Friday, May 2, 2014

The Cinema File #344: "The Amazing Spiderman 2" Review

The Amazing Spiderman franchise has few stalwart defenders, of which I am proudly one. Coming so soon after the much beloved Raimi series, many consider it to be an unnecessary reboot, willfully ignoring the need for a corrective after the abysmal Spiderman 3 precluded any further sequels without some significant retooling. To suggest that The Amazing Spiderman should have been Spiderman 4 is like saying Batman Begins should have been a sequel to Batman and Robin, but then that's an argument for another time. Now we have Amazing Spiderman 2, a sequel to the reboot obviously designed as a springboard for an expanded Spiderman universe, and while it has its flaws and likely does this new series no favors, I would still argue that the good it does far outweighs the bad, and fully justifies this new, and in my mind far superior approach to this property.

Amazing Spiderman 2 picks up where the last film left off with Peter Parker weighing his love for Gwen Stacy against the promise he made to her dying father to keep her safely away from his crime fighting exploits. The fact that I am even capable of writing that sentence about a Spiderman movie after the shitty post-Mary Jane "Gwen Stacy" arc from Spiderman 3 so thoroughly wiped its ass with one of the greatest stories in the history of Marvel comics should be justification enough for this new take on these characters, but perhaps I'm over simplifying. Don't misunderstand, this movie does a lot wrong, at least compared to its immediate predecessor, but at every point, it must be stressed that the majority of its problems are a direct result of trying to avoid comparisons to the original films, and pale in comparison to the one thing it gets essentially right, which is a respect for the characters that Sam Raimi lost somewhere along the way in his lust to turn this tragicomic hero into a wacky lighthearted farce.

First, the bad, because that's most likely what everyone will want to talk about, because fuck the Internet in the face. If you thought that the Lizard lacked some dramatic punch and felt like a bit of a retread of the mad scientist Doc Ock, then I can't imagine Electro is going to come off any better in your eyes. He's a different kind of character, and much different from what I remember at least of his comic book incarnation, though I've been out of it for a while so I can't speak for recent retcons. The immediate comparison I made while watching, sadly, was Jim Carrey's Riddler from Batman Forever, a brilliant nobody who falls in love with a hero to the point of obsession, then feels betrayed and seeks revenge after becoming empowered. Jaime Foxx is legitimately more badass than Jim Carrey, but much less entertaining, and when the main villain of the movie is basically just a walking lightning bolt, the action is limited to watching Spiderman dodge electric shock until he manages to save the day with science. There are more interesting villains no doubt, even some in this very movie that should have been bumped up to #1 status, but at least it gives Peter a chance to be smart, which is yet another thing Raimi forgot, and since one gets the feeling that this series is deliberately avoiding villains already used for the moment, perhaps a more well known enemy wasn't immediately available.

But wait, you say they did reuse a villain? Well, sort of. We get a Green Goblin, though not THE Green Goblin, or rather, his second incarnation before the first, who doesn't seem to be coming to the forefront anytime soon. Dean Dehaan is great in the role, but its really one that should have been expanded into later films, set up here so that it could be more fully realized in the third installment rather than a Sinister Six movie that may or may not happen. That's actually the biggest problem with the movie. It's really two movies forced into one, with at least one major plot point I can't reveal sorely in need of more development. Dehaan's Harry goes from erstwhile friend of Peter we never knew he had to betrayed and deformed super freak in the span of two acts, and only becomes relevant as a super villain in the climactic fight where he literally just flies in to finish the job Electro couldn't (oh yeah, spoilers, the bad guys lose, sorry). Add to that they throw in the secret history of Peter's parents and how it relates to his powers, a plot line cut from the first film for good reason, and it would be entirely fair to criticize the movie as cluttered and somewhat unwieldy.

So why do I still defend it? Well, frankly, for the same reason I defended and will to my death defend the first film, because it gets Peter and Gwen right. As geeky as I am and as much as I demand fealty to the source material at all times with comic book movies, details on the margins never matter so much to me, as long as the characters are done justice, and this movie continues the tradition started in the last film and all but shat upon in the Raimi films of actually understanding who Peter Parker is and what he represents. He isn't a goofball whose biggest problem is being late for his girlfriend's play, he's the king of tragedy, reborn from the bloody death of his father figure into a defender of the downtrodden who jokes to hide his pain. Those who criticize this new Spiderman as a silly emo kid who isn't as fun as he used to be are not fans of the character as he is, only as Raimi wanted him to be, and they have entirely missed the point. This movie gets it, and by the end, you'll know why. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have a chemistry that puts the awkward and homely pairing of Maguire and Dunst to shame, and its in the context of a chapter in their lives I've been waiting to see on the big screen since I was a kid, one that Raimi not only didn't give me, but practically pissed on on his way out the door.

Oh, and I almost forgot about how fucking awesome the motherfucking Rhino was in this movie. The buzz surrounding this film has always been the overstuffed roster of villains and whether or not it could beat the "too many bad guys" curse established most egregiously by Spiderman 3, and while I can't say that it does, I have no complaints when it comes to the third stringer. That's what Rhino is here. He doesn't factor into the plot really at all, and only appears in two scenes that bookend the film, which most will see as a waste, but to me says everything you need to know about what a comic book movie should be. He's just the kind of bad guy Spiderman has to fight every day, part of his routine. He doesn't need an elaborate origin or a sick daughter to humanize him, he just needs to be a badass rampaging through the streets. I've been waiting to see this kind of thing in a superhero movie for years, a villain that was just there and gone, showing how big the universe is without needing any greater focus then "there are more than just main villains out there." This is a first, and its almost guaranteed to be misunderstood and maligned, but I loved it, and Paul Giamatti is counter intuitively perfect for the role if you were wondering.

Yeah, this happens, its weird...

So, yeah, its flawed, so much so that those who can't see past their misguided love for that shit trilogy from a few years ago will have only more ammunition in their crappy comment section mission to take this franchise down in the hopes that Sony will maybe just gift the rights back to Marvel instead of just rebooting it again with Justin Beiber (sp?)(who gives a fuck?) in the role. Is that what you whiny inconsiderate fuckers want? Sorry, I know I come off as a little sore about this whole thing, but its hard being in the minority when you're so obviously right and everyone else is insane and doesn't know what they're talking about. I am a Spiderman fan. In the way many see Batman as an inspiration, overcoming a tragic past and building himself up from his bootstraps, Spiderman was and still is my inspiration, a nerdy outcast just trying to do good, who unlike Batman who always wins like its his superpower, almost always finds himself on the losing side even when he manages to beat the bad guys. That's why I love the character, and the fact that that is perfectly reflected in this movie and this series is why I love both of them too, lack of Bruce Campbell cameos notwithstanding.

Also, Dylan Baker probably should have come back as the Lizard, but otherwise, fuck those other movies.

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