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Thursday, 21 August 2014

The Amazing Spiderman 2

Sorry this review is so late. Last night was not a good night.

The Amazing Spiderman 2.

[Gigantic spoilers for the film, seriously.]

I reviewed The Amazing Spiderman a while ago – not long before its sequel, which I'm reviewing today, came out in cinemas, actually – and found myself a bit ambivalent about it. It was a fun action flick, but also very cookie cutter, with a tried and true formulaic plot and scenes that seemed sometimes to have been lifted wholesale from its 2002 predecessor starring Tobey Maguire. I gave it an overall positive review, but it was more on the strength of its style than its substance, if I'm being honest.

Enter The Amazing Spiderman 2, out on home media as of earlier this week. Second films are quite often where superhero series shine, as they're burdened neither with having to go through the tired rigmarole of the origin story nor with having to up the stakes for a third time – a task often made more difficult by said series having blown their proverbial villain load early on in the hopes of marketing their first or second films with the most recognisable villains they can.

Set some months after the first film, The Amazing Spiderman 2 starts with Spiderman as now a beloved, if controversial, figure in New York, fighting crime while balancing his real life commitments, as superheroes are wont to do. He's also haunted by the spectre of Denis Leary, which can happen, I hear. But all is not right in New York: With the death of Norman Osborn, head of Oscorp, his son Harry has taken the company's reins and is obsessed with curing his degenerative condition, while Oscorp employee and creepy Spiderman fanatic Max becomes the villain Electro after being bitten by radioactive electric eels.



Okay, maybe that's unfair of me. In the comics, he is a major part of Spiderman's rogue gallery, to be fair. He's a member of the Sinister Six and the Frightful Four and the Twerkin' Twelve (okay, they're just the Sinister Twelve, but that just sounds silly, my idea is better), and has been showing up in comics, television and video games since 1964. He's a major member of Spiderman's villain line-up. More major than the Lizard, who was our rather unremarkable villain in the first film.

(He's not the only villain in this film, but he is the main one, and we will talk about the second one later.)

In general, the film lives up to the old rule of second-superhero-films being better than the films they're sequels to. The soundtrack in particular is stunning, with a rumbling, thumping techno electronica style coming into play whenever Electro is on screen, and it's backed up by some impressive visual spectacle, meaning that stylistically, at least, the film makes a big impression.

As far as the nitty gritty of writing goes, it's doing okay as well. The writing on a dialogue level is often very sharp and snappy and funny. On a more macro scale, it's, er, it's doing better than the first film, let's say. I detest the running plot of Peter's parents being scientists who are responsible for the radioactive spider that bit him, and I detest even more the twist of 'the spider venom will only work on Peter because of his faaaaatheeeer' twist in this film. I am bored by the on-and-off romantic shenanigans between Gwen and Peter that ultimately end, as they were always going to, in 'on'. Everything else worked. I liked Electro's character arc, I liked Harry as a character, I sympathised with both of them. There was a sense of danger and suspense, and it set things up very adequately for a third film with the Sinister Six – a group that will apparently include at least the Vulture, Doctor Octopus, the Rhino and the Green Goblin.

The acting is also fine. Good, even. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are both excellent leads, with Jamie Foxx and Dane DeHaan doing good work as the two villains.

But no, yeah, just have them stay together instead of breaking
up and then getting back together later.

So it's probably time to talk about the big moment that people are pretending not to talk about while irritatingly hinting at constantly in that way people do that they apparently think is much cleverer than it actually is: Gwen Stacy's death.

Which is poorly handled here. Actually, the entire section in which the Green Goblin makes his appearance and she's killed is horrendously handled. The main villain, now a godlike entity, is vanquished (with, er … murder, how very unlike you, Peter), and almost immediately after the Green Goblin appears. He kidnaps Gwen, there's a fight scene that lasts barely a minute or two, and then Gwen falls, is caught by webbing, and has her neck snapped by the force.

In the comics, you don't really realise that Gwen dies from this at first. Nor does Peter. He hauls her back up, making his characteristic wisecracks about how he got her in the nick of time and how awesome he is, and it's only when she's reached the top that he – and the audience – sees that she's dead.

In the film, it is totally obvious that this is her death, even before she dies. She is doing The Death Fall. You may have seen it in Richard III with Ian McKellen, or The Matrix Reloaded, that last one actually doing a better job at playing with the audience's heads than this film as Trinity survives. The Death Fall has a character shot from above, falling backwards in slow motion, with particular focus on their facial expression, framed by chaos around them. The camera follows them down, creating an illusion that the world is rising towards them, instead of them falling towards it. It is nearly exclusively used for people dying.

Gwen does The Death Fall, and when she's caught, it's with an audible snap. So there's no surprise when Spiderman goes down and finds out that she's dead. We already knew she was dead. He already knew she was dead. Everyone knew she was dead. The dramatic impact isn't totally lost, I did feel some emotion, but it's nowhere near as gut-wrenching as a character and the audience realising minutes after the fact that while they've been celebrating over this character being rescued, they were dead all along.

So they fluffed that one a bit.

There are moments that are handled well, though. Peter's reluctant return to crimefighting, spurred on by a recording of Gwen's graduation speech and the imminent threat of rhinoceros related doom – that's very well handled.

And it has a small child.

So far, these Spiderman films are shaping up to be a lot better than the Tobey Maguire films, so it'll be interesting to see the third film. Will they end it as a trilogy, or just keep going? Will they introduce Mary Jane, or leave her out of the story? It'll be good to see what happens. 

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