Friday, 18 April 2014

Film Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

      You’d think that with all the set-up out of the way, this sequel to the 2012 reboot of the Spider-Man franchise would be a lot more focused and succinct. Well it is and it isn’t.

      The strained on/off relationship between Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) gets much of the attention (and indeed screen time) in this instalment, as does a deeper exploration into what Peter Parker’s parents were up to before they disappeared. The actual villains, however, feel severely sidelined, appearing more like an afterthought. Since Spider-Man has always had such a colourful rogue’s gallery to choose from, it seems a shame that they are given so little screen time.

      Great actors are consistently wasted throughout due to a poor script and inconsistent tone. Paul Giamatti is reduced to hammy bookend sequences, Dane DeHaan is great until he actually becomes the cackling, tongue lolling Green Goblin, Jamie Foxx channels the Nutty Professor as Max Dillon and lacks decent motivation as Electro… the list goes on. To be fair, Emma Stone is excellent throughout and the scenes she shares with Garfield have genuine chemistry (they are also a real-life couple) although Garfield himself is yet again only given two emotions: cocky or crying. So much attention is given to the pair’s interactions that, in fact, you may be mistaken in thinking you are watching a romantic drama – albeit one with a guy that occasionally goes out dressed in spandex.

      In regards to the action, it’s flashy and frequently beautifully realised, but the same old problem with previous portrayals of Spidey persists. The obligatory scenes of watching him swing through the city is kinetic and well choreographed but isn’t that much of a difference from what we’ve seen in four previous films already. Considering the first Sam Raimi film was released over a decade ago, these scenes end up feeling rather rote and uninspired. The same applies to the fight sequences. As soon as any big showdown commences, the actors are replaced by CG models that are reminiscent of a highly polished cut-scene from a videogame. Its all bright and shiny but unfortunately serves as too much of a disconnect.

      The Amazing Spider-Man 2 also has the annoying habit of constantly talking down to the audience. Any room entered in the Oscorp building will have a guide voice explaining the relevance of the contents of the room to the plot. The dialogue is frequently clunky, serving up such gems as a guy walking along with blue-prints announcing to no-one in particular: ‘Guy with blue-prints coming through!’ Electro’s origin scene has him balancing precariously above a tank of electric eels as he sings ‘Happy Birthday’ to himself. There is a pantomime-like evil German doctor called ‘Kafka’ that borders on the offensive. Any sort of subtlety is definitely not on the agenda.

      There are other moments of inconsistency. Spider-Man’s ability to use his ‘spider sense’ or to go into super accurate moments of slo-mo seem only to be available when the script calls for it. Similarly, Electro is able to travel through sockets, be impervious to bullets and disappear and re-materialise at will, and yet when it requires him to be punched repeatedly by Spidey he suddenly loses all these abilities. Without solid rules or a sense of consistency it’s hard to be invested in these encounters or care about the outcome.

      The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a frustrating experience. There are some nice ideas and the film features some incredible production design, but there are too many uneven moments and inconsistencies throughout. The inconsequential and light-hearted comedy that runs through much of the film jars with the more serious scenes (such as the opening plane sequence or the emotional gut punch towards the end), the villains feel rushed and under utilised, and much of the film just seems like a set up for the next (in a rather lazy move, Oscorp seems to be the launch pad for every major Spider-Man villain to come).

      It’s a shame then, that although the romantic focus of this film is decently portrayed, it eats up the majority of the running time (despite the film being almost two and a half hours long) and doesn't leave room for much else. If you are looking for throwaway entertainment, this entry to the well worn franchise may suffice, but those looking for something a bit more meaningful will likely come away disappointed.

18th April 2014

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