Tuesday, September 30, 2014

‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2′: Diminishing returns

Andrew Garfield;Dane DeHaan

Young gazillionaire Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), stricken with a hereditary disease that will disfigure and then kill him, begs Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) for a blood transfusion. But although the man beneath the mask regards Harry as a longtime friend, Peter genuinely believes that complying with this request could kill Harry much faster ... or do something even worse. Courtesy photo

From page A8 | May 02, 2014 |

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2″

Three stars

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Sally Field, Dane DeHaan, Colm Feore, Paul Giamatti, Felicity Jones, Campbell Scott

Rating: PG-13, for plenty of silly action violence

Effects-heavy action epic is a clumsy mess

By Derrick Bang

Enterprise film critic

Spidey’s losing his snap.

I was no fan of Sony’s numb-nuts decision to re-boot this franchise, which the studio announced shortly after the 2007 release of the previous trilogy’s final installment; it seemed the height of lunacy. Our interest is such characters derives, in part, from the way in which they respond — positively or negatively — to an ever-expanding series of events and adventures; look at the brilliantly interwoven strands that have made all the other Marvel characters (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America) so much more interesting on the big screen.

It’s no fun to see a character taken only so far — adolescent steps into a developing superhero career — and then slammed back into infancy … only a decade later.

But OK; all this aside, individual films should be judged on their own merits, even when part of an ongoing series. And, in fairness, Andrew Garfield’s debut outing as the unwitting victim of a radioactive spider bite was quite entertaining. His take on the character is captivating in a slightly different way; he’s more of a klutzy nerd than Tobey Maguire’s insecure, angst-ridden nebbish.

Plus, Garfield had the benefit of an excellent supporting cast. Emma Stone’s blond and effervescent Gwen Stacy is a reasonable substitute for Kirsten Dunst’s red-headed Mary Jane Watson (although the latter will be immortalized forever, thanks to her sweet, sexy, rain-drenched, upside-down kiss with Spidey in that series’ first entry).

Sally Field was — and is — terrific as Peter’s Aunt May; Martin Sheen was just right as Uncle Ben, and Denis Leary was properly stern and intelligent as Gwen’s father. And while the Lizard wasn’t my idea of a proper origin-story villain, scripters James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves — the latter two being Hollywood veterans with plenty of intelligent screenplays between them — delivered a thoroughly engrossing tale.

Which, for the most part, director Marc Webb managed not to screw up.

The same cannot be said for his handling of this overblown sequel.

This series always has spent too much time with Spidey’s smash-edit trapeze act through the canyons of New York City, as if the special-effects teams have been desperate to prove that yes, truly, a guy really could do this (!!!) … when the CGI fakery has been blatant all along. I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but Webb devotes even more time to vertigo-inducing web-slinging in this flick.

That is, when he’s not wasting additional time destroying police cars and massive neon signs.

Perhaps that’s because the storyline isn’t very smart to begin with. I note the absence of Sargent and Kloves; this sequel is credited to Vanderbilt, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner. Collectively, the three newcomers have plenty of sharp TV and film work behind them, but their collaboration here simply doesn’t gel. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is something of a mess, and at 142 minutes, it rapidly becomes a tedious mess.

We catch up with Peter and his alter-ego as he makes short work of a dim-bulb Russian gangster named Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti … and don’t worry; we’ll see him again). His super-heroics aside, Peter can’t come to terms with his relationship with Gwen; they truly adore each other, but there’s the matter of Peter’s promise to her father, as he died in the previous film.

The elder Stacy’s request wasn’t unreasonable: that Peter stop seeing Gwen, given the obvious dangers presented by an expanding roster of super-villains. But does Peter love her enough to leave her? And can Gwen, in turn, tolerate his doing so?

Elsewhere, under-appreciated OsCorp electrical genius Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) has been a company doormat for years. Despite having developed the revolutionary power grid that lights up the entire city, reaping untold profits for OsCorp, poor Max is forever ignored and belittled. The opportunity for revenge comes after an unlikely accident transforms him into Electro, a being able to absorb and then “throw” huge bolts of electricity.

And still elsewhere, Peter’s long-unseen childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) returns to town, just in time to witness a dying declaration from his insane father (Chris Cooper). Young Harry winds up as head of OsCorp, a surprise that causes no end of grief to Donald Menken (Colm Feore, properly sinister), the nasty board member actually running the corporation’s quite nefarious “special projects” section.

The film’s quiet second act is reasonably engaging, with its focus on down-to-earth matters. Garfield and Stone share some nice chemistry; their wistful performances, as Peter and Gwen try to sort things out, can’t help evoking familiar feelings in any couples who’ve tried to navigate the divide of separate career paths. (Peter’s path just happens to be, well, rather unusual.)

Similarly, we get some solid pathos in Peter’s reunion with Harry, who confesses that he has the same hereditary disease that killed his father. Harry believes that a blood transfusion from Spider-Man might save him; Peter finds this unlikely, even potentially dangerous … and, of course, he’s not in a position to admit that Harry’s actually talking to Spider-Man.

DeHaan does a nice job as Harry, initially eliciting our sympathy before slowly turning into a very, very creepy guy.

Indeed, he’s a much better villain than Foxx, who’s completely wasted in this film: as capriciously abused as Max Dillon is by OsCorp. Foxx’s early scenes as the “normal” Max overplay the man’s anxieties to the point of laughable camp; later, as Electro, there isn’t enough Jamie Foxx to even give a performance. The character is pure CGI.

More to the point, this Electro is stupidly powerful: far more so than his comic book counterpart. Even Thor would have trouble dealing with an opponent who can literally travel through power lines, appear and dissolve into thin air, drain an entire city’s power and hurl lightning bolts without warning … and Spider-Man ain’t no Thor. At least, he shouldn’t be … but in this film’s handling, he displays an upgrade that makes him seem more like a cross between Superman and the Flash.

This series has made a mantra of Peter’s beloved Uncle Ben’s sage observation: “With great power, comes great responsibility.” I can supply a corollary: With absurd power, comes lack of interest.

Maguire’s Spider-Man got believably battered and nearly killed, during his climactic battle with the Green Goblin in the 2002 film. Aside from incurring a few bruises, Garfield’s Spider-Man seems invulnerable … and that’s not the Spidey I know and love. It’s also ridiculous.

So is Marton Csokas’ performance as an ill-advised character dubbed Dr. Ashley Kafka, who oversees the torture — ah, treatment — of the super-powered lunatics incarcerated at the Ravencroft Institute for the Criminally Insane (Marvel’s answer to Batman’s Arkham Asylum).

Kafka is a sniggering burlesque, possibly suggested by Peter Sellers’ long-ago performance as Dr. Strangelove. The essential point is that Kafka’s presence eradicates any notion that we should take this film seriously, just as Richard Pryor completely ruined Christopher Reeve’s earnest work in 1983’s “Superman III.”

It’s a fatal mistake: merely one of many made by Webb and his collaborators.

Credit where due, this scripting team does concoct a clever back-story for Peter’s mysteriously vanished parents, along with a savvy explanation for why that radioactive spider bite had such a specific impact on Peter himself. I also appreciate the faithful nod toward Marvel Comics lore, and longtime fans will know whereof I speak, when a particular incident occurs.

Marvel guru Stan Lee makes his usual cameo, early on, but I can’t imagine he’s very happy with the results here. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is far from amazing; it’s actually a sad example of sophomore slump, some poignant work by Garfield, Stone and Field notwithstanding.

I see that Garfield already is attached to Spidey’s next epic, due in 2016. Let’s hope Sony surrounds him with better production talent.

— Read more of Derrick Bang’s film criticism at http://derrickbang.blogspot.com. Comment on this review at www.davisenterprise.com



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