It’s a tough time to be a comic-book movie. The genre once held a certain novelty. Not anymore. Not in a cinematic landscape where $200 million adaptations are churned out by the dozen. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is still in theaters, and a new X-Men film is a couple of weeks away.
In addition to their frequency, the quality has improved exponentially. Nolan pretty much leveled the pre-existing expectations with his
“Dark Knight” films, showing that comic-book movies can be works of high-art with dramatic poignancy. They can render real characters played by Academy Award winning actors.
I liked Sam Raimi’s early-aught “Spider-Man” films—the first two, anyway. But they haven’t aged well, which seems ridiculous as the most recent entry happned six years ago. Even the best installment, “Spider-Man 2,” which came out 10 years ago, feels sleight and weightless. Tobey Maguire, who once seemed perfectly suited to play awkward Peter Parker, now feels kind of silly. James Franco’s scenery-chewing villain suffers the same fate.
In 2012 director Marc Webb generated a messy yet satisfying first entry in the Spider-Man re-boot. It came well-served by a great cast that populated the world with likable characters. Unfortunately, they lived in a land riddled with ridiculous plot points and insane amounts of convenience that would make even the most tired soap opera declare: “Stop cribbing my plot points, yo!”
There’s a scene at the end of the “The Amazing Spider-Man” where The Lizard plans to launch a gaseous weapon into the air that will transform people into reptiles. As luck would have it, he must wait 2 minutes for the device to warm up, giving the hero a chance to save the day. Shooting gas into a large crowded area doesn’t really require a lot of prep-time. In fact, the police do it with tear gas all the time.
“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” builds on every success from the first film and doubles down on the every fallible inclination. It’s a bigger, faster-paced, dumber version of the original. Yet, the film delights. The lion’s share of that goes to stars Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone who possess such great onscreen chemistry.
The film picks up where the first installment left off. Peter Parker (Garfield) struggles with his powers and responsibility, trying to balance them with his life as a teenager. Still racked with guilt for the lives he could not save, he’s torn between his love for Gwen Stacy and his reservations about his Spidey powers endangering his loved ones.
The risk this time around comes in several different forms. First, there’s Electro (Jamie Foxx), the sheepish science nerd with an inferiority complex who turns into a super-villain thanks to genetically mutated electric eels. Then, there’s Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan): After being experimented on by his father, Harry’s body begins deteriorating. He believes the only cure is the regenerative healing properties of Spider-Man’s blood. When that strategy plays out poorly, he transforms into the Green Goblin.
To say there’s a lot going on in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is an understatement. Much like ordering everything on the menu at IHOP, audiences get much more than they bargained for, leaving them unable to digest it. Plus, there’s very little actual nutritional value.
“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” delivers on fun, but the film’s greatest villain isn’t the Green Goblin, Electro or Rhino. Rather, it’s the lingering battle with incredulity throughout the film. However, the characters’ pathos-filled tragedy makes up for the brutal assault on the senses—from seizure-inducing visuals to eardrum-bashing Dolby audio.
Director Marc Webb tries to counterweight Peter Parker’s inner-conflict as a hero with lighter romantic moments. The pendulum swings dramatically back and forth, and while the results aren’t always pretty, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” warrants a recommendation. There’s more heart in Marc Webb’s web-slinger than most other comic-book movies.DETAILS: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 3 1/2 stars Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and Jamie Foxx Directed by Marc Webb Rated PG-13
ALSO PLAYING THIS WEEK…Cinematique Cinematique at Thalian Hall’s Main Stage (unless otherwise noted) 310 Chestnut Street • $8-$10 Mondays through Wednesdays (unless otherwise noted), 7 p.m. www.thalianhall.org
5/12: “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me” chronicles Broadway legend Elaine Stritch, who in her late -80s remains as ferociously funny as ever. This hilarious and poignant portrait reveals the Emmy Award-winner both on and off stage. Whether dominating the stage, tormenting Alec Baldwin on the set of “30 Rock,” or sharing her struggles with aging, diabetes and alcoholism, “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me” reaches beyond the icon’s brassy exterior and reveals an inspiring portrait of a complex woman and artist. Featuring James Gandolfini, Tina Fey, John Turturro, Hal Prince, George C. Wolfe, Nathan Lane and Cherry Jones. (Unrated, 1hr, 20min)
5/19-21: Filmed right here in Wilmington and starring Linda Lavin, don’t miss this intriguing new film! A comedy from an original script by Michael Maren, “A Short History of Decay” is about a failed Brooklyn writer, Nathan Fisher (Bryan Greenberg), who visits his ailing parents in Florida. His mother (Lavin) has Alzheimer’s and his father (Harris Yulin) has recently had a stroke. In returning to his parents’ home, Nathan discovers the depths and intricacies of their relationship and learns about the nature of his own personal life. (R, 1hr, 34 min.)