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REVIEW: 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2' an improvement for rebooted franchise

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Director Sam Raimi’s original 2002 Spider-Man film had barely been in existence for a decade when a reboot for the Spider-Man franchise was announced.

 

The response from diehard comic book fans and even casual Spider-Man followers was more of the same. Did we really need to see another film where Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider again? Really? Is THAT how he turned into Spider-Man? Uncle Ben was murdered? What? Couldn’t they have just aptly named the new film Spider-Man 4 and passed over all that?

 

Yes, the reasoning behind a second wave of Spider-Man films is still somewhat of a mystery. Maybe it was Sony’s decision due to its reported contractual obligation to Marvel in efforts to sustain Spider-Man’s film rights, but needless to say, 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man clearly suffered an identity crisis from bits of familiar, recycled material that was covered in the original Raimi films.

 

However, in the case of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the franchise starts to slowly find its footing. In a contrast to the mostly brooding and morose character seen in The Amazing Spider-Man, the film reestablishes everybody’s favorite wall crawler back to his familiar sarcastic, web-slinging self.

 

For the most part.Photo: Columbia Pictures

 

Yes, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) indeed loves being Spider-Man, as a spectacular opening action sequence involving Russian hijackers and plutonium vials indicates. During this chase scene, Spider-Man notably comes to the aid of Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), a nerdy, socially challenged electrical engineer who works at OsCorp. As a result of Spider-Man’s actions, Dillon is now his biggest fan.

 

However, Parker’s civilian life is not so spectacular.

 

As the city chase nears its end, Spider-Man sees a vision of late police captain George Stacy (Denis Leary), the father of his girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Torn between his love for Gwen and her father’s instructions to keep his daughter out of harm’s way, Peter once again breaks up with Gwen after their high school graduation. Peter has also lately become obsessed with finding the true fate of his parents, who were killed in a plane crash shortly after they left a young with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). The circumstances surrounding their deaths have never been explained to Peter, and he comes across a discovery that may finally give him the real reasons behind their abrupt departure.

 

While Peter is coming to terms with his uncertain future with Gwen coupled by the possibility of her moving away to Europe, Max becomes the horrible victim of an electrical accident at OsCorp. When he inadvertently causes a blackout in Times Square, Spider-Man tries to calm him down. However,  the police attack him, Spider-Man is forced to stop him, and Max is sent to an institutional facility for further observation.

 

Around this time, Peter’s friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) returns to Manhattan to see his terminally ill father, Norman (played by an underused Chris Cooper). It is on his death bed that Norman explains to his son how his illness is hereditary. Norman then entrusts his son a device that (according to Norman) will explain his life’s work. The next day, Norman dies and Harry is the new CEO of OsCorp, much to the dismay of the board.

 

Meanwhile, Harry soon starts to display the symptoms of the illness that killed his father. Shortly after skimming through the device his father gave him, Harry comes to the conclusion that Spider-Man’s blood could save his life. Aware of his ‘close association’ with Spider-Man, Harry asks Peter to contact him to see if he will donate his blood in an effort to save him. Peter, knowing the possibly deadly consequences  if he agrees to donate his blood, pays Harry a visit at his penthouse as Spider-Man to tell him the bad news. Needless to say, it doesn’t go very well with Harry, who decides to pay Max a visit at the institution and persuades him to help take down his former hero. In the ensuing battle, Spider-Man faces his greatest challenge yet, while also facing the risk of yet another tragic, insurmountable loss.  

 

The performances in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 are noteworthy as well as instrumental in carrying the bulk of the film. The chemistry between on-screen/off-screen couple Garfield and Stone is the movie’s strong point. Garfield has nailed the role of hipster-ish Parker and his wisecracking alter ego, while Stone’s Stacy has evolved into a fully developed heroine who isn’t afraid to voice her approval-disapproval at her boyfriend’s crime-fighting escapades. As Peter’s Aunt May, Sally Field once again shows why she is still one of the most reliable actresses in Hollywood, turning in a solid, emotionally charged performance (especially in one particular scene with Garfield).Electro photo: www.metro.us

 

As far as Spidey’s villains are concerned, Foxx’s Electro clearly looks and plays a convincing part of a sympathetic adversary for our hero, but his transition from misunderstood villain to full-fledged Spider-Man hater unfortunately comes off as a little uneven. DeHaan plays the tortured yet curious Harry Osborn with a little more of an underlying sinister tone than James Franco’s portrayal to great effectiveness. However, his transition to Green Goblin isn’t as convincing- and as strange as it may sound, much of this is due to the lack of a true Goblin mask (something that is sorely needed in the next film), which would surely compensate for whatever look director Marc Webb was going for.

 

Despite some of their flaws, Webb does an admirable job of not overlapping the villains and effecting the storyline (unlike Raimi’s use of Venom and the New Goblin in Spiderman 3). In fact, both characters were essential to the movie’s plot. The film’s third villain, Rhino (Paul Giamatti), appears in a separate showdown with Spider-Man and is used more as a possible showcase of what’s in store for the sequel (more on that in a bit).

 

At least one saving grace that comes out of rebooting Spider-Man is the fact that the two recent  films (minus the first half of the 2012 offering) takes Spider-Man into new territory (Lizard, Electro, Rhino, Gwen Stacy storyline, etc.) that might be familiar to comic fans, but wasn’t touched upon in Raimi’s trilogy. However, there still is some work to be done to make the new batch of Spidey films a stellar effort from beginning to end. After all, in the wake of the plethora of massive blockbuster Marvel films that have permeated pop culture for the better part of the last decade, it's not unreasonable to wonder if there's anything left in the creative tank in the comic book genre. It’s getting to the point where even the origins of beloved comic book characters are being altered in the hopes of not risking repetitiveness (see: Man of Steel). Moreover, you can’t help but feel like you’re watching Superman II, The Avengers, and the aforementioned Man of Steel all rolled into one when Spidey’s arch enemies once again take New York by storm. Despite the gratuitous acts of destruction, the action stunts involving everyone’s favorite wall crawler (much reminiscent of Raimi’s films) are the best ever captured in a Spider-Man film. It’s an absolute MUST to view this movie in IMAX 3D.

 

I still stand by the notion that this franchise didn’t need to be rebooted and I have a major qualm with how the storyline plays out involving Peter’s parents. That being said, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is still a charming and fun enough sequel that’s (for the most part) free of rehashed details. Furthermore, the movie strikes an emotional, heartfelt tone that its predecessor seemed to lack. While not as good as Raimi’s first two Spider-Man films, it’s clearly better than the final Raimi film and 2012’s reboot. For all you religious comic book fans out there, the film’s climax even offers a possible exciting preview (think classic supervillain team-up) of what’s to come in The Amazing Spider-Man 3, which is scheduled to be released in June 2016.

 

 

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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Photo: Columbia Pictures

Electro photo: www.metro.us