Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Patented Parker Guilt Complex

Some links to see to before we get started. Yesterday was a Snippet Sunday, so Norma had a post at her page, and we had a joint blog for it as well. Late last week, Mark unveiled the cover for a new book, The No-Campfire Girls, and also has the book on Amazon as an ebook and in printed format. Check out those links for details. And have a peek at what Eve had to say about the aftermath of April writing challenges.

Now then, time for a movie review....

"You wanted to be the hero. Now you gotta pay the price." ~ Max Dillon

After a brief interlude set in the past, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 starts off with a bang, featuring our hero Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) chasing down a Russian named Aleksei (Paul Giamatti) involved in a heist. He happens to save the life of an engineer at OsCorp, Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), while bringing down his quarry. Peter's been at the hero game for awhile, working as a photographer, dealing with a relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and feeling guilty over the death of her father (Denis Leary), what with the police captain showing up in visions warning him to stay away from Gwen.

As is usually the case in these matters, fate steps in as a childhood friend, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) returns to Manhattan to visit his dying father Norman (Chris Cooper). With the passing of the old man, Harry takes on the mantle of the company and quickly starts showing us an unpleasant side (it's an Osborn thing). Max, meanwhile, goes from socially awkward to something else entirely in an accident involving electric eels and ends up a powerhouse generating his own electricity. Thus sets the stage for Peter to swing into action, with lives at stake, more than one villain to tangle with, and his very blood being sought after. So, another day in the life of Peter Parker.

Director Marc Webb returns from the first film, bringing along a committee of four writers for the story, which at times feels like it's setting up the stage for the next movie (this happens, of course, when you're dealing with a franchise). Nonetheless, they turn back to the comics for inspiration, and that's a good source. Perhaps even more than Peter's driving motto "with great power comes great responsibility" is the character's sense of guilt. It starts with the death of his uncle, a death he could have prevented, the motivating factor for the rest of his life. The writers play that out in how Peter relates to his aunt May (Sally Field), and in the guilt he feels over the death of Captain Stacy, whose apparition lingers about like the ghost of Hamlet's father. They also take the dynamics of Peter's relationship with Gwen, and the friendship with Harry, from the comics, moving things in different directions. It's a bit convoluted at times- and I say that as a comics fan. The better moments of the film are not those sweeping special effect sequences, but the personal and the human. 

The special effects crews do well with their work. Where physical filming leaves off, they seamlessly weave in CGI as needed, and the combined effect does well, as it did in the first film, of giving us a wall crawler swinging his way through the streets of New York. More importantly, the way the new villains are rendered works. The primary villain in all of this is Electro, looking different from his comic book origins. The way he uses electricity is dynamic, and the special effects team render that well, giving him a look that's spooky. The crew also do much the same for the encore appearance of Aleksei, sporting a techno-armour that might make Iron Man think twice. Where the appearance of the Rhino in the comics just wouldn't work in the movies, rendering the character operating essentially a lumbering tank is a more inspired choice. And we get a Green Goblin out of the mix, with a character design that's more fitting and deranged than the two Goblins of the Sam Raimi trilogy. 

The cast is well suited to their roles. Sally Field returns as Aunt May, still younger than the ancient crone in the comics (letters of outrage can be sent to my idiot ex-brother-in-law). She's in mourning of course, and worries about her nephew, continuing to play the role with understated strength, wisdom, and patience. Cooper, one of my favourite actors, is a surprise in only making a brief appearance as Norman Osborn. Instead of playing the role as flat out crazy as Willem Dafoe did in the first Raimi film, he goes for reserved as a dying man, while hiding many secrets that will come out as time goes along. Colm Feore turns up as well. He's one of those character actors you've seen in countless films and series, and he plays an OsCorp executive here, with the gravity you'd expect from the actor. Marton Csokas, another character actor who appeared in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, turns up playing a director of a high-security mental hospital. 

The trio of villains bring different strengths to their roles. Paul Giamatti is a terrific character actor whose turn here is brief, but book ends the start and end of the film. When we first meet him as Aleksei, he's a temper tantrum having a bad day when a heist goes wrong, something that we might expect out of the character as we know him from the comics. Giamatti can certainly convey anger and rage, and he does that in spades here, and at the end of the film when we see him in armour as an unexpected Rhino. DeHaan was new to me in this film. He plays Harry Osborn in different ways, which fits the character's history. There's a tormented side to him with a difficult history with his father. He seems most like himself when he meets Peter again and they're just relating to each other as friends. But he takes a different path, and DeHaan must convey his descent into darkness in a way that makes sense. He does so, and I'd like to see more out of him. Foxx is perhaps the biggest surprise among the new players. This is an actor who has hits and misses in his resume, but when he's good, he's very good. Performances in Ray or The Kingdom have established his credentials and his range. He starts out Max as a social misfit- smart enough to be an engineer, but oblivious and awkward in other ways. The accident that transforms him also unhinges him, and Foxx conveys that aspect well. The comics version of Electro has always been a formidable enemy, one that Peter had to use his mind to bring down. Foxx takes the character in some different directions, but brings across just how dangerous Electro can be in his performance.

The two leads are still in fine form as they were in the first film. Emma Stone plays Gwen they way the story writes her- smart, confident, assured. She's a young woman with her future ahead of her, who knows what she wants out of life, and can be resourceful and ingenious at times. And she also brings across the playful, caring side of the character. Her chemistry with Garfield feels real. Andrew Garfield continues to play the character of Peter as something of an outsider with a rebellious streak, a wise cracker who uses the sarcasm as a kind of mask. He tries to find balance in life between the thrills that his powers allow, and the responsibility that those powers have placed upon him. He copes with guilt over the past, struggles to find answers to questions he has about himself and others, 

The film is, of course, a summer popcorn movie of thrills that tend to leave the viewer dizzy at times (don't see this in 3D). There are casual references for the comics reader that hint at yet other future villains and characters, and at times it does feel like the filmmakers are offering up the staging ground for the next big film (they have announced sequels, and a spinoff featuring the villains). Its strongest moments lie in character dynamics and not the roller coaster of the action film, but it still entertains and thrills the audience. 

Though I'm still missing J. Jonah Jameson.


  1. I guess because I liked the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man, I haven't really warmed to this new version. I didn't see the first one until it came out on DVD, and it will probably be the same with this one.

    But I do enjoy your reviews, and this one's no exception. Great job. I still say you should be getting paid for them!

  2. I do enjoy your reviews also William.. although not my fav genre.. if it was in French and set in Paris that would be a whole different ballgame :)

  3. You are the sweetest ever, for mentioning my post and I loved this review--even with a few 'spoilers'.
    I'm a bit confused at the name of the movie being Spider-Man 2 because I thought I saw two movies with Tobey McGuire and Defoe was the menace in the second one? Maybe I should just move forward with this interesting web....

  4. My daughter saw the previews and informed me Electro is cool. ;)

  5. Not my kind of movie but still a nice review!

  6. I like the first one so much better than I liked the Toby McGuire versions. I'm looking forward to seeing the 2nd. Love Emma Stone!!

  7. @Norma: thank you!

    @Grace: I can see Spidey swinging off the Eiffel Tower with baguettes and cheese for the next movie.

    @Eve: the three Raimi films are now considered their own story... this was a fresh start without depending on the past storyline.

    @Kelly: all the more so after his unfortunate accident. Beforehand you want to slap him.

    @Cheryl: thanks!

    @Krisztina: the Maguire ones were good... well, not the third one.

  8. Just can not get interested in Spiderman. But if I did watch this series I am not sure if I could because of Andrew Garfield.
    Great review as always.
    Your last comment made me laugh because of Rag saying all of Stan Lee's characters having the same first letters. J. Jonah Jameson

    cheers, parsnip

  9. Good review although not a Spider Man fan.

  10. I'm behind on these films. Spiderman isn't my favorite, but I do enjoy a good summer movie in this vein!

  11. I suspect don't see it in 3-D is the most important advise you gave, here.

  12. I'm excited about the special effects in this movie. The only other super hero movie I always look forward to is Iron man. :)

  13. i love anything spiderman so one day i will get to see it. great review or opinions. ( :

  14. I had to pop by to read your review, which was excellent, as your reviews always are! This was a really fun movie! My kids seem to enjoy the Andrew Garfield Spiderman more than the previous franchise. I've enjoyed both:).

  15. Great review! I liked how the movie focused on characters and not just action and special effects. All the flying around in 3D was a bit intense, but the scenes with Electro made up for that.


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