Monday, 21 April 2014

Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

I was not exactly a fan of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’; I felt it was an altogether sloppy reintroduction of the character that put too much focus on its romance subplot and not enough on the exploits of its titular hero. I did however predict at the time that the next iteration in the series would see a notable rise in quality as it learned from the mistakes of its predecessor and expanded upon the aspects it handled well. Well as it turns out I was correct in my assumption, ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ marks a massive improvement over the previous film, and I really do mean massive.

Having embraced his life as Spider-Man, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) inspires New York with his heroic acts but as a result his personal life and relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) suffers. When old friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) returns to the city Peter begins to re-examine his past and contemplate the mysterious circumstances surrounding the disappearance of his parents.

I wasn’t overly impressed with Andrew Garfield’s previous work as Spider-Man but in this film he proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that his work as the wisecracking webslinger is second to none. Even more important than that though is how much improvement has been made to his Peter Parker; he is no longer the standoffish young man we met in the first film, Peter’s confidence as a hero has permeated into his personal life and we see an assured and evolved character played with finesse by Garfield. The romantic love interest of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ also features in this film yet again played by the increasingly impressive Emma Stone. Gwen is given a lot more to do here than she has previously, allowing her to break free of the constraints usually placed upon the female love interest in a comic book movie. Emma Stone gives an earnest performance as Gwen Stacy that shows dramatic depth as well as expert comedic sensibilities, this combined with her fantastic chemistry with Garfield makes their on-screen relationship one of the undeniable triumphs of the film.

Spider-Man saves a pre-Electro Max Dillon

‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ ups the ante when it comes its villains, having not one but two primary antagonists, Electro as played by Jamie Foxx, and Green Goblin played by Dane DeHaan. Unlike the very disappointing ‘Spider-Man 3’ this film handles its plethora of villains in a smart and well-focused way so as to have a hierarchy to its enemies rather than the outright chaos of Sam Raimi’s last Spider-Man effort. Foxx is great as Electro’s alter ego Max Dillon who the film depicts as an obsessive Spider-Man fan and a very lonely individual. Electro on the other hand feels quite underwritten and dull; annoyingly the film seems to forget about Dillon’s intelligence as a scientist once he becomes Electro as the character becomes gullible and subservient to the more forceful personalities he is exposed to, nevertheless I felt Foxx brought a vulnerability to the character that shines during the scene in Times Square. The saving grace of the character is the brilliant portrayal of his power, Electro, like no other villain in a Spider-Man film before him, seems truly powerful and a fierce adversary for Spider-Man.

Meanwhile Dane DeHaan is faced with a very different villainous role in that he enters the film as an ostensibly shady character whose descent into evil is driven by desperation and paced perfectly. DeHaan’s Harry Osborn feels like a much better crafted character than the last iteration seen onscreen with James Franco in the role, and even with just one film to Franco’s three, DeHaan manages to imbue the character with much more depth. However just as with Max Dillon and Electro, Harry Osborn and Green Goblin differ in quality in certain regards. DeHaan’s surprisingly short spell (in this film at least) as the Goblin feels disconnected from his earlier performance and when thought of purely as a villain he is somewhat lacking as unlike Electro who boasts menacing, godlike power, Green Goblin just seems like any other generically unhinged and altogether tacky villain.

Dane DeHaan's Harry Osborn is the best portrayal of the character yet.

Marc Webb’s direction is another highlight of the movie, having refined his technique from the previous film Webb is able to deliver a much better crafted story with a much neater plot thanks to screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner; an entirely new brain trust of writers from the first film. Kurtzman and co.’s script weaves together interesting side plots into a complete and satisfying narrative free from the clunky secondary stories of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’. Also deserving of praise is cinematographer Daniel Mindel (who will soon work on the upcoming ‘Star Wars Episode VII’), who offers some really terrific photography both in moments of quiet character reflection and in large-scale action set pieces.

This film more than any other cinematic iteration of Spider-Man succeeds in portraying the wall crawler as exactly what he is, one of the greatest superheroes ever devised. Peter Parker’s story is incredibly relatable and yet as Spider-Man it is inspiring, not even the likes of Tony Stark or Steve Rogers can deliver the same humanity to their superheroism. The occasions where the film stops to have a human moment, whether that is between Gwen and Peter or when exploring the past of Peter’s father, it gets the tone right in having humanity be one of the defining aspects of Spider-Man as a whole. One thing I really loved in the film was the representation of what Spider-Man comes to mean to the citizens of New York, this is handled magnificently and certainly left a lasting impression on me as the credits rolled.

All it takes is a cursory glance at this film’s trailer to have an idea of the magnitude of the impressive action in the battle scenes. A particularly grandiose clash sees Spider-Man take on Electro in an electrical plant; here the action becomes truly spectacular as the brilliantly shot fight shows Spider-Man barely avoid Electro’s attacks with slow-motion camerawork being engaged to make it all the more exhilarating.

Spider-Man struggles to overcome Electro's immense power.

Arguably the most exciting thing about this film is the sheer amount of establishing it does for the wider Spider-Man universe that Sony hopes to curate. With films about Venom and the Sinister Six already on the cards, hopes for a shared continuity between Spider-Man films to exist in the same capacity as Marvel’s Cinematic Universe looks bright, let’s just hope they take the same care and expertise employed here when handling those spinoff films.

Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire’s run with Spider-Man will always have a special place in my heart, they were the first time the character had ever transitioned to the big screen and Raimi/Maguire really did Spider-Man justice. I mention this because I want my appreciation of that series (in particular the original ‘Spider-Man’) to be clear when I say that this film, ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ is my favourite Spider-Man film to date. It combines all of the brilliant blockbuster action audiences would come to expect from a comic book movie with a layered portrayal of Peter Parker including a satisfying evolution to his character. Amazing may yet be out of reach, but this film has spectacular well within its grasp.

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