar for what a modern day superhero film should look like.

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