Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

I am so behind on current movies I have more than once considered forgoing blogging altogether. But then a slow day happens and I feel so inspired that I come back. And nothing fuels my inspiration like a good superhero movie.

So, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 picks up pretty much where the first one left off, with Peter (James Garfield) and Gwen (Emma Stone) enjoying their youthful romance in between Peter's crime-fighting missions. The chemistry between the two is one of the movie's strongest points, which is unexpected, but true. Their dialogue and interactions would be painfully groan-worthy in any other setting, with any other characters, but here the actors embrace the awkwardness and nerdiness of it so thoroughly that it comes off as endearing instead. Although Peter and Gwen have serious moments, most of their time is characterized by awkward moments, flirtatious smiles, and playful exchanges, rather than trying to convey a deep, star-crossed, impenetrable bond that inspires soap-opera style monologue and dramatic breathing. I'm looking at you, Twilight!

For Peter Parker, Spider-Man is a mask-- not an expression of his real self. He has his secrets, but in general Peter is unsure of himself, shy, and deeply sensitive. This is a stark contrast to the persona of Spider-Man, who is cocky, risky, and seemingly invincible. Spider-Man lives on the edge, and Peter deals with the consequences of Spider-Man's choices. Peter is still haunted by the broken promise he made to Gwen's father not to involve her in his dangerous life, and that guilt eats him up inside knowing that Gwen too could be hurt by Spider-Man's choices. Yet for all this angst, James Garfield's delivery of Peter (thankfully) doesn't come off as just a whiny youth; he's just burdened down with more responsibility than he is mature enough to handle. Gwen for her part is no damsel in distress, which is extremely refreshing. She is a strong character with youthful emotions, but doesn't ignorantly stray into trouble every minute, which is also a nice change. In fact, any time Gwen ends up in some sort of dangerous situation, it is almost always because she herself chose to get involved, and to her credit, she doesn't generally dive into anything that's over her head. That theme of choice becomes important later when Peter must deal with his loved ones' choices and consequences.

Every superhero movie needs a really good villain, and this is where Amazing 2 falls short. At first, Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) just seems like a lonely and under-appreciated joe shmo who needs some recognition, appreciation, and friends. Although his obsession with Spider Man is unsettling, he's a fairly sympathetic character that just wants to be noticed, which you can't really blame him for. Once he transforms into Electro, he has a brief taste of fame and glory, and then it is ripped away as quickly as it came. Sadly, this is where he lost me. Max/Electro was relatively sympathetic up to that point (albeit in need of some mental health counseling), and might have remained so if his devastation at the mob's reaction to him had been handled differently. But because his immediate response to the mass rejection is murderous outrage, anything remotely identifiable about his character vanishes, and I ceased to feel sorry for him at all. From that point onward, he operates as little more than an impressive special effect, with motives so completely lacking in complexity and depth that he not only fails to be sympathetic, he also fails to be entirely loathsome. As a villain he's just mediocre. Impressive powers most certainly, but not at all striking or unique in terms of character or purpose. Unfortunately, true to the nature of Max Dillon, he'll be forgotten as soon another villain comes around. Electro becomes an inconsequential memory before the movie even ends, having already been upstaged by the next villain.

While Harry Osborne was not much more interesting than Electro, he will be remembered a little longer for a variety of reasons. One is that his actions are directly responsible for a major event that, in the original comic books, changed comic books forever (skip down to my spoiler section below the last picture). Another is that his final moments onscreen hint that he will be instrumental in bringing about a great villain uprising in the next installment. Like Peter, Harry has more to deal with than he is mature enough to handle. Unlike Peter however, his response is not reluctance and moral reflection about the risks, but outrage and primal self-preservation at all costs, with all things being worth the risk. Really, it is only this attitude that makes Harry at all dangerous. He's young, small of stature, lean of frame, so he's hardly intimidating before his transformation into the Goblin. Yet because nothing is too great a risk to save his life, there are no lines he is not willing to cross, even if it means he figuratively gives up his life to save it. Ultimately the citizens of New York City don't feel much devastation at the Goblin's hands-- only a select few get the full blast of his evil determination. But judging by his piece at the end of the film, I would venture to guess that he returns as a minor villain in the next movie. As a side-note, Dane DeHaan reminds me of a very young Leonardo DiCaprio, and to my recollection, the latter wasn't very good when he was very young. It's not just the Jack-on-the-Titanic hairdo either; his mannerisms and expressions are all reminiscent of DiCaprio. DeHaan isn't bad necessarily, but I also can't say I thought his performance stuck out as particularly memorable.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 came dangerously close to overloading the script with too many villains and subplots, and although I think they mostly (though not entirely) avoided that pitfall (I already know others disagree), the inevitable part three already seems set up to go that direction. I hope I'm wrong, because I've greatly enjoyed the direction that this franchise has taken, but I must bitterly admit that most superhero trilogies usually have a weak point, and there has been something of a pattern in the part threes. Speculation and nervousness about the future of the franchise aside, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was an enjoyable comic book movie that has a good dose of humor and comedy with its drama, action, and heart-ripping emotion. Although there has not yet been a villain of any Spider-Man universe that stands out to the level of say, Loki or Magneto, perhaps there is still hope. And despite my love of good villains and undeniable lack of striking ones in Amazing 2, I can't deny I really enjoyed the movie. Maybe I'm a sucker for some superhero movies, but I'm okay with not always having a deep spiritual, emotional, or artistic reason for enjoying the things that I do.

By this point I'm not sure it's such a big spoiler, but just in case, you have been warned. The Amazing Spider-Man comic series had a pivotal, striking event that ended what is called the Silver Age of comic books. That event was the death of Gwen Stacy, shown artfully, beautifully, and tragically in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 movie. In the books, this event completely shattered the innocence and optimism that accompanied the comic book world. To that point, good triumphed over evil, and no matter how close the scrape, your main characters lived to fight another day with a shining hope that evil would fall. Then, in "the snap heard round the comic book world-- the startling, sickening snap of bone that heralded the death of Gwen Stacy" (Blumberg), that world changed. I knew this when The Amazing Spider-Man 2 went into production, and I hoped against hope that they wouldn't do it, but I already knew before the movie began that they were going to stick to the canon and carry out Gwen's demise. And sure enough, they did. Dramatically, emotionally, hopelessly... crack. The full impact of this tragic event is unknown, but I would venture to guess that Peter is about to reach new depths of darkness, and new heights of determination as a result. Part three will tell. 

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