FRESH POUR: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

Clint takes a look at one or two new releases that come out each week –just a short look at what’s being released in theaters, along with some drinking rules for your own perusal.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2Amazing Spider Man 2
Dir. Marc Webb
Sony/Columbia Pictures

The Amazing Spider-Man, the first in the new reboot series of web-slinging films starring Andrew Garfield, was a flawed but interesting way to reinvent the franchise. Garfield’s Peter Parker was the kind of snarky ass that Spider-Man could be, and they really captured the incredibly acrobatic and compelling way he could move throughout his environment. The film was also smartly centered around his relationship with Gwen Stacy – director Marc Webb comes from romantic dramedies (500 Days of Summer), and his forte is clearly in developing those dynamics between flawed young sweethearts. One of the biggest complaints with ASM was that it took itself a bit too seriously, which made me excited to see that Amazing Spider-Man 2 was going in a campier direction. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go quite far enough, turning it into a tonal nightmare that gave me a bit of cinematic whiplash.

Some time after the first film, Peter Parker (Garfield) has settled into a comfortable relationship with Gwen while fighting crime, though he feels guilty about breaking the promise to her dead dad (who somewhat goofily appears to him in some pacing-breaking moments) to leave her alone. Meanwhile, Oscorp head Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper) dies, leaving estranged son Harry (Dane DeHaan) to take over the company and rekindle an old friendship with Peter. Also, Spider-Man superfan Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) falls into a pit of electric eels, turning him into energy-generating rage monster Electro. Meanwhile, Harry and Peter find out some dirty secrets about their fathers, leading them to a confrontation which costs someone their life (HINT: It’s neither of them).

Like before, Garfield and Stone’s relationship and chemistry help hold the film up, though some scenes turn them into THAT annoying couple – the first scene in the middle where they reconnect after a breakup, with their minutes-long establishing of ‘ground rules’ to not turn the other on, just reminds you of those couples talking baby talk to each other and nuzzling their noses in public. Luckily, that scene is an anomaly, and their remaining scenes are fun and charming, if a little protracted. Seriously, if you cut out the adorable stammering and restarting of sentences and just had the characters say what they need to say, the scene would be over in half the time. However, with the way this film ends, I’m not sure how bad ASM 3 will be without one of the few things that make it work.

The other actors acquit themselves decently, but are hampered by some crappy material. DeHaan, who I loved in a similar role in Chronicle, channels the same kind of impotent rage and disappointment into Harry, but his transformation into a gurning, over-the-top villain comes too abruptly to work. Jamie Foxx does what he can as well, but his motivations are equally murky; it’s a Riddler/Poison Ivy situation where he starts out as a needy geek, but then just turns on Spider-Man because he doesn’t immediately remember his name. (Names are a big thing for Electro.) The film tries to establish him as the main villain, but his story gets sidetracked by turning him into Goblin’s henchman, as the filmmakers need their myriad storylines to connect by the end. It’s a bit disappointing to watch, though I actually strangely like Foxx’s day-glo look as Electro.

There’s a running theme of loss and father figures – all three main characters miss their dad to some extent, and have to deal with their sins. In Peter’s case, he has to find out that his dad loved him after all (which we learn in a protracted, dull and unnecessary prologue following his parents on board a plane besieged by assassins). Peter also has to deal with Gwen’s dad guilting him beyond the grave to leave his daughter alone, and Harry must find out where he fits into his father’s legacy. Max sees Spider-Man as a friend only to feel betrayed by him, and Aunt May still struggles with the loss of Uncle Ben. She deals with it in a weird way, deciding to pack up all his shit and put it away because it’s just time to let go, I guess. (Sally Field still breaks my heart in this one, though, with her subplot about taking nursing classes despite her age just to support Peter.) Despite this running theme, the film distracts itself with so much other padding, and fumbles the ball a bit on what to actually say about these characters with daddy issues.

As for the production itself, it’s appropriately slick, though the CG feels a little more sloppy and rubbery than the first time around. Zimmer’s score is more consistent and less over-the-top than Horner’s work in the first, but not by much. The attempt to create a pop-star supergroup (The Magnificent Six, with artists like Junkie XL and Pharell Williams) to help compose the film is an interesting idea, but it falls flat with the atonal, tone-deaf score that doesn’t know what to do with itself. I even somewhat prefer Horner’s triumphant main theme to Zimmer’s obnoxious, overly-chippy melody. The only parts that work are some of the more standard action beats, and the dubstep-inspired Mickey Mousing of Electro’s powers; if they’d left out the Staind-esque menacing whispering from the soundtrack, though, I’d have been happy.

Overall, the film handles its overstuffed nature better than Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, but it is still a step down from the ambitions of the first film. It’s an active disappointment that a film this ambitious is so damn sloppy and mishandled. Still, there are enough single great moments in it that I can’t say to skip it altogether. Just give it a rental sometime; maybe it will age better than we thought.

Clint’s Verdict: Worth a Watch

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Drinking Game:
1) Drink whenever you see a character who is supposed to be dead (e.g. Harry, Gwen and Peter’s dads, etc.)
2) Drink anytime someone calls Electro (Jamie Foxx) by his real name, Max
3) Drink every time you hear voices in the soundtrack
Finish Your Drink When:
Spidey (Andrew Garfield) says, “A god named Sparkles?!”

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About Clint Worthington

Clint Worthington is a Chicago-based film critic and podcaster. A member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle, you can find his other film work at Consequence of Sound, Crooked Marquee and UPROXX. He is also the co-host of Nathan Rabin's Happy Cast.

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