(DL) – This is a detailed spoiler-free review of Spider-Man 2.
Spider-Man is now The Amazing Spider-Man with Andrew Garfield as the hero Peter Parker. In the first reboot we were encouraged by what appeared to be a more accurate retelling of Spider-Man in the Marvel universe. In this second episode we find many elements such as Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jamison are missing and while it has not entirely diverged from canon, The Amazing Spider-Man reboot is falling apart as a faithful representation. There are homage's to the comic book series such as the iconic time of (1:21 am) for those in the know. There is also Gwen Stacy dressed in film and standing in settings exactly as drawn in the 1973 issue (#121) comic book panels giving the impression director Marc Webb wants to deliver a Spider-Man that true believers will accept. Purist will debate that homages are not canon. A great deal of concerns exist in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Largely due in part from the 2002-2007 Tobey Maquire Spider-Man trilogy. In it key plot points belonging to Gwen Stacy were applied to Mary Jane Watson making it awkward and not good business for film makers to more accurately retell in this relaunch of the franchise.
Spider-Man 2 released in 2004 where Spider-Man took on Doctor Octopus is considered the best Spider-Man story on film yet. The bar was set high. Now in 2014 Spider-Man faces off with... Electro? Or is it Green Goblin - and which one? This sophomore installment of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 does fall short of the 2004 Doc Ock masterpiece, yet it is still a fun ride. Just don't expect too much, more changes hold it back than advance it.
What works? Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey. Their off screen relationship may be the cause of such an acceptable screen pairing. Andrew Garfield is better as the witty wise-cracking web slinger, complete with body motions that convey a humor going beyond static text bubbles explaining what actions can't. Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborn even before he takes the helm as a future Green Goblin is both truly menacing and endearing all in the same breath. Just to look at him you hope he doesn't have an evil thought or you're doomed. Another reason this Spider-Man is well worth seeing is that it was filmed entirely on location in New York City. New York is as much a live character as any animate object. It's energy is authentic with little CGI (computer generated graphics) necessary.
What doesn't work? Electro. Not Jamie Foxx, but the design of the character and the manner in which his interpretation isn't in line with the original creation of Electro's persona. A smart change was avoiding the dated green and yellow suit with lightning bolts crossing his face. That would have camped up the film. Jamie Foxx executes Max Dillon effortlessly, if Max was ever written as a self-pitying soul. Max makes an understandable character change in the story, but limits in strength are not easily conveyed.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 continues Sony and director Marc Webb's reboot of Spider-Man with more respect to the authenticity the original stories found in 1 through 700 run of Amazing Spider-Man than the early 2000's branding by director Sam Raimi. After all, one key give-away is the addition of the word, 'Amazing'. That one word tells us this Spider-Man on film will be modeled after the comic book, The Amazing Spider-Man. Does this make the reboot 'Superior'?
The answer is, yes in the first film, but no in this second installment. The action is great fun and it's clear the plot of the first The Amazing Spider-Man will carry on through the series. The bad news is all the equity in respect to the stewardship in what appeared to be a true path along canon is gone in episode two.
The challenge in taking on Spider-Man is delivering both a simple escape of a fun family super hero action adventure with care for authenticity to canon – those collected sacred comic books that made Spider-Man on film possible in the first place. The readers require respect to canon and the criticism can't be avoided.
This new re-telling on film is a great family friendly effort. It does however fall short to the true believers. Fan boys. The comic book readers that know canon will debate many flaws that are not only unsatisfying, one also feels cut short in delivering the goods. The blame can be partially cast on the first series with Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man where many plot points were substituted for others and having done that, they couldn't be used once again in this reboot.
The upgrade to Andrew Garfield keeps this franchise from falling apart. His interaction with citizens of New York embodies what Spider-Man is all about. Sam Raimi's Spider-Man with Tobey Maguire gave us a great Peter Parker, but a not so great Spider-Man. Maguire's lack of irreverent casual humor in the face of danger never really mimicked the Spider-Man every kid and adult has known and loved in print. Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man and Peter Parker is more true to the character on both fronts.
One thing that sticks out is the return to the brick sublimated raised webbing Spider-Man costume used in the Sam Raimi trilogy. Trilogy is a bit of misnomer, Raimi intended a longer series but it ended early after Spider-Man 3 bombed hard with the horrible interpretation of Venom and weak Sandman villain character. For the record Raimi could have made a fourth and fifth Spider-Man but felt he couldn't meet a deadline for Sony in producing a film that would close the series on a high note, the series abruptly ended at three. What seems to have survived his legacy is the beautifully designed Spider-Man suit. It's back without any off screen explanation as of yet. If that isn't confusing enough, there is also no explanation given in the film as to why Peter Parker no longer has the rubberized 3D raised painted cell pattern suit.
This newer, Amazing Spider-Man franchise has taken liberties outside of canon that are plausible and palatable. A new back story to Peter Parker's parents death is woven into the Oscorp story line. If you missed the first film, a short revisiting to Peter Parker's parents death brings all audience members up to speed. The first installment of The Amazing Spider-Man set up this second leg with great expectations with its many references to Oscorp throughout the film. For those that are not familiar with the comic book, Oscorp plays a role in over 40 years of storytelling. It's the property of Norman Osborn, thus the name Oscorp. Norman's company is the reason many major characters exist. Oscorp must be handled with reverence otherwise many super villains of the future will need outlandish new origins, once again upsetting fans of the Marvel print universe.
The problem is that everyone combined believes any Spider-Man on film is the same one in print. Spider-Man is Spider-Man. The key to a good live action based superhero film is leveraging canon; faithfully. This is why the Fox produced X-Men series is picking up speed. It is why The Avenger's super hero team up and solo adventures are hitting a homerun at every at bat on film. Here in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are once again getting a taste of canon but not quite. Sony is somehow not getting the memo that wandering off that path is a recipe of failure. Is it the fault of Sony entirely that key story lines and plot points in the print version of Spider-Man's existence where told out of order in the first Spider-Man trilogy featuring Tobey Maguire? Whoever is to blame by doing so, it made it implausible to use them in this reboot. Without spoiling anything for anyone watching The Amazing Spider-Man 2, do you recall the first Spider-Man trilogy from 2002? There was a seminal moment in Spider-Man's existence which was taken from one female character and applied to an entirely different female character in reverse making it bad storytelling to repeat properly in this ASM-2 reboot. Retelling that iconic moment in the proper timeline with the proper character would most likely deliver a non-pay off to anyone watching ASM-2 despite being true to the original story. It seems the only way Spider-Man will be told in an ongoing movie series is to wait years for Sony to relinquish the film licensing back to Marvel and a final proper reboot take place. For now we must suffer an odd alternate lie of what Spider-Man is. And this lie of Spider-Man tries hard to tell the truth.
What's the best way to tell a lie? Stay as true to the truth as you can. But the problem with lies, is that more are necessary to keep from getting caught. It seems that despite ASM-2 being more true to canon than its predecessor we once again are mostly likely getting a condensed telling of Spider-Man's history that has omitted very important characters and relationships to Peter Parker and Spider-Man.
Enough of the condemnation. Is The Amazing Spider-Man 2 a worthwhile film? It's good, but not great. Sony has the Spider-Man licensing and not much else. Spider-Man with Sony is an island. Spider-Man won't join The Avengers, he can't meet the X-Men. Peter Parker's adversaries are limited perhaps that's not so bad as Spider-Man's abilities are the biggest draw to anyone in search of an escape.
Spider-Man enters the film early in grand fashion. He is dropping from the sky in freefall. This is best experienced in 3D. In these moments you too are Spider-Man. The caverns of mid-town Manhattan become your home too and you feel entirely immersed in the moment.
There is not a hint of CGI as Spider-Man springs from building to building. The accuracy of environment will leave any native New Yorker wanting more. Having screened ASM-2 in 3D was in question until this scene. There is no doubt, if any super hero is made for 3D it's Spider-Man swinging on webs. To the film makers credit it fast paced but not short or rushed.
The overall pacing of the film get's soft in the middle for character and story development but it's tolerable due to enough Spidy sightings. Spider-Man shows his purpose isn't just for big crimes, it's for any crime including street bullies. Spider-Man's dialog in film is consistent with his print counterpart. This too scores high marks and keeps the film from falling into a dull mess. The on screen chemistry between Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) is easy to accept due in part to the actual off screen romance between both actors. It certainly helps that Emma Stone looks more true to the drawn images comic book readers have known for years.
Villains work best when their motivation is not only clear but understandable even if it's morally wrong. They have their own ethics and as long as you are guided through their emotional gauntlet and see the world through their eyes, you accept them. We get a number of bad guys in ASM-2, from Electro and Rhino to the Green Goblin. What's wrong is that similar to the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy, once again the story is told not just out-of-order but inaccurately in relation to canon. Why should that matter? It just does. Imagine any great book with a leading character meeting friends and adversaries in a specific order and just eliminating any one of them with no solid reason or explanation. The lore is permanently confusing to anyone newly exposed to it. In this case because so many elements in the Sam Raimi Trilogy were already used, Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man can't use for fear of being redundant.
We are introduced to a new major villain, Electro played by Jamie Foxx. If you've ever played a Spider-Man video game, you know how to take down Electro. Here, we learn there is more than one, but it's almost unpalatable. Why do so many story tellers think in absolutes? While we get a solid perspective of how Electro begins as a misunderstood soul that feels betrayed on every level, his continued motivation to be bad is a stretch that is only reeled in by an almost too ironic alliance that will leave you scratching your head when you witness it.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a good fun film with a lot of flaws. In the same way it's early 2000's predecessor attempted to condense the story by telling it both out of order and flipping characters out of order – the reboot is beginning to look a bit like a failing franchise in the waiting.
There are references similar to Easter eggs, sprinkled throughout the film like cameos of Alistair Smythe (Spider-Slayer), Felicia Hardy (Black Cat) despite not having an ounce of silver white hair, and the re-imagined Dr. Kafka as this character is actually a compassionate female. Ravencroft, the penitentiary for the criminally insane. Each one of these additions feel improperly executed.
The Amazing Spider-Man (1) gave the impression this new franchise would closely follow canon. And while it does have what is intended to be a rough emotionally ending, it is flawed due to not following source material faithfully regardless of the reason behind it.
Sure it's okay to retell a story with your own touch. In many cases you can change a story's middle as long as it reaches the same end. It's even okay for similar outcomes that don't always follow convention as long as that outcome stays true to the source material. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has veered off quickly hoping one key plot point would be a big enough payoff to make this second installment a winner. It feels hollow for anyone that loves the true original story – and yes that original story is a comic book. Let's hope that Spider-Man 3 justifies all these derivations. Until then, enjoy Spider-Man 2 in 3D and yes, it's worth adding to your movie collection – especially if you collect super hero movies. Just don't expect it to pay true respect to all the characters in the current Spider-Man Marvel universe.
The Amazing Spider-Man reboot started off in line with canon, not anymore, but go see it anyway.
Trivia: Max Dillon's cake that he made for his own birthday is trimmed with Yellow and Green, the exact colors of his comic book villain suit.
Tip: Shazam the credits during the Alecia Keys tune for a reveal of "Sinister Six".