Thursday, May 1, 2014



I laughed; I cried; I cringed.  AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 is a mixed bag that I mostly enjoyed a lot.  The biggest stumbling block to reaching it's goal lay in absolutely everything in it relating to the primary villain, Electro.  Before I talk about what they did right, I'm going to talk about Electro because Electro is so awful that had they not gotten Spider-Man so absolutely perfectly this film might have killed the entire franchise like Schwartzenegger's turn as Mr. Freeze in BATMAN AND ROBIN.

There was not one thing that worked with Electro, even the special effects stank on ice.  While the cgi Spidey was indistinguishable from the live-action Spidey, everytime Electro was cgi it was on par with a sub-standard video game.  But that's not the least of the problems with Electro.  As established early on in the film, electrical engineer Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) is a clown.  He smacks of the caricaturish performance of Jim Carrey as The Riddler in BATMAN FOREVER.  In fact, it almost seemed like it was an ill-conceived homage.

Max's life is saved by Spider-Man and, reacting like some mentally defective man-child, he convinces himself he's Spidey's best friend and has imaginary conversations with him in his apartment.  All the while slapstickey musical cues play every time he's on screen.  Max claims to have invented the entire power grid system for New York City; the power grid being a product of his employer OsCorp, of course.  However, there is no way that we can believe that this cartoonish imbecile could have done that, and especially not within the context in which nobody at OsCorp even knows he exists.  There is such a thing as being a cog in the corporate machine, but there is no way the person we have met has ever been given that sort of position.  In fact, he is treated more like a janitor than an engineer.  It all really makes no sense.  And the circumstances that lead to his accident giving him electrical powers also makes no sense. 

This film, and this particular series, makes such efforts to lend some level of scientific believability to the fantastic.  In fact, the underlying subplot of Peter Parker's father's scientific experiments are deliberately laid out for us over this and the previous film so we believe it is entirely possible for a man to have gained the powers of a spider.  The same goes for the Lizard in the first film and the Goblin and the Rhino in this film.  But for Max becoming Electro, there is no logical basis for it.  An introverted nerd gets massively electrocuted and then falls into a vat of electric eels who shock and bite him.  And the powers he gains aren't the powers of eels. He gains the power to drain all electricity and power himself up like a battery.  He gains the ability to turn completely into electricity and then miraculously reform into a solid body -- and retain his clothes.  Even in the world of super-heroes, this becomes a stretch when, again, there is such an effort to attach a rational basis for buying into the fantastic.

The biggest problem beyond all the illogic and absurdity is the wholesale personality change in the character.  They hint that there's some sort of rage enhancing aspect to his powers, but that does not explain his total loss of inhibition, his sudden rise in the ability to communicate coherently, and most of all his intelligence.  Whereas before the accident he claimed to be smart but conducted himself like an idiot who hero-worshipped Spider-Man, now he is conducting himself like a super-smart villain who wants to kill Spider-Man for, y'know, taking him down after he destroyed Times Square. 
Oh yeah, they also added some goofy distortion to Electro's voice which made him sound ridiculous and hard to understand.  Put him in a room with Bane and you'd need subtitles to figure out what they were saying to each other.  Also, after Max turns into Electro they shift from his slapstick musical cues to some odd urban gangsta sound along with what sounded like Max muttering to himself inside his head.  However, once again, it was so muddled I couldn't really understand much of it.  Dr. Kafka, who tortures Max at the Ravencroft Institute for the Criminally Insane is also a ridiculous over-the-top cartoon better suited for a MAD Magazine parody than a serious film.
So, bottom line, Electro sucks and he sucks bad.  And that's unfortunate for the film because he's in it for a good portion.


There has never been a more perfect presentation of Spider-Man himself onscreen ever before.  You will absolutely believe a man can websling.  I loved his bantering and joking.  His attitude is perfectly in the spirit of the character.  Spidey's interactions with the police and especially the people on the streets is flawless.  Both the Batman and Superman franchises could learn a lot from this film's efforts at showing the lengths a true super-hero will go to save even one innocent life.
The movie picks up with Peter and Gwen's graduation from high school and the events of the film play out over the summer, and thankfully, it looks like a mild summer for NYC.  The soap opera aspect of Pete and Gwen's relationship felt real.  At times, it was overwrought, but we are talking about 18 year-olds.  They tend to have these dramatic bents to their relationships.  I believed it.  I also believed in them as two young adults deeply in love with one another but caught in an untenable set of circumstances.  "It's complicated" is an understatement.

There's mystery and intrigue with a flashback sequence with Pete's parents where we do find out what happened after they disappeared (as shown in the first film).  There's a reunion and trauma surrounding the return of Pete's childhood buddy, Harry Osborn.  The relationship with Harry might have benefited, emotionally for the viewer, if it had been allowed to have been developed over 2 films rather than crammed into one, but it mostly works.  Paul Giamatti's "Rhino" character serves mostly a purpose at giving us a glimpse of the future path of the films. Since Sony recently announced a "Sinister Six" spin-off film on the horizon, this is no surprise.  We get a tease of J. Jonah Jameson at the Daily Bugle and will surely see him in all his glory in the next film.  Suck it up guys and get J.K. Simmons back for that.

For me, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are the heart of the film and their struggles and pains are what I feel -- especially Pete's.  We are rooting for them to succeed and when they don't, it hurts.  We are privy to what the world around Pete does not see.  They see Spider-Man and assign all their confidence and hope in him.  Behind the mask we see a young man struggling to do what's right and figure out how to love and be vulnerable to the possibility of hurt.  "How can I love?" may be the second most common story theme after "Who am I?"  So, it makes sense to follow up the first film's theme with that.  The set-up is there for the next film and beyond and I am ready to see what happens next.

Unfortunately, Electro will forever be a pockmark on an otherwise excellent film.

★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★



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