Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The Amazing Spider-man 2 Review

What happens when a film comes along and smashes it at the box office, despite studio execs swearing it off as a total dud and setting up damage control before it’s even out the gate? A major tentpole film that, from its onset, was really just a way to keep a big brand in-house, and prevent it from falling back into the hands of its (now highly profitable) owners? A film that, despite this, still managed to sneak in moments of real charm and awe amidst the frankly dire scripting and bureaucratic influence – largely thanks to its inspired central casting and left-of-field choice of director?

If the answer you’re hoping for is: “the execs clapped everyone on the back and left them alone to make whatever movie they liked”, unfortunately your future career in Hollywood just got laughed out onto the long bus ride home. If you instead opted for “the studio made sure they got their claws in real good for the factory-line sequel and marketed that fucker to kingdom come”, you’re gonna make a lot of money and very few friends. You were also likely involved in the processing of The Amazing Spider-man 2, the latest attempt to turn cinema into a two-hour promise of future satisfaction (way, way down the line). Largely starved of the idiosyncrasy that saved its prequel from being a dud, ASM2 is disappointing in soullessness.

Picking up where we left off last time, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is having the time of his life as Spider-man, throwing out quips left, right and centre as he careens through New York’s skyline. When not wearing the mask however, Peter has to juggle his on/off relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) against the answers to his parents’ fates and sudden return of former best friend Harry Osborn (Dane Dehaan) – a man with his own share of problems. Confusing things even further is the unfortunate transformation of loner Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) into the neon-blue Electro – a walking lightning bolt who finally has the power to strike back against a world that ignored him.

I have to be frank – just thinking about ASM2’s various plot threads is making my head hurt, but thankfully the film spends almost two and half hours languidly moving across them – plenty of time to let them wash over you and leave you wondering when exactly things are actually going to happen prior to the “game-changer” climax. This is paint-by-numbers plotting in its worst form, setting up future franchise spin-offs and sequels with nary a hint of character or consistency in the here and now.

Case in point – Andrew Garfield’s Parker somehow wavers between valley boy and techno genius as the plot demands it, with the only real moments of solidity for his character coming when he’s wearing a mask (oh if only this were some metaphor on growing up) or stood alongside Gwen. The film’s romance thread continues to hold much of the charm for the franchise, though here it no longer has the room to breathe as allowed in ASM1, and suffers for getting caught in the tide of studio manoeuvring. More generally, the film darts confusedly between the more ‘realist’ tone of its predecessor into lazy comic scripting ala Shumacher’s Batman and Robin, failing to ever find the heart it desperately needs. Dane DeHaan’s excellent performance as Harry almost pulls it out of the bag, but the ‘necessary’ twist to his tale ensures anything emotive there gets side-lined for BIG TIME FUN / a brutal example of throwing a woman in the fridge.

Much like its dark twin Spider-man 3, ASM2 does at least manage to dazzle on the SFX front, and whilst most of Electro’s narrative is frankly cringe worthy, his climactic transformation into a bodiless avatar of electricity, able to travel through mains adaptors and create light collages of his face amongst Manhattan’s skyscrapers, points toward a sense of personality the film could have played a hell of a lot earlier. Instead, most of the film’s critical plot points prior are all signposted by the sudden swell of hellish indie-pop, as Sony’s latest signees all get their turn to soundtrack the “hot new Spider-man film BOOYAH!”.

So what if I’m being harsh? The traces of genuine character in this film are forced to go down like shards of glass in a poisoned chalice, and I defy you to tell me that Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci are capable hands for any script ever. Forget Age of Extinction – we already got this year’s Transformers stand-in.

(And if you think I've finished with my soap box just yet - har har are you in for a treat! Factory line franchises are forcing Hollywood cinema into a black hole, and it's all thanks to The Amazing Yes Men. Look out for the article later this week)