Saturday, May 3, 2014

Time To Put On Your Big-Boy Spider Pants

Reel To Reel: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Going Rate: Worth matinee price
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan
Rated: PG-13 (but really could be a PG)
Red Flags: Action violence

Several times during this sequel to the reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, I wasn't sure if I was watching a superhero film or a tricked up episode of The Young And The Restless. Spidey's newest adventure flirts with soap-opera schmaltz, but it seems to pull up just in time to get back to being the summer actioner people are expecting.

ASM2 quickly and conveniently refreshes our memory of some key facts from the first picture, notably Peter Parker (Garfield) suddenly left in the care of his aunt and uncle. Parker's dearth of information about his father continues to gnaw at him as he tries to balance his crime-fighting alter ego with his attraction to Gwen Stacey (Stone). She's at peace with Parker's double life, but he can't seem to love her the way she needs. Well, nobody ever promised being a superhero was going to improve your dating life.

This edition gets more specific on what Oscorp -- that megalith corporation Parker's father worked for -- does to make so much money. We learn it's heavily involved in pharmaceutical research and energy production, even powering New York City's grid. For all it does, however, it can't save the life of its founding father Norman, who's wasting away from a genetic disease. He passes both the reins and his affliction to his silver-spooned, mildly creepy son Harry (DeHaan). I wonder if Harry came from a secret Oscorp project to combine the DNA of Damien Thorn and Howdy Doody.

Harry knows Peter as a childhood friend, and he knows Peter knows Spider-Man. He's got a hunch Spidey is carrying the genetic material that can cure him, if only he can get to the webslinger. He also learns the down and dirty of what Oscorp is doing in its secret labs after an accident involving a nerdy technician named Max (Foxx), an embodiment of a grown-up Steve Urkel. Let's just say power corrupts.

The first 15 minutes of this film run tight and powerful. I saw more of the wit and sly asides Spider-Man is known for, along with some mind-boggling web-slinging. Every so often, the movie riffs on a landmark CGI technique from The Matrix to slowly wind us through an over-the-top moment of superhero prowess we'd miss if we watched it at normal speed. Indeed, some shots in this film seem more paced like a hyperactive CGI kid flick. Part of me misses the old days of optical effects compositing, where all shots had be grounded in some rough reality instead of the liquid smooth computerized perfection that gets better every summer. Don't get me wrong, though. Just like Spider-Man 2, that sequel to the previous franchise starter featuring Tobey Maguire, this sequel does a lot of things right and does them with heart.

One parting note: stay through the credits to see a clip of the upcoming X-Men movie. I'm wondering if this will start a new trend in film marketing by encouraging other blockbusters to bury a stealth trailer for another event film inside the credits. Thinking about it now, I'd rather Hollywood and the cinema chains run a few trailers in a squeezed format over the end credits, similar to network television, rather than lumping 15 minutes worth of trailers before the beginning of the feature presentation. But don't count on it.

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