‘I’ ON CULTURE
The new movie The Amazing Spider-Man 2 does everything a sequel should do: make the villain(s) more interesting, the hero more heroic, the special effects even more special. And, to a large degree, it does work. The movie, rather too long at two hours and 20 minutes, is good. It holds attention and has some good moments. On the other hand, it is not great. The second film in the Captain America series, out only a few weeks, was superb. This new movie is just pretty good.
Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) has become a bit of a wise guy in his dual roles: He likes to have fun and toy with the nasty villains. In the opening, a very long sequence, he manages to save the city from terrorists stealing plutonium while managing to do wisecracks almost as good as Tony Stark (Ironman), and managing to get to his own high school graduation just in time to collect his diploma and lay a hot kiss on girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), the valedictorian.
But she’s thinking of heading off to England for college, and he’s torn up because at the end of the last movie, her father demanded he promise to stay away from her during a deathbed scene. He wants to hold to the promise, but he still loves her. Then there are new complications. Aunt May (Sally Field) tells him his father was called a traitor, and his best friend, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) returns from a 10-year exile but is dying from the same rare disease that killed his father, Norman, who was the big villain in the first movie. Peter is very torn.
In the meantime, Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), a brilliant nerd who designed New York’s electrical grid, admires Spider-Man. But, put upon greatly by evil Oscorp executives, he winds up electrocuted and becomes Electro, who can absorb huge amounts of electricity and let it out really fast. At first he is confused and a bit pathetic, but that changes as Spider-Man defeats him and he is sent to an Oscorp mental institution where, in a scene reminiscent of old World War II movies, a scientist with a heavy Germanic accent (Marton Csokas) tells him that he is now pretty much a science sample who will give up his secrets through pain. While that is going on, Harry tries to get Spider-Man’s blood and has his economic power taken away by the evil executives at Oscorp. He releases Electro and uses him to break into the company and gets a sample of the special medication that would presumably help him heal. It turns him into a new version of Green Goblin, and he and Electro begin an attack that eventually leads to tragedy.
The cast is good. Garfield is a far more interesting hero than most similar characters. He has doubts and lets the audience see it. Unfortunately, some of them have become tics. He has a way of pausing before speaking that, used over and over and over, becomes annoying. DeHaan is good as Harry. It is easy to sympathize with him before he becomes a monster. And Foxx’s Max seems far more sinned against than evil, although in the end, he becomes a horrendous villain.
Stone is by far the best performer. She gives a well-rounded effect to Gwen. She is brilliant, brave and real. In many ways, she is the hero of the film. She is not a superhero; she only has her brains and guts, and she uses them. Stone shows those elements, but also a warmth, a generosity and the kind of toughness that makes it clear she could be a superhero if she got some powers.
The film moves quickly at times, mostly to give the impression that it is better plotted than it truly is. The villains are pathetic personalities, ruined by their sudden superpowers. And Spider-Man still has to deal with his own self-doubts, his desire to rehabilitate his father’s reputation, his love for Gwen. Spidey has long been one of the most modern of the superheroes. In a way, he is the Woody Allen of the Marvel Group. He tries to be a normal guy but enjoys the challenge of being a superhero too much to stop while recognizing that it is also screwing up his life.
That makes his movies more entertaining but somewhat limited. Still, it’s a nice summer flick. See it.