The Amazing Spider-Man 2 review

On Sunday, 4 May 2014, I met Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H. and Bruce K. at the Landmark Embassy Cinema in downtown Waltham, Mass., for The Amazing Spider-Man 2. We enjoyed lunch at The Grill on Pine St. and the latest superhero sequel.

Amazing Spider-Man 2
Spidey swings back into action

Plot: Amazing Spider-Man 2 takes place shortly after the events of 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, which rebooted Sony’s franchise of the 2000s. Our friendly neighborhood wall-crawler has successfully defeated Dr. Curt Connors/the Lizard but at the cost of the life of NYPD Capt. Stacy, the father of Peter Parker’s girlfriend Gwen.

Haunted by tragedy, Spidey isn’t able to rest for long, when a Russian gang member, a onetime fan and industrial accident victim, and an old friend challenge his vow to protect his fellow New Yorkers, especially Gwen.

Peter also learns more about the mystery surrounding his parents’ disappearance years before. I didn’t think it was necessary to tie Spider-Man’s origin so tightly to his parents or to the creation of various villains, but superhero movies tend to do that.

Acting: Since Amazing Spider Man 2 focuses on Peter more than his costumed alter ego, it’s good that Brit Andrew Garfield is a strong anchor to the film. Despite his lanky frame, he conveys both Peter’s world weariness and Spidey’s joy in swinging through Manhattan’s steel canyons.

Garfield is again ably supported by winsome Emma Stone (his real-life girlfriend) as Gwen Stacy and Sally Field as hard-working Aunt May. Jamie Foxx gets the most screen time of the villains as dweeby Max Dillon, who becomes Electro, but Chronicle‘s Dane DeHaan provides more emotional resonance as Peter’s wealthy childhood pal Harry Osborn.

I’ll try to avoid “spoilers” beyond what you may have seen in posters and previews, but any Spidey fan knows what happens to troubled Harry. Of course, creator Stan Lee has a brief cameo. Paul Giamatti’s appearances as Aleksei Stytsevich/the Rhino are almost as brief and clearly setup for the inevitable “Sinister Six” sequels.

Direction and cinematography: Marc Webb, who directed this film’s predecessor, clearly understands the characters, and he wisely focuses on Peter’s relationship with Gwen, his Aunt May, his absent parents, and Harry. Amazing Spider Man 2 starts out a little slow, with a few set-piece battles, and it gradually picks up speed.

The web-slinging and fight scenes are very good, but not ground-breaking. I’m glad to see Spidey’s classic costume restored. As much as I appreciate the occasional slow-motion scene, showcasing poses from the original Marvel Comics pages, audiences have become a bit jaded by plentiful computer-generated visual effects and pyrotechnics.

As a native New Yorker, it was nice to see an upbeat portrayal of my hometown despite all the destruction, as well as the celebration of everyday heroism provided by police, firefighters, and brave civilians. While Disney/Marvel has little to fear, it’s the one area where Spidey complements and competes with the four-color Avengers.

Soundtrack: The Amazing Spider-Man 2‘s musical score is good, with optimistic themes that Man of Steel could have used. It’s not quite as stirring as for the earlier Spider-Man flicks, but I noticed it more than for several other recent films. Peter’s cell phone ring tone also harkens back to the 1960s cartoons.

Rating: Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which has gotten mixed reviews. Yes, like most superhero sequels, there are too many villains and leaps of logic, but the acting and dialogue make up for obligatory fisticuffs.

I’d give The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which is rated PG-13 for violence, a B or B+, a 7.5 out of 10, or three and a half out of five stars. I liked the first Spider-Man 2 and Captain America [2]: the Winter Soldier slightly more, but this is a solid entry for Spider-Man fans and certainly better than Spider-Man 3.

I’m looking forward to the latest incarnation of Godzilla, X-Men: Days of Future Past (which got a non-sequitur of a teaser during Spidey’s end credits), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (I recently saw and liked Rise of Planet of the Apes), and Guardians of the Galaxy.

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The Amazing Spider-Man belated review

Between trying to complete a big project at work, bad news of serious illness and unemployment among family and friends, and last weekend’s visit to Upstate New York, I’ve again fallen behind in blogging. At least I won’t run out of movies, television, and games to review anytime soon.

On Sunday, 8 July 2012, I met Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H. and Sara F. & Josh C. for The Amazing Spider-Man. Sony’s superhero reboot was more fun than some of its predecessors, if not as memorable.

The Amazing Spider-Man
Spidey gets new threads from Marc Webb

The good: I thought that the cast of The Amazing Spider-Man was strong, with lanky, wisecracking Andrew Garfield taking on the role of Peter Parker/Spidey from the mopey Tobey Maguire. The chemistry between Garfield and Emma Stone‘s Gwen Stacy was palpable, and I found Stone more appealing than Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson.

Cliff Robertson is ably replaced as Peter’s honorable Uncle Ben by Martin Sheen (who knows a thing or two in real life about troubled children). Sally Field is a long way from Gidget as Aunt May, and Denis Leary is Gwen’s tough father, NYPD Capt. Stacy. Speaking of parental figures, Rhys Ifans, who was charismatic in the SyFy Channel’s Neverland, brings proper pride and pathos to Dr. Curt Connors.

I also liked that The Amazing Spider-Man‘s webslinging seemed to rely more on stuntmen in costumes rather than computer-generated imagery. Of course, visual effects have no doubt improved in the past decade or so.

The bad: One of my main complaints is that, in its attempt to keep the movie rights from reverting back to Disney/Marvel, Sony rehashed Spider-Man’s origin story barely a decade after Sam Raimi did a good job of adapting it to the silver screen. Garfield spends most of his screen time out of costume or unmasked, and the subplot of his missing (scientist or spy) parents is teased but mercifully dropped.

The advertising for The Amazing Spider-Man gave away the identity of the Lizard as the main villain. He’s formidable and has ties to Peter and to Oscorp (which played a major role in the Raimi/Maguire version). Still, he’s not as fearsome as Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin or Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus.

The ugly: As glad as I am to see Peter’s ingenuity return with mechanical web shooters rather than organic ones, I’m not a fan of Spidey’s skaterboi racing suit in The Amazing Spider-Man. I prefer the classic red-and-blue costume over the “ribbed for your pleasure” hyper-textured look that has been popular in everything from J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot to Zach Snyder’s upcoming Man of Steel.

Even though the plot element of Peter’s missing parents is dropped, aptly named director Marc Webb suggests that it was somehow his destiny to be bitten by a mutant spider and that his subsequent heroics are less a matter of personal ethical choice and more one of heredity. This undermines Uncle Ben’s “with great power comes great responsibility” mantra and echoes some of the missteps of the “Bring on the Dark” Broadway musical. Peter’s hero’s journey doesn’t need those complications.

I also noticed that a scene with Spider-Man fighting reptilian mutated police was truncated, but that was for the best. Otherwise, it would have been like the slugfest between Ang Lee’s Hulk and giant dogs. It’s also too bad that other New York-based superheroes, such as the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, or the Avengers, couldn’t be shown in the background because different studios hold the rights.

The verdict: Overall, I enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man more than I expected to. The cast made up for some plot weaknesses, and my onetime hometown New York City looked as good as ever. I’d put it just after Raimi’s first two superhero flicks, but I definitely liked it more than his third one.

I enjoyed The Avengers more, but The Amazing Spider-Man is a more family-friendly comic book adaptation than The Dark Knight Rises (which I’ll try to belatedly review soon). I’d give The Amazing Spider-Man, which is rated PG-13 for violence, about a 7 out of 10, three out of five stars, or a solid B.

Entry for May 14, 2007: Spider-Man 3 review

Friends, since several of you have asked for my review of Spider-Man 3, here it is. Thanks again to Ken G., who organized the gathering of about a dozen of his friends, as well as Thomas K.Y. and fellow co-worker Mark H., on Sunday, 6 May 2007! We met for an early matinee at the IMAX theater next to Jordan’s Furniture in Framingham, Massachusetts, and found moviegoers already in line. Warning: There are a few plot “spoilers” below.

Spider-Man 3
Third Raimi/Maguire Spidey flick

The superhero sequel had some of the same strong elements as its predecessors: spectacular fight scenes and computer-generated imagery (New York City has never looked so good) and good humor and acting (co-creator Stan Lee and genre veteran Bruce Campbell make more cameos). I also liked the themes of compassion and forgiveness.

On the other hand, as with the “Batman” franchise in the 1990s, “Spidey 3” suffers from sequel bloat: too many villains (Sandman, the “new” Goblin, and Venom), too long a runtime of almost three hours, and an annoying romantic subplot. The alien symbiote Venom was added over director Sam Raimi’s initial objections when the studio wanted a more recently popular villain. When Peter Parker briefly gives in to his darker side, the effect is more silly than scary.

I’ve always had a problem with the casting of these otherwise excellent Marvel Comics adaptations. While J.K. Simmons is perfect as bulldog Daily Bugle editor in chief J. Jonah Jameson, I’ve always found Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst too dour as hero Peter Parker and struggling actress Mary Jane Watson, respectively. Thomas Haden Church was convincing as the shape-shifting Sandman, as was Bryce Dallas Howard as romantic complication Gwen Stacy.

However, Topher Grace, who was so good in sparring with Laura Prepon on That ’70s Show, was more snarky than menacing as Eddie Brock/Venom. As for James Franco as the tortured Harry Osborn/new Goblin, I liked him and think he would have done well as Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels (along with Keira Knightly as Queen Amidala instead of Natalie Portman).

Overall, I’d give Spider-Man 3 about a 7 or 8 out of 10 — close to the first film, but not as good as Spider-Man 2, which had the best villain in Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus. Even a weaker Spidey, however, is better than many comic book adaptations, in my opinion (see also more discussion with co-workers Ken G. and Brian F.). 

Why do genre movie series tend to peak at the second installment? Star Trek: Wrath of Khan, The Empire Strikes Back, Aliens, Superman II, X-Men 2, and now, Spider-Man 2 are all examples. Sure, there are some that barely get off the ground with a strong first installment but disappointing sequels (Highlander and The Matrix come to mind), and a few others don’t mature until later, such as the “Indiana Jones” or “Harry Potter” series.

My theory for the strength of certain sequels is that after re-establishing iconic characters, the second installments in many franchises have both the faithfulness to the source material and the freedom to expand upon their fictional universes. By contrast, the third and subsequent flicks tend to suffer from directorial excess (again, see the “Batman” franchise) or sacrifice fidelity to the tone of the source material for the sake of a larger audience. Having just rewatched Superman Returns this past week, I can only hope that Bryan Singer’s overly reverential reintroduction is followed by a strong sequel.

In the coming week, I hope to catch up on this blog with planned postings about travel, other entertainment, gaming, and work. In the meantime, as Stan “the man” Lee would say, Excelsior! -Gene