Coming out of my second viewing of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, it hit me just how inconvenient it must be sometimes to have to review a movie upon a single viewing. Even with notes and such, it sometimes takes two or even more viewings to appreciate and understand a film. As pretentious as it might sound given what this movie is, this has been true for me in considering and attempting to review THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2.
Having seen it or not, I think most know the gist of the story and even how it ends, if only because of rumor and the exposure and popularity of the comic book story line that this film partially follows. Peter Parker is loving the Spider-Man gig and popular with New Yorkers, yet nagged by the promise he made to the dying Captain Stacy to keep Stacy's daughter and Parker's girlfriend Gwen "out of it." Thus, he's become flaky and potentially unreliable to the upwardly mobile Gwen, whose logic dazzles when pointing out that it is her choice if she wishes to stick around and if they love each other, then keeping Parker's promise to the Captain only hurts them both. These scenes are well-played, but they do remind one rather pointedly of the similar dilemma between Parker and Mary Jane in the first "Spider-Man 2" ten years ago.
Meanwhile, OsCorp "nobody" Max Dillon is starstruck when Spider-Man saves him from injury at the beginning and becomes instantly obsessed with the web-slinger ala Edward Nygma in BATMAN FOREVER. As other reviews have mentioned, it's really startling how similar these villains' arcs are, and frustrating to me since it didn't work very well the first time. Apparently, the standard "evil corporation" run almost entirely by white men (of course...) and one out-of-place young, female lawyer named Felicia has effectively stolen Max's designs for the new hydroelectric power grid that Oscorp is apparently controlling to help power New York now (why is anyone's guess, but that's another matter). Still, Max dutifully stays late on his birthday to fix an alleged problem, having an accident and becoming Electro... yada, yada, yada.
A similar fate is had by Harry Osborn, who is summoned back to New York from boarding school just in time to watch father Norman die before being blackmailed out of his inherited position as head of the company. Apparently, Norman will die from some genetic disorder that sounded like "retro-viral hyperplasia," which pretty much all of he and his company's decades of scientific work and research has been centered around curing. What the two ultimately have in common is that not only does Oscorp betray them both, but so does Spider-Man - or so they think. Max is frustrated in the scene we all saw online in Times Square when Spider-Man fails to immediately recognize him and Harry rather conveniently figures out that Spider-Man's blood can cure him, but of course... you get the picture. It's a lot to take in and that only scratches the surface. There's also the Parker parents, what exactly happened to them and why and how they're connected to current events and everything evil at Oscorp.
Subtitled "The Rise of Electro," my first impression was like many in that the visuals are astounding and the chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy continues to sizzle. Otherwise, it felt rushed, crowded, corny and over-the-top - and not always in ways that are good or which fit even the somewhat lighter tone of the Spider-Man lore. My worries began long ago with the announcement of Kurtzman and Orci as writers. It's not that I think they're bad so much as overworked and, perhaps, a bit overrated - being little or nothing so far without JJ Abrams. Then there's the director, Marc Webb, who seems to have done a great job of directing a comic book action movie. The problem I have, though, is that this is only his third feature and two of them have been Spider-Man films. In analyzing his directing, what do we really have to fairly and adequately compare this to? How many realize just how many "assistant directors" a film like this has, mostly to deal with the very sort of action sequences that dominate this entire affair? I think there are just so many hands in this pot that I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Webb is just along for the ride while a half-dozen others are navigating this... thing, which will apparently consist of at least two more direct sequels and two spin-off's, most of which are directly or indirectly set up in this movie. Still, I noticed enough people that were seeming to like it much more that I decided to give it another chance.
The reason I think it unfortunate that most critics are forced to review movies after only one viewing - especially movies like this one - is that the sheer visceral impact can sometimes cloud someone's perception. Again, I realize I risk sounding pretentious and ridiculous, but these movies are important if only because of the massive share of profit they represent for their respective studios. At first, this looked like a total train wreck, and I still think the villains are poorly handled, way over-the-top and, at least with the otherwise talented Jamie Foxx, miscast. The score by Hans Zimmer, who is definitely taking on too many superhero projects nowadays, is just frustrating all the way around. However, I can at least see now WHY it is what it is and respect that we're looking at possibly the most faithful adaptation of Spider-Man on film to date and a movie which, even more than THE AVENGERS, feels like a genuine, modern-day comic book brought to life. I think that part of my negativity at first was actually an extension of my ambivalence. Spider-Man is maybe my second or third favorite superhero of all time, but I'm not really a MARVEL guy to begin with and for me, the Raimi movies kind of did it (at least the first two). I didn't need or want someone to even try to do it better, but if I had to be subjected to someone's attempt, my hope was that it would truly be NEW all the way around and be good in ways that don't constantly remind of what came before.
Since 2012, I've felt like they're doing the same things all over again, but with new actors, a few new villains and slight rearrangements of the stories from the comics. Before the first one came out, I genuinely hoped that we were getting a darker, grittier and more "realistic" Spider-Man, and I honestly didn't care if darker and grittier was what Spider-Man was supposed to be or would even work in the end. If anything, that's just what I wanted to see because it had not been done. Part of me still feels that way, but having thought more about it, I get that there are much bigger fans than I am who WANTED someone else to try again and appreciates that there's even more action, scale and in-costume humor this time around, not to mention an actual reenactment of the, um... fate of Gwen Stacy straight out of the early seventies comics.
So, upon second viewing, I'm happy for them as I see here what they've wanted all along, and I hope that the next movies will somehow build upon the mythology in astounding ways and be even better than what came before. It's a long-shot, perhaps, but possible. In the end, I'm not sure this movie is something that anyone CAN review fairly because it is so much a part of a larger whole - a larger story and game plan that Sony, the writers and producers (and Webb for one more film) are gambling upon. Based on this sequel's box office performance overseas and domestically, I suspect things are going according to plan. Since we are talking about one in a franchise of four interlocking movies and two spin-off's, part of me even wonders if these movies are meant to be reviewed fairly or even capable of it. I just hope that when all is said and done and all the rapidly moving parts are finally in and put together, this cinematic THING can finally be reviewed and judged fairly... if possible.