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Movie review: Amazing Spiderman 2 flawed, but satisfies

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(7 out of 10 stars)

(142 minutes)

(Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence)

 

There is an unspoken axiom in Hollywood regarding summer popcorn movies:  it is all about perspective.

More succinctly, if you are heading into a screening of “The Amazing Spiderman 2” this opening weekend, you shouldn’t expect “The Godfather” or “Casablanca” to come out the other side.

And with expectations clearly defined and the popcorn securely lodged on my lap (actually it was M&Ms, but I like the visual), I must report that Marvel’s latest edition of the rebooted arachnid superhero “The Amazing Spiderman 2” was thoroughly pleasing.

Do not let my positive feelings mislead you. This film has significant problems and if it were standing alone as a work of art, it would certainly warrant a significantly less rating. The writing was disjointed, it unpleasantly meshed two separate plot lines into an unnecessary 142-minute opus (and moved poorly between them), and given the talent of actors on the screen the director surely should have gotten better performances than he did (at least the secondary characters).

The movie’s timeline picks up from the end of the last film. Our hero, Peter Parker, wonderfully played by Andrew Garfield, and his new girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (equally as good Emma Stone) are graduating from high school and trying to figure out how future education possibilities, superhero responsibilities, and promises to dead fathers fit into their relationship going forward.  Parker also has a confluence of issues with which he is grappling.

I cannot begin to describe how much I like Garfield and Stone on-screen. In real life, it is well reported they are romantic lovers and that attraction plays electrically in the moments when they are allowed some lengthy confabulation. The moviemakers, to their credit, allowed Garfield’s natural charm and wit shine throughout the movie. As Spiderman, he was playful and his character’s joy in doing what he does clearly plays well and offers the film’s funniest moments.  His long, thin body allows him athletic positions that are captured well on camera and lend credence to his character.

Stone is equally impressive, and she has a much meatier part than in the first film. Aside from her breathtaking beauty, she is expressive and portrays a clear intellect. Without question, this movie was at its best when these two actors were together, and given the level of their talents I would have much more enjoyed this plot line standing by itself. 

Unfortunately the writers, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (who co-wrote the exceptional “Transformers” and both “Star Trek” reboots), did not leave it at that because by definition this is an action movie and there are certain expectations — such as having a bad guy who instigates blowing stuff up.

Jamie Foxx is a remarkable talent with the hardware to prove it, but as the primary evil dude, Electro, he seemed to be a mere afterthought. In my way of thinking, a film at its core should move character development along with its plot. However, Foxx’s transformation from nerdy, psychologically ill Max Dillon to a fundamentally vile villain lacked development and common sense. His anger and motivation are unclear and polluted. While the special effects were impressive, they did not create spectacle. In fact, the pinnacle of his physical appearance reminded me of a more hip Emperor from “Return of the Jedi” rather than anything original.

As villain #2, relative newcomer Dane DeHaan was thoroughly impressive — especially considering the saddle of bad writing he had to ride throughout this film. Playing the heir of the Oscorp fortune, Harry Osborn, his transformation to the Green Goblin was mundane and predictable even though his acting was quite good. The two bad guys met in one brief moment and, instead of claiming the apex of the film, it sputtered like a 1960 Edsel.

Throughout this film an impressive list of character actors made appearances that landed head-spinningly flat. Performances by Paul Giamatti, Sally Field, Felicity Jones, and Chris Cooper were simply and tragically wasted.

The CGI-generated special effects that define most action films were satisfying, but used poorly in moving any plot point forward. There is a scene where Spiderman and Electro go mano-a-mano in Times Square that was pretty remarkable, but otherwise the fight/action scenes are barely noteworthy.

Two thoughts here. First, the writers seemed to place CGI/fight scenes poorly and intermittently during the course of the film. It was almost as if they were going along with their writing and they said to themselves, “Well, I think it’s time to blow up something or crash as many NYPD cars as we can,” and did that, but then quickly went back to one of the two parallel but never meeting plot lines. 

Second, I am beginning to believe Hollywood is losing, or has lost, its ability to give us, the audience, moments of jaw-dropping awe on screen. With the seeming perfection of CGI-scenes in film, I am not sure we can be impressed or mesmerized by what we see on the big screen. A giant ape on the Empire State Building?  Lame. Aliens invading Washington D.C.?  Yawn.  Moses parting the Red Sea?  Been there, done that. These retina-burned Hollywood memories are exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to replicate any more. We have simply seen it all.  And if we have not, how do you significantly top some of the moments we have seen in the last 25 years?

Director Marc Webb of “500 Days of Summer” fame did a nice job telling the story given the poor writing, and cinematographer Daniel Mindel gave us a visually pleasing film, although there was an overuse of super-slow-motion that left me rolling my eyes in frustration after the first half dozen times. Given the already mentioned fact that most of his actor’s performances were ho-hum, Webb surely will not receive any Oscar nominations anytime soon.

However, let us not lose fact of the big picture. “The Amazing Spiderman 2” is a popcorn movie that never pretends to tickle your intellect. It has something for the young adult male (lots of action and explosions), his date (romance and kissing), and all the kids who want to see Spiderman save the world — and that is its intended audience.

Make certain you see this movie in 3D IMAX at the Carmike Grand Prairie. The filmmakers did a great job in using the 3D technology in that it’s not overpowering and quite enhances the overall experience. Moreover, the sound system there is heads and shoulders above anything else in town.

If you want to see a great summer movie, this is not it. But if you want to see an entertaining summer movie while you wait for something resembling summer to reappear outside, “The Amazing Spiderman 2” is a good choice.

I give it 7 out of 10 stars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author
Who was that mysterious man you saw in the theater last night? You tried to get a look at him but he quickly disappeared in a puff of smoke, his cackle trailing in the air, leaving behind his calling card: a half-eaten box of popcorn and a lukewarm soda. He is Our Movie Reviewer named Tim!