More crush than rush
No offense to Ben Franklin, but “death and taxes” are no longer the standard bearers for life’s ultimate certainties. Given how much longer people live now and how so many people have figured out how to avoid the IRS, anyone hanging out at a movie theater could assert that superheroes and sequels are today’s absolutes.
Now along comes “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” which of course fills both elements and is the fifth Spidey-centric film released in the last 12 years.
This new film – technically a second Spidey sequel, the benchmark “Spider-Man 2” is now 10 years old—has a lot to offer, maybe too much in fact. This film goes heavy on relationship exposition with Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and high school crush Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) going through as many on-again off again undulations as a Nicholas Sparks chick flick. If that seems an exaggeration, consider that this installment probably features more lip-locking than all the Batman franchise films combined. (Someone do the counting and get back to us.)
All this personal drama makes “The Amazing Spider-man 2” more interesting from a character standpoint than most superhero films, especially given the terrific chemistry and fine acting of Garfield and Stone. The problem is, this film is crammed with storylines and villains and the relationship-y stuff stifles the one thing most people walk into a theater to see: action and adventure.
Returning director Marc Webb and crew fashion excellent CGI throughout – Spidey’s swinging swoops and daring drops are preposterous and thrilling. They’re fun too, especially in the opening moments as Spider-Man appears to genuinely enjoy the rigors of his just-in-the-nick-of-time rescues. One of those saved is nerdy tech genius Max Dillon (portrayed hilariously by Jamie Foxx), who at first worships Spidey but who soon becomes his magnetically-charged nemesis Electro. Another villain evolves from Peter’s childhood friend Harry Osborn (played with great smoldering angst by Dane DeHaan), who will become the Green Goblin after failing to break free from the disease that killed his sinister, corporate megalomaniac father (Chris Cooper). Paul Giamatti gets some screen time as well as a Russian criminal who becomes the armor-plated Rhino.
For Spider-Man fans there is a lot of juicy back-story related to Peter’s parents, his father’s pioneering but dangerous scientific work, and the constant inner conflict Peter struggles with about his role as a superhero and what he must sacrifice in order to fulfill it. And the film takes a pretty big risk to invest so much time and dialogue (instead of action) into the romance between the central characters of a comic book action movie.
But the gamble only pays off for those who don’t need incredible action sequences and truly threatening villains in their superhero films. One of the important distinguishing characteristics of the best superhero films is the inclusion of interesting, multi-layered villains who are every bit as exciting as their good-guy protagonists. Think Heath Ledger as The Joker, Tom Hiddleston as Loki, and Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor—award-winning actors all. To paraphrase director Roger Corman – the hero is only as good as the villain is bad.
“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” has more real emotion than most superhero movies, and that’s a plus for sure, but it can’t possibly compare in adventures and thrills to the great superhero films of the past –even those featuring the same web-slinger.
Rated PG-13 for action violence.