Wednesday, May 14, 2014

everbody loves spidey

The kid and I caught The Amazing Spider-Man 2 the other day. I have to admit that I would have been fine skipping it, but the kid really wanted to see it. She loves the two main stars, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, and they were certainly the heart of, and the best part of, the movie. But what about the rest? Well, it was a real mess, actually.

I have to preface this with the fact that I am not a comic book geek. I loved the old Spiderman cartoon when I was a kid and can sing the theme song to this day, but I don't really know anything about the character's history. I saw at least the first two Tobey Maguire Spider-man (2002-7) movies, and still find it weird that someone thought it would be a good idea to make another three movies only five years later. Have our memories really gotten so short? Garfield and Stone are appealing, but it was hard not to get confused between the old (James Franco) and new (Dane DeHaan) Harry Osborn story lines. Plus, Garfield and Stone look more like college than high school graduates. Even my 10 year-old was surprised when Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy was making a valedictorian speech at her high school graduation.

Oh what a tangled web ...

I have to say that when I wasn't stone-cold bored during the blow-up-the city-yet-again action sequences, I was more than a little confused. It was not that the plot was intricate - far from it. But why was this movie's best friend of Peter Parker/ Spidey — Harry Osborn — the new Green Goblin, when in the Maguire/Franco version it was Franco's dad? And where was Mary Jane Watson (played by Kirsten Dunst in the Maguire movies), but non-existent in the Garfield ones? Some quick post-movie internet searching showed that neither set of movies really kept completely to the comic book stories. Fair enough. But were the changes improvements?

And what really freaked me out a bit in this latest incarnation was the fact that everyone seemed to be in love with Spidey. There were (too many) scenes between Gwen Stacy and Peter Parker breaking up and making up. The two actors (and off-screen couple) have an undeniable chemistry, but their ping-ponging romance was a bit too much. And considering how the romance plays out at the end of the film - suffice it to say that many folks, including my daughter, walked out of the movie in not a great mood.

My other pet peeve was how the city of New York was portrayed. Admittedly it's been a long time since I lived there, and the city has certainly changed, but there weren't many scenes, except one set in Times Square, that even looked like the city. Gwen Stacy was able to get from one end of town to the other in moments — even during a blackout — and without swinging on a web. The kids' high school had a fancy graduation with a fantastic river view. Uh huh.  She was also supposed to be a genius who was the only person who could figure out a complex electrical grid - which actually consisted of flipping an "off" switch. New York, New York, it's a helluva town.

Unrealistic scenes aside, Gwen wasn't the only one with a Spidey-obssession. Jamie Foxx was given the thankless task of playing uber-geek Max Dillon, a put-upon schlemiel who ends up turning into the monster Electro. Not only was the character a big old cliche, it was completely unnecessary in the movie. Foxx was hidden first under horrible fake false teeth and a wig, and then CGI-ed into a glowing mess. When we first meet him he is having an imaginary conversation with Spider-man in his bedroom. The walls are covered with pictures of his heart-throb, and Max seems to talk to Spidey as less imaginary friend and more lover. When he is face-to-face with the object of his affection in his new incarnation he switches from best pal to arch enemy faster than any woman scorned.

But Max/Electro was hardly the only character besides Gwen who had Spidey on their mind. Harry Osborn is presented as a kid with a horrible father and a horrible prognosis — some only-in-the-movies fatal and disfiguring disease that he believes only Spidey can cure. He becomes obsessed with getting Spidey's blood, and believes that his old pal Peter Parker is the only one who can help him find the webby avenger.

Are they kidding with this make-up? He looks like Evil Ed from the first Fright Night.

All of this Spidey love has Garfield play Peter Parker as a conflicted, tortured teen. He loves Gwen, but has promised to keep her safe, so must push her away. He would like to help his best friend, but is afraid that his radioactive blood might harm, even kill him. He seems as befuddled as the audience as to how Max/Electro fits into all of this. Garfield does have some nice scenes with his Aunt May, played by Sally Field, who is terrific. The 68 year-old Field looks great. She doesn't appear to have succumbed to the omnipresent Hollywood knife, and she brings a real presence and comedy to her scenes with Garfield. There is a germ of a good movie in here, buried under all of the smashing through windows and other de riguer explosions and assorted CGI mayhem. Maybe in another five years someone will want to make an existential Spider-man that will actually be interesting to watch.


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