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The Amazing Spider-Man 2: "Whenever there's a hang up . . ."

The Amazing Spider-Man 2


And right now some of you are thinking: "Does he ever go out and see anything other than superhero films?"

scenes from The Amazing Spider-Man 2
scenes from The Amazing Spider-Man 2
poster for The Amazing Spider-Man 2

And it's true that I'm still trying to get out and see "The Grand Budapest Hotel", as well as totally avoid "A Haunted House 2". But I will not be foolish enough to deny where my heart truly lies. If June Allyson was still alive I'd be moving Heaven and Earth to go see her on the big screen and report back. But she isn't and so that leaves little else to bother with than superhero films.

(It would help if the words "in select theaters only" weren't synonymous with "avoid Charleston at all cost", but there it is.)

Anyway, it's not as if I'm the only one out there watching these. There were more people in the audience for "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" then there were for the art house revival of the 1931 "Frankenstein". And feel free to guess which film I felt was superior.

So . . . once again we're dealing with a Marvel Comics adaptation, which means:

The Official Uncle Mikey Marvel Comics Movie Geek Checklist.

1. Okay, pumpkins, I don't think I'm risking any spoilers by revealing that we're dealing with the "Death of Gwen Stacy" storyline from way back in 1973. I've lost track on how many variations and reboots of this we've had since then, but here it is on the big screen.

1(A). Well, I prefer Mary Jane Watson anyway, so there.

2. According to this film, Oscorp is (or will be) responsible for not only the Green Goblin and the Rhino (and, indirectly, Electro), but Dr. Octopus and the Vulture as well.

3. Don't take this all the way to the bank, campers, but I'm pretty sure the "Felicia" in the film (played by Felicity Jones) is meant to be Felicia Hardy: The Black Cat. This is called Foreshadowing.

4. Whatever complaints I might have about the film (see below), I give it credit for at least improving on two of the absolute worst costumes in the Marvel Universe: Electro and the Rhino. If some of you have never seen the original incarnations of these characters then trust me: we dodged a bullet.

5. Tasty little teaser bit in the end credits for "X-Men: Days of Future Past" (get out there and sell, sell, sell!). Apparently the Toad survived being fried by Storm in the first X-Men film, and here's hoping we get an explanation on how Mystique got her powers back.

All right, back on regular critical track here now. Whereas I felt "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" wasn't quite up to the usual standard I've recently come to expect, I didn't quite find it the reprehensible piece of trash some (apparently spoiled) reviewers felt it was. The lesson for today, though: on points alone, Marvel/Disney is doing a better job than Marvel/Columbia. Go figure.

Andrew Garfield still manages to impress me more than Tobey Maguire did as the webslinger, but a lot of that might've had more to do with special effects than with actual acting. Spider-Man is a prime example of why we couldn't have effective film adaptations of Marvel Comics until CGI, motion capture and other technologies became more sophisticated. We're now getting a cinematic Spider-Man that captures the kinetic verve of the classic Ditko comics. Purists (such as myself) might miss the Spider-tracer, plus the uber-neat belt buckle Spider signal, but, as Peter Jackson demonstrated to legions of Tolkien fans, one can't have everything (no matter how much they bitch at ComicCon). The Spider-Man in the current franchise swoops and moves with the best of them, and seeing the character in motion is almost worth the price of a ticket.

On the downside, Garfield never quite came off as much of the nerdy and helpless teenager as Maguire did. He manages to overcome this liability by doing a good job with Spider-Man's trademark smart-alack attitude, plus some nice give and take moments with Sally Field as Aunt May (who seems to be getting younger with each incarnation of the franchise). Especially good is an argument between Garfield and Field over laundry (y'see, Peter wants to secretly wash his Spider-Man outfit . . .).

Emma Stone is once again on board as Gwen Stacy: so wide-eyed and blonde she needs to be a character in a weekly online comic strip. Admittedly there are more demanding roles than being a love interest from a Marvel comic book (ah Betty Brant. We hardly knew ye. Dorrie Evans please come home. The children are crying), and this is one reason I'm hoping my guess on Felicia (see above) turns out to be true. In a Marvel comic story it's easier for a girl to get more dialogue and a deeper character if she's wearing spandex and leaping from building to building (or, if you're Janet van Dyne, simply being horizontal will do the trick, and yes that was mean of me). It sort of helps that Stone is in an actual relationship with Garfield, but no one will ever mistake them for Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward (although I wouldn't mind seeing them attempt "The Long Hot Summer"). I want to catch Stone in some other roles (but draw the line at sitting through "The Croods").

(Oh, and while it's on my mind, a very brief segue here. I finally got around to listening to "Let It Go" from "Frozen". They're kidding, right? This piece of treacly garbage copped an Oscar for Best Original Song?)

In other acting news we have Jamie Foxx playing Max Dillon/Electro. I definitely like Foxx. He was very very good in "Ali", "Ray" and "Django Unchained". But something sort of went wrong with his role in this film. Remember Jim Carrey as the Riddler in "Batman Forever"? I mean Carrey as Nigma and not as the Riddler. The neurotic, self-absorbed genius. Foxx is giving us the same performance here (minus Carrey's Silly Putty muggings). It didn't impress me in "Batman Forever" and it didn't impress me here. Foxx as Electro was far more menacing, but something still wasn't going quite right. He was impressively powerful and had a sort of James Whale/Universal monster movie brooding about him, but that could've been magnified to better effect for my way of thinking. What should've been one king-hell battle between Spider-Man and Electro ended up being little more than a bare handful of set pieces. I'm aware, of course, that a lot of early Spider-Man stories were written that way (Spider-Man meets villain, Spider-Man gets tush kicked by villain, Spider-Man somehow scientifically modifies his webbing in order to defeat villain, etc. etc.).

I'm not going to blame Foxx here. Rather, I'm putting it all on the shoulders of writers Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner. First off: remember my oft-repeated rule on films with too many people in the creative stew. That should've been one warning right there.

Second, "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" commits the greatest mistake made by most bad superhero films: having more than one Major Villain in the story (e.g. "Batman Forever", "Batman and Robin", "Green Lantern", the third film in the Raimi Spider-Man franchise, und so weiter). Trying to split a superhero threat between more than one villain is like dividing your forces in an army. It only works if you're Bobby Lee, and Kurtzman, Orci and Pinkner were not Bobby Lee. Instead of building and polishing upon the threat of Electro, the decision was made to also bring in Harry Osborn/The Green Goblin. The result was a script much more convoluted than it had to be. I give Dane DeHaan credit for doing the best he could with the role and, as Harry Osborn, he managed to pull off an all-too-brief example of a rich boy finding that the silver spoon wasn't tasting all that hot. Unfortunately it was a case of too little/too late. By the time DeHaan shows up as the Green Goblin (with overtones of the Joker more than the Marvel villain) it's practically anticlimactic. Realistically, DeHaan's Green Goblin should've been saved for a bigger role in a later film. The brief ending bit with the Rhino came off as far more effective, which should've been a telling point to the production crew.

"The Amazing Spider-Man 2" doesn't lack for any sort of action. But, thanks to the writers (and, by extension, director Marc Webb), all the action fell on the shoulders of the title character. Not necessarily a bad thing. But as nice as it is seeing Spidey swinging around New York City, the franchise will remain longer (and be healthier) if the villains are up to the snuff being provided by the hero. The dragon's gotta have some moxie as well, or we might as well go home and listen to "Let It Go".

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