No More Secrets
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opens with an extended flashback, detailing the other side of the hide-and-seek opening of The Amazing Spider-Man. Offered a glimpse into the fate of Peter’s parents, we are quickly whisked back to the present and shown a typical day in the life of New York’s friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man (aka Peter Parker, once again played by Andrew Garfield). Much like any comic book sequel, the story progresses with Peter struggling to balance the lives of his crime fighting alias and his now graduated civilian existence, we’re introduced to a few new villains and all hell breaks loose when the three are combined. No need to expand any further than that really; not without ruining so many plot points.
This isn’t a broody Batman/Superman release, nor is it a triumphant challenging Marvel Studios release, it’s a fun action drama with a very colourful central character. It exists in this weird ether in between dark gritty overcompensation and light to the point of weightless action disposability. Personally, this is where I believe the character of Spider-Man truly thrives. Anyone who has read a single comic that features Spider-Man knows full-well that he’s a noble, highly intelligent, wise-cracking persona with a penchant for cheesy jokes and buffoonery. It’d be nice if he had Wolverine or the Avengers as straight men to bounce off but annoyingly that’s not how the cinematic world of film rights works. He’s a deeply emotional individual who doesn’t make perfect decisions or growl unnecessary threats, he’s a wiry hyperactive cartoonish kid who beats up bad guys, saves cats from trees and walks kids home from school to make sure they’re not bullied; all the while at war with internal conflict about doing what is right and good. To me, that is Spider-Man! And Garfield remains the perfect embodiment of these traits. Then there’s the returning Emma Stone as love interest Gwen Stacy. All too often we’re handed the tired ‘girl in the fridge’, helpless damsel character and expected to just grin and bear it whereas here, Gwen and Peter operate as a wonderful team. Granted, Gwen’s in peril fairly often but so was her father and she simply sees it as doing the right thing to protect the one she loves. This time round, the big three additions to the cast are Jamie Foxx, Dale DeHaan and Paul Giamatti (although he really is a footnote to set up something much larger). Tapping into that all too familiar Edward Nygma, Mark Zuckerberg ‘nobody sees me but now I have power I will make them see’ character, Foxx’s transformation is a fairly decent one. Frustratingly, once he becomes Electro he suffers a little similarly to the Lizard in the previous movie, in that his motives feel a bit lost. DeHaan as Harry Osborne, on the other hand, is spectacularly good. Bringing an equally interesting chemistry to that seen between Garfield and Stone, DeHaan channels a young DiCaprio to bring to life a very embittered, malicious and short-tempered young man full of character and life; making his birth as the Green Goblin incredibly interesting. But acting has always been strong in these reboots, so let’s address something that people will genuinely take issue with.
This film is long. I’m quietly confident it’s the longest Spider-Man film ever made. Running near two and a half hours, I didn’t actually feel it. Sure, it’ll be hard going on kids and they’ll be chomping at the bit to race to the khazi as the film starts to wrap up but personally, I could have easily sat through another hour once Rhino finally showed up. Who knows, maybe it was the pacing, maybe I’m drawing a comparison to The Return Of The King or The Wolf Of Wall Street. Either way, I was happy to watch more. Next up we have the CGI. As with the last instalment, the digital effects don’t always hold up as well as we would like. While the trailers paint a dire picture, the IMAX image is clearly polished and extremely impressive. Having said that, there are still far too many uncanny-valley moments that really let down the visuals. But this is always the problem with CGI, we rely on it far too heavily. It ages badly, it dates almost instantly, it’s dismissed as reminiscent of video games and all to create something that could have been shot in reality. Most of the time it wasn’t even the movement or Spider-Man that was the issue but once again the faces of the villains. But this brings us nicely to one of the movie’s crowning achievements: you know what’s better than getting rid of James Horner? Getting rid of James Horner and replacing him with six musicians to create a truly unique, dynamic and ground-breaking score. Does that mean it’s good? Well, no, not always. That brass-based hero theme felt like it would be more at home in a Superman film but rather than sullying every scene it’s laid over (as was the case in The Amazing Spider-Man), it elevates, enhances and even embodies the very scene we’re watching. Point in case, when Electro and Spider-Man are fighting amidst giant Tesla-coil-like pillars, the music and editing work beautifully to produce a vibrant organic cohesion that benefits both audio and visual – WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT A SCORE IS SUPPOSED TO DO, HORNER!!!
These days it’s not enough to simply comment on how an action film is shot, edited and acted, we now have to allot a specific paragraph or two to curious new developments. Suddenly the word -count needs to take into consideration things like expanded universe and how a film is marketed at you; things that really shouldn’t make a blind bit of difference as far as cinema is concerned. These days (good) sequels can’t just be another monster-of-the-week, it needs to be both a continuation and a standalone story while resolving/answering some of the questions from the previous release and posing all new ones. Essentially, film is now emulating television. This is proving very divisive amongst critics and audiences who simply aren’t familiar with this format. There are those who believe a film should be a film and that’s that and there are those that feel this opens up a world of promise and potential. It’s not even a new concept, possibly the greatest films of all time, The Godfather: Part I, was adapted from a book and the elements that couldn’t be fit in were worked into its sequel. By doing this people mistake Part II as a superior release when in fact they are both parts of one large story. In essence, this is what we have today. Sure, there are still action sequels that have no meaning or relation whatsoever (Transformers, Fast & Furious, Expendables, I’m looking at you guys) but audiences have voted with their money that they approve of TV style arcs and will happily binge on sequel marathons if the story interconnects well enough. But if we’re going to talk about expanded universes, we need to discuss marketing (reluctantly). I love the art of the trailer, I really do but I hate the field of marketing. Fuck marketing. Pandering nonsense. People often complain that trailers give away the whole film and while I don’t always agree, I find it very underwhelming when I see the huge set-pieces on a phone or an iPad and then some of the IMAX majesty is robbed from it later. Then there are films like Man Of Steel which had a perfect marketing campaign but the finished product couldn’t live up to it. From all the trailers for this film, we were led to believe we were going into a very different release. First and foremost, so many of the shots and scenes used differ or are completely absent and all of the characterisation and sprawling sea of bad guys doesn’t reflect their actual screen-time. It’s this reason that I was fairly blasé and indifferent to this movie but having watched it, I not only rate it very highly as a critic but I really, really enjoyed – far more than I a.) should and b.) can justifiably reflect in a supposedly unbiased review.
The biggest hurdle these movies have (and apparently always will have) is redundancy. No matter how good, how big or how successful they are, there will still be countless idiots saying, “Why is there another one? Haven’t they done Spider-Man already?” I said it before, I’ll say it again: these films are adaptations. No one bats an eyelid when Pride & Prejudice gets adapted for both film and television every five years but because it’s a comic, everyone feels the need to sigh and roll their eyes. And on top of that, this new series keeps trying to step away from the Raimi trilogy while blatantly forced to revisit certain tropes, plotlines and settings. Personally, I’m very much on board and genuinely prefer this new take. But that’s largely in part because I can separate the two. To me, anyone whining about the differences and obsolescence of Spider-Man films is just as bad as someone who sits through The Dark Knight moaning that we’ve only just seen Batman & Robin!
18th April 2014
The Scene To Look Out For:
**enormous spoiler, avoid at all costs until you’ve seen the film**
In the run up to this film, the casting for the third instalment and a few sneaky shots in the trailers, everyone starting asking questions about how loyal to the source material this movie would be. Specifically, is Gwen Stacy going to die? There are two things I love about this; first, they appear to have shot multiple endings and twists to compensate for any leaked footage or fan speculation, secondly, the scene was obvious but in a terrific way. I’m not the biggest Spider-Man fan (frankly the wall-crawler annoys the hell out of me sometimes, as a Daredevil fan) but I’m more than familiar with the key moments in Spidey’s canon and the whole thing was presented with both a brutal and beautiful inevitability. The Goblin’s manic face, the long stares, the reaching web fluid, the grisly contact with the ground, it was all so cinematic. Might not be for everyone but it was the undoubted emotional and visual highlight of the film for me.
Difficult. The chemistry between real-life couple Stone and Garfield is so innocent and cute and believable but .. if I’m honest, that’s cause they’re not acting, they’re a real couple. So I’m going to award DeHaan as the film’s standout actor. He’s already proven himself an incredibly talented and diverse individual with mountains of potential and a depth to everything he’s thrown himself at. The fact that he brings that exact same integrity to what is, in effect, a very silly role, is highly commendable.
“They have lots of crime in England. They’ve got.. Jack The Ripper. What? They never caught Jack The Ripper”
In A Few Words:
“A solid sequel that simply tries to do too much”