Tuesday, May 20, 2014

I saw Amazing Spider-Man 2, and then I typed up a bunch of words about it. These are those words.

A scene from Amazing Spider-Man 2, before they added the CGI.
I didn't really care for the first Amazing Spider-Man film (discussed here), nor did I really care about it,  to the point that I didn't even bother going to see it in the theater, and eventually seeing it on DVD many months after its opening weekend, I didn't feel like I had made a mistake and waiting to do so at all (I don't know; did that scene of wounded Spidey swinging from crane to crane look so great on the big screen it fundamentally altered the quality of the film?).

This time, however, I went to see it opening weekend, so, if nothing else, they did a much better job of selling this movie, putting together a better series of trailers, and reportedly packing it with villains in a more logical fashion than most too-many-villains superhero movies (these ones all seem/seemed to come from the same place, as Oscorp was suggested to be something of a Spider-Man villain factory in the previous film, so putting multiple Spider-villains in the same movie didn't seem like it would present the same sort of problems as putting, say, Morbius The Living Vampire, Kraven the Hunter and Carnage in the same movie).

Overall, I enjoyed going to see the film; it was a positive, film-going experience. It was a pretty fun movie. Was it a good movie? Well, probably not. It was a better movie, which is a good thing for a sequel to be. It certainly wasn't Amazing, but then, Not-That-Bad Spider-Man or Better-Than-The-Previous-Spider-Man Spider-Man are both probably too long to fit on most marquees, more accurate than Amazing Spider-Man  though they may be.

Here are some of the thoughts I jotted down in the week after I saw the movie, which I never assembled into anything resembling a formal review structure.

THINGS THAT I THOUGHT WERE GOOD

I still really like Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker/Spider-Man. I didn't think Tobey Maguire's was bad at all, but I do like Garfield's better, simply because he seems like a truer, more accurate version of the Peter Parker I knew from the comic books. I like his slim, skinny, slightly gawky build, in and out of the suit (in the suit, he looks like he should be outmatched by pretty much everyone he goes up against, making his super-strength all the more fantastic and alien, and making him a pretty clear underdog). I also like the fact that this Spider-Man is the confident, quippy, funny, motormouth version of the character from the comics, which has more to do with the screenwriters and director than Garfield, sure, but Garfield's the one who sells it (In the original trilogy, Spider-Man seemed to quiet and serious when wearing his mask).

Emma Stone is still very good as Gwen Stacy, and I think she works better in this movie as Peter's on-again, off-again girlfriend than as the love interest she was in the first. The pair were so clearly made for one another in the original film that their love story lacked much in the way of drama. Here at least they're already coupled.

The pair of actors still have a remarkable chemistry together, and the best parts of the film are still those between Garfield's Peter and Stone's Gwen. There just aren't enough of those scenes.

Dane DeHaan is excellent as Harry Osborn. Like Stone and Garfield, he seems young enough for the part, and actual teenager in a world bigger than him. They gave hims some awesome evil-guy hair, costumed him nicely, and DeHaan played the at times complicated role to the hilt. His relationship with his estranged father, the surprisingly hardly-there Chris Cooper (he gets one scene...maybe two, if you count his appearance in a Oscorp promotional film) is good, and probably wouldn't have even worked dramatically in the film if not played so well by DeHaan. There are major structural problems with the film, as DeHaan is introduced as Parker's long lost childhood best friend who suddenly appears out of the blue, but, again, DeHaan strives pretty heroically to make it all work. (I thought James Franco was a fine Harry, by the way, and was a believable best friend and romantic rival of Maguire's Parker; what DeHaan lacks in alpha dog appeal, he makes up for in sneaky, simmering emotions and, again, evil hair. Comic book Harry was defined by his weird-ass hair, so it was good to see a movie Harry with evil hair, albeit more realistic evil hair than that strange, wavy, widow-peaked hair artist Steve Ditko gave comic Harry.

I rather enjoyed the completely cast-off nature of The Rhino's appearance (which is much more brief than trailers would have you believe). Comic book supervillains don't all need operatic origins, motivations and plotlines. Many of them, especially of the sort Spidey so regularly butts heads with, are simply thugs and/or bank robbers in goofy costumes, so filmmakers really shouldn't be so hesitant to stick a new villain in just a scene or two of a movie.

They pretty radically redesign the character—which is fine, given the goofiness of the original design, which is maybe one of those things like Benjamin Grimm or Ghost Rider that doesn't really translate to live-action—so that here he's a little, angry man (Paul Giamatti, who seems an awfully expensive guy to cast in one-note role that anyone could have played) operating a big, robotic suit that can transform from a bipedal rhino-man robot to a charging, guadrapedal, rhino-shaped robot-like tank, all tricked out with guns and missiles.

The Rhino appears in the denouement, in a never-concluded battle with Spider-Man that ends just before the credits begin.

Sally Field's Aunt May is good. She seems closer to the middle-aged Ultimate Aunt May from Brian Michael Bendis' Ultimate Spider-Man comics than the frailer, older, frailer version of the original comics, which Rosemary Harris played in the first trilogy. Field does a fine job with a relatively small role, getting at least two really good scenes, a comic one in which she and Peter argue about doing one another's laundry, and another when she finally reveals all she knows about Peter's parents.

The action is, once again, very well done. Granted, a lot of it is done with CGI, and the climactic battle between Spider-Man and Electro in the middle of some kind of power plant looks like it is from a very expensive video game, but even that has some nice effects with the electricity and Spidey's jumping and agility.

The best action scene by far is the opening one, in which Spider-Man foils a robbery of uranium from Oscorp by a gang of Russian bad-guys (lead by Giamatti). It mixes action with comedy in a fun way (I really liked that foot grab Spidey does with his sticky feet), and there are some inventive uses of webbing in the scene, as there are throughout the film (Strangely absent is a scene in which Spidey insulates his fists with webbing so as to better punch Electro, a stapble of Spider-Man vs. Electro fights).

Overall, I thought the film is much, much better than Amazing Spider-Man, but still not as good as any of the first three films. (Yes, even Spider-Man 3, dammit. That film had its problems, but they were mostly structural, and came down from the studio essentially making two tangentially related movies with the same characters on top of one another; that's the problem with this movie too, only they're making like four and a half movies on top of one another).

THINGS THAT I THOUGHT WERE BAD

Still no J. Jonah Jameson, who J.K. Simmons was born to play, played so extraordinarily well in three films, and could quite easily have been included in this trilogy of films. What's worse, is Jameson is mentioned and appears via email, but that's it. JJJ via email!

As I said, there are pretty major structural problems with the movie. The entire Osborn plot seems like something that should have stretched across two films, with Harry and his dad having been introduced in the previous film and completing their particular character arcs here (or, alternately, being introduced in this film, and completing their character arcs at some point in the next film, which is obviously inevitable, given all the groundwork laid in this one).

The Mr. and Mrs. Parker, super-spy stuff was even more awkwardly grafted-on in this film than in the previous one. For one thing, a movie that is already overlong and overstuffed opens with a scene of The Parkers trying to flee the country with a laptop full of sensitive stuff, and being killed after a fight scene aboard their private jet (?). I have no idea how that scene survived the editors' knives.

The plot is returned to throughout the film, climaxing in a weird scene where Peter, after redecorating his room with a laughable serial killer's yarn, maps, post-it notes and news clippings decor, finally figures out clues to the mystery haunting him his own life, why his parents abandoned him (He does this mostly by Googling, oddly enough). Peter then discovers his father's super-secret, superhero-like headquarters, some research and a last message, in which Parker the elder says he is running away and abandoning his son to keep him safe...while also pointing out that his spider-man genetic research was conducted using his own DNA, so the super-serum derived from it would only work on him. Or, you know, someone who shares his DNA. Like, let's see...Oh, yeah, his son! So he ran away in part to protect his son, but then sent a message out to whoever might find it pointing out that if they really want to experiment on someone in order to extract the necessary genetic material or whatever they will need to build an army of spider-soldiers, they're going to have to go after his son.

That...doesn't make much sense.

Man, what was up with that Dr. Kafka bit...? He seemed like a character from Dr. Strangelove who accidentally wandered into the wrong film. I understand (though didn't while watching) that he is character from the comics (but he was a she in the comics), but tonally he didn't really seem to fit, and the name was so pseudo-smart cartoony it just fucking annoyed me.

I didn't understand the deal with Spider-Man's webbing, how strong it is, how long it lasts before dissolving, and so on. I guess I don't recall if that was ever discussed in the first film, and the "rules" of the webbing weren't discussed in this film at all, but, throughout, it's shown to be pretty weak.

Giamatti's pre-Rhino character is able to yank a cannister of plutonium from webbing early one, and later Gwen Stacy is able to cut her hand free from some webbing using either a nail file or a pocket knife. Later, during a very pivotal scene set during one of the movies three or four climaxes, a very important strand of webbing is severed by the gear of a clock turning, which doesn't seem sufficient to sever the comic book webbing, and if I think too much about it in the film, it only confuses me.

The webbing is strong enough to support 120+ pound of British hunk plunging from atop skyscrapers, and catch speeding automobiles, but can bet cut by gears and nail files, or torn apart by Paul Giamatti...?

This is really only important because the most important scene in the film is premised on a bit of Spidey's webbing being cut.

I didn't understand why Electro heard a rap song about his own mental state during his first encounter with Spider-Man after getting his electrical powers (via electrical eels, keeping with the Everyone Gets Animal Powers From Oscorp theme; even the Green Goblin in this film gets his powers from the Parker/Osborn spider-venom, mixed with a genetic disease that plagues the Osborn family). There are some odd, awfully annoying musical choices in the film, which had me thinking of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark throughout. (Hey, given how damn dangerous a stage show that seems, maybe they should just make a feature film out of it, and use green screens and CGI for all the risky stunts...?)

Hey, you all know what happens to Gwen Stacy at the end, right? That was maybe the weirdest structural part of the film, as Electro is presented as the major villain throughout the entire film, until the very end, at which point Harry Osborn turns himself into the Green Goblin. After the climactic Electro/Spider-Man fight, in which Spidey defeats his foe, The Green Goblin literally just swoops in from out of nowhere, picks up Gwen, and the climactic battle of the film is suddenly followed by a tacked-on, second climactic fight. Despite foreshadowing the hell out of it—almost every word out of Gwen's mouth revolves around the fragility of life—the Goblin fight and his interest in hurting her still seems to come out of nowhere.

Jamie Foxx does a pretty good job of being Max Dillon, radically rewritten into a completely different character, so as to better tie him to Oscorp, and is okay as the more emotionless Electro. I didn't really like his design though, which, as he gains power, casts him as a floating, glowing blue god-like being of pure power. He looked a little too much like Doctor Manhattan of Watchmen. I've no problem with the traditionally white Dillon/Electro being played by a black man here—there was never anything in the character's origin or essential characterization that mandated he be any particular race or have any particular skin color or look—but damn, there sure are a lot of black super-people with electrical powers, aren't there? Black Lightning, Black Vulcan, Storm (among her other powers), Satic Shock and now Electro.

THESE ARE THE THINGS I THOUGHT ABOUT WHILE WATCHING

—One aspect of comic book superhero-based films flowering into a mature genre ("mature" meaning "been around for a while," not "grown-up" or "the opposite of juvenile," obviously) that I've found particularly fascinating is the way that the films have begun to reflect particular aspects of the serial storytelling of the comic books themselves. The Sam Raimi trilogy of Spider-Man films, for example, represented a "run" by a particular creative team on a particular character or title. Some of the Marvel Studios movies featured "guest-stars" from other comics or franchises (even if often just in the end-credits), eventually blossoming into The Avengers, a superhero movie team made up of superheroes from several other movie stars.

While watching this poorly-structured film, in which seemingly unrelated, or barely related scenes and storylines shared the same story space, sometimes alternating with one another or intruding on one another in awkward ways, I felt like maybe this was the film equivalent of reading multiple Spider-Man monthlies by multiple creative teams, each telling their own storylines within a bigger, overarching umbrella story, simultaneously. Like, one comic by one creative team dealt with Peter Parker's relationship with Gwen Stacy and his personal problems revolving around guilt over the cost of being Spider-Man on his loved ones. Another comic book followed Electro's journey into villainy, and his rivalry with Spider-Man. Another still followed Harry Osborn and his relationship with Peter and Spider-Man.

Structurally, the movie was a bit like a few months of Superman comics from the "triangle" era. I'm not sure if the Spider-Man comics of the '90s ever did the same—I've never read more than one Spider-Man comic on a monthly basis—but that's what Amazing Spider-Man 2 felt like to me, a trade paperback collection of a bunch of distinct but related units from multiple comics titles.

—I was actually surprised that Gwen Stacy died. The fact that Gwen Stacy dies is so ingrained in comics book history and knowledge, and the film did such a thorough job of teasing that death, including giving Gwen agency in her own demise (during the fight with Electro, where she's like, "I'm going to go into that building and do something heroic, even though it's at the risk of my own life, Peter," and he's all, "No Gwen, you might get picked up by a new enemy on a flying mechanical glider, dropped from a great height and die, and then I'll feel horrible!" and she's like, "It's my choice to die in that exact manner, Peter, not yours!"), that I thought she might actually survive. It certainly would have been a more surprising, more unexpected, more suspenseful, more dramatic ending if she did survive.

The actual death is quite different than the infamous comic book bridge incident; I didn't hear a snap, and her head wasn't lolling around as if her neck snapped. The scene where the web catches her mere feet from the ground is pretty ambiguous (did the back of her head hit the ground?), and there are long, long seconds in which Peter cradles her body, which shows no visible wounds, calling her name, that I became convinced she was going to open her eyes and be alright.

Those moments were definitely the most emotionally charged ones in the film and, like I said, I was honestly unsure if she was going to be okay or not, and they leave you hanging for an uncomfortably long time.

—I thought the "teaser" for X-Men: Days of Future Past was really dumb. It was basically just a commercial for the film, as in it looked like scenes from the film, cut extremely quickly together.

—It was cool that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko got credits in the movie, but they seemed off. If I'm recalling correctly, they read "Based on the comic books by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko," which isn't quite right, as the film is actually based on comic books based on comic books by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, or based on comic books based on other comic books based on their comics. "Based on the characters created by..." or "Spider-Man created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko" would have made more sense.

—The movie got me thinking about how Warner Brothers should approach their DC Comics superhero movies. It seems like they are actually taking a cue from this film and are going to seed Batman Vs. Superman, or whatever they're calling it, with set-up for a Justice League movie and perhaps, but not likely, individual movies featuring the non-Superman, non-Batman Justice Leaguers (The studio's bizarre adversity to a Wonder Woman film and the fact that other Leaguers like Flash seem to be getting pretty good-looking TV shows makes me think that unlikely).

This studio seems to be trying to turn the film adaptation of Spider-Man into the Spider-Man corner of the Marvel Universe, the source of a franchise (in addition to the next Amazing Spider-Man film, they've already mentioned the development of a Venom and/or Sinister Six movie. Additionally, if these keep selling well enough, it doesn't seem like it would be too hard to movies featuring various lieutenant Spider-Men, like a Miles Morales Spider-Man or a Jessica Drew Spider-Woman. At some point, they could convert Harry into a good guy to oppose worse bad guys in his own movie, I guess. Or, depending on how they develop Felicia Hardy, introduced briefly in this film as Harry's loyal personal assistant, Black Cat could conceivably star in a film (provided 2004's Catwoman didn't make superhero movies starring women dressed in cat-suits something no studio will dare until a generation passes from this earth).

They're doing the same, or at least seem interested in doing the same, with the X-Men.

Similarly, DC could turn Superman into a franchise bigger than just making Superman movies; a Supergirl spin-off with a cameo or brief appearance by Superman wouldn't be inconceivable, for example. Maybe a Superboy or Steel movie would be possible too, depending on how deeply that Shaquille O'Neal film has wounded the psyches of all who have seen it (which, thankfully, isn't all that many). Or a Legion of Super-Heroes movie. Such Superman spin-off movies would also provide an opportunity for all those awesome, never-used Superman villains to finally make it onto the big screen.

And then, of course, there's Batman. There will always be an audience for Batman films, and if they can keep a single franchise with a single Batman and his supporting cast going long enough, there's no reason they couldn't spin-off a Batgirl movie (which, odd as it may sound, actually seems more likely to me than a Robin movie) or a Catwoman movie (Although, again, I think there's that specter of Halle Berry's Catwoman; I would hope its obvious to all that it wasn't the character of Catwoman, who wasn't even really in the film, that sunk the Catwoman film. I think people really liked Anne Hathaway's portrayal of the "real" Catwoman, and I think a movie featuring that character with that star woulda done okay. Better than the last Catwoman or, say, Elektra, anyway. Those seem to be the two movies that scare all the studios away from superheroine movies).

—I spent a fair amount of time during and after the movie trying to get to six supervillains for the next movie, and/or a Secret Six movie. This movie does a lot of teasing. In addition to introducing Electro, The Rhino and Green Goblin, there' s a bit at the end (and during the end credits), where we see a set of Doctor Octopus arms and Vulture wings. (and right before The Rhino attacks, an imprisoned Harry Osborn tells an underling in a hat whose name I didn't catch, but who the credits on IMDb make me think must have been Alistair Smythe—do correct me if I'm wrong, though, as I heard Osborn refer to him as "Mr. Somethingorother,"but didn't catch the surname—that when he moves against Spider-Man, he doesn't want to use an army, but keep it small. They start with recruiting the imprisoned and pissed-at-Spidey Giamatti to be The Rhino).

Anyway, Green Goblin, Electro, Rhino, Doctor Octopus, The Vulture—that's only five. Smythe would make six, I guess. But I think Electro is dead at the end, which would drop them back down to four or five. But then, energy can neither be created nor destroyed, right, and Electro is eventually converted into a pure, sentient electricity before his dispersal. So maybe he could return.

As I said, Felicia Hardy is introduced in this film, and is closely associated with Osborn. Given the fact that the company is all about giving people animal-derived powers, it seems likely she could be given super cat-powers and be a member of the Secret Six, and also serve as Peter's new love interest.

The Scorpion seems like a good candidate for a brand-new villain, as he would seem to fit in with the animal-powers/animal-technology theme they have going with The Rhino, Vulture and Doctor Octopus.

I wouldn't mind Mysterio or The Chameleon, particularly since their illusion powers and master-of-disguise schtick would allow for things like Emma Stone or Dennis Leary appearing in another Spider-Man film, even if its only playing illusions of themselves/The Chameleon-playing-them.

Anyway, I did a lot of time counting and thinking about Spider-Man villains.

—Speaking of which, can Spider-Man movies use The Kingpin? I know he was in The Daredevil movies, and I think Marvel Studios got Daredevil back, but since The Kingpin is also a Spider-Man villain, does that mean he can appear in both Daredevil and Spider-Man movies, regardless of what studio controls those franchises, in the same way that Quicksilver is appearing in both the next X-Men and the next Avengers movies...?

THIS IS WHAT MY FRIEND HAD TO SAY ABOUT THE MOVIE

I went to see Amazing Spider-Man 2 with a friend. We got to see it kinda sorta free because she bought the video game based on the movie, and it included two free tickets or something...? She laughed during Gwen's valedictorian speech, in which she practically predicts her own death, and how often she talked about dying and death throughout the movie. She also laughed during the black out, when Aunt May displayed such a take-charge attitude in the hospital ("I thought she was studying to be a nurse, not run the hospital," she whispered).  She also wondered why The Rhino just stood by for an interminable few minutes while Spider-Man swung in to have a talk with that kid dressed like Spider-Man before their fight, rather than just gunning Spidey down when he wasn't looking. She said Gwen Stacy's death was her favorite part of the film; not that she didn't like the character or was happy she was dead or anything, she just thought it was a well-made bit of movie. Unlike me, she had no doubts that Gwen would die.

2 comments:

googum said...

My 16-year old son was surprised--if not horrified--by Gwen's death. He's not a big comics reader, so I had to tell him she's been dad for what, forty years to me. (Still surprised me a little, since you really want it to not happen.)

culturewarreporters.com said...

You can take this however you'd like, but I decided to watch this movie in part because I wanted to read what you said about it, and now wish that I had read this first and not seen the film because I really did not enjoy it almost at all.

The fact that Richard and Mary Parker's plot could've been excised completely at no detriment to the film is criminal.