Review: ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2′ is a Teenage Dream

Oh to be Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy as The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opens.

They’re young. They’re beautiful and/or handsome. They have keen minds and bright futures ahead of them, one in a career in science and the other as a secret web-slinger.

And they’re in love. Sweetly, innocently, desperately, consumingly in love.

The chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, real life sweethearts playing onscreen sweethearts, makes the movie work. You just can’t help but root for them.

It’s the kind of love that blooms at 19, in the first blush of adulthood.  Beyond it, this Peter Parker just oozes superhero teen angst, a lighter, younger Spider-Man than Tobey Magurire’s turn ten years ago.

He longs for his deceased parents and frets about the safety of his girl, but not enough to mute his wise-cracks or temper his sheer physical joy at swooping and swinging around New York City high-rises. He doesn’t sit in remote webs brooding or carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. He just wants to thwart criminals and take Gwen to the mall, not necessarily in that order.

The film exults with him, using the full force of 3D CGI to plunge with him through city canyons, skim the roofs of yellow cabs, and swoop up on his silken thread to dizzying heights. The only thing missing is the wind in our hair.

But alas! Life, as we all discover eventually, is never that simple. Parker is frantically worried that his crime-fighting ways will endanger Gwen, a possibility that becomes reality when not one but two villains arise: Electro (Jamie Foxx) and the Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan).

The Green Goblin is your average diseased lonely heir whose early friendship with Parker, which he considers betrayed, turns him sour on Spider-Man, although DeHaan is excellent as always in the role.

Electro is something much, much more interesting. In Foxx’s hands, with help from a powerful script, Electro is a villain that embodies black rage, more Malcolm X than mutant.

The parallels aren’t subtle. He begins as an invisible man, a nobody, an unnamed, unthanked worker in the power grid. He builds the foundations of power but has none on his own. Suddenly empowered, he becomes dangerous to the eye of the authorities, even though he himself has not as yet used his power to hurt anyone. He is automatically a threat. But once he realizes that the general world will never accept him, he grows into his power. And then, watch out. He wants nothing more than to shut the system down.

Electro’s whole being is a metaphor.

It’s a fantastic performance by Jamie Foxx and the most interesting part of the movie. In a movie that was more concerned with ideas, it could have been a fascinating and illuminating (excuse the pun) look at racial identity. This is not the Dark Knight trilogy, however, and the movie never fully steps into the promise of this thread.

What it is, however, is fun and frothy, something you could share with a child. Rated PG-13, the rating comes from sci-fi violence and action along with a storyline involving deep loss. The rest is squeaky-clean. The language is clear, the romance chaste. Better yet, Garfield’s Peter Parker and Stone’s Gwen Stacy are the type of recent high school grads we’d all like our kids to be: earnest, hopeful, sincere, kind, and self-sacrificial.

It may not be the most meaty treatment of the comic subject matter, but we already have Batman and Wolverine for dark heroes. There’s nothing wrong with lightening it up a bit, for the kiddos or for the sometimes overly-serious adults who accompany them.

 

Review: ‘The Amazing Spider-man’ has Everything Except the Most Important Thing

One expects certain things from a summer blockbuster.

It must have thrills, a few chills, some chuckles, and preferably a syrupy romance.

The Amazing Spider-Man, starring Andrew Garfield as the newest Spidey to skitter across our screens, has those things in spades.

What it lacks is the next level, the moral core that made Tobey Maguire’s version something to revisit long after the flip-flops had been stowed and the snowcones swapped for hot cocoa.

Andrew Garfield’s only other real claim to fame was as the ant beneath Facebook guru Mark Zuckerberg’s boot in The Social Network. His lanky, nerdy frame seemed ill-suited to the Spider-man suit in previews, but give Garfield a chance. He fills out the Peter Parker role well, making it his own. He’s easy to believe as a nerdy, confused, angry teen living with his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) after the mysterious disappearance of his scientist father.

His high school crush, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) interns at the biotech firm run by Parker’s father’s former partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). In an attempt to find answers about dear old dad, and somehow flirt with Gwen in the process, Parker trespasses into a room filled with bio-tech radioactive spiders of doom and is bitten.

That’s when life gets really complicated.

The teen has the physical power to impose his will on the world, but neither the wisdom nor the self-sacrificial spirit to make power a good thing in his hands.

Uncle Ben, a good-hearted blue collar man, has plenty of both. His advice to Peter forms the moral core of the movie: “If someone has the power to do good for someone else, they ought to do it.”

After his uncle’s tragic death, this question should be the heart of the movie. Will Peter use his power for non-selfish good or will he seek revenge?

Unfortunately, the themes that were so beautifully apparent in the Spider-Man trilogy of the 2000′s starring Maguire are lost in the dazzling effects of this film. Using CGI effects, the new installment takes the viewer on a vertigo-inducing swing through Gotham. His web slings and his body jerks like a gymnast in the Olympic trials. At times,the action is shown from a Spidey-point of view, all twisting, falling, soaring, and landing.

The villain, a sort of man-reptile hybrid, is exciting and scary as well, if not particularly complex internally. He’s more of a science experiment gone wrong than a megalomaniac bent on world domination. He does knock things around a good bit, being growly and scary enough to give the movie its PG-13 rating. Sexuality and language are almost non-existent in this film, although there is some rather innocent and mushy kissing that will make ten year old boys squirm.

Spidey gets all wound up in thorny themes, then swings and spins his way to a resolution without revisiting them. Although Sheen and Field are warm and lovely in the film, neither ever gets the chance to set the young hero on the right track. Indeed, it seems Aunt May and Peter could use some family counseling to get them to talk to each other. As the film goes on, she has to stretch further and further to pretend his late night excursions and serious contusions are normal for a teen boy.

It’s a shame, too, because the audience expects and waits for the meaningful interaction that will help the Spandex-clad youth put everything in perspective and bring a tear to our eyes, and it never comes.

The upshot is that the exciting action and good moments will never upstage the previous version.

Everything is there except the spider’s heart.

DVD Release: Crazy Stupid Love


Steve Carell and Julianne Moore play a separated couple in Crazy Stupid Love

 

“Crazy Stupid Love” is out on DVD today.

Bottom Line: Sweet, funny, well acted, this love story for adults is great, right up to the ending of a minor storyline that is very nearly a dealbreaker.

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