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Operating on a full charge: “The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro”

May 3, 2014

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If you recall my review of 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man (or if you bothered to read the review I helpfully reposted), you know that I was less than thrilled at that film. Despite better actors in the lead roles, and a giant lizard-man (and, really, don’t giant lizard-men make everything automatically more cool? Name for me one thing that wouldn’t be more cool with a giant lizard-man? The Oscars? The DMV? Christmas mass?), it was hard to see TASM as anything other than a mercenary rights-grab by Sony. So maybe it was my diminished expectations that kept me from running as hot and cold on The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro as most critics. I thought this movie was pretty good. It’s a fun, if unremarkable, adventure with one of the more endearing superheroes. At least until it all goes to hell in the last act (but more on that later).

Since it’s impossible to talk about The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro (Jesus, isn’t there an easier way of writing that? TASM2RoE? Crap…) without talking about the big events that close out the film, I’ll address those at the very end of this review, after a text and picture barrier for those readers who don’t want to be spoiled. Sound good?

So, this movie picks up with Spidey (Andrew Garfield) doing his thing, webbing around, cracking wise, and pwning a Russian gangster stealing some nuclear materials. From there he sprints to his high school graduation, where he and love interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) say goodbye to high school forever (and good thing, too, since they’re 30 and 25 respectively, and the high school setting was starting to get ookie).

Good job humiliating the Russian gangster like that. No way that's gonna back to bite you.

Good job humiliating the Russian gangster like that. No way that’s gonna back to bite you.

The plot then juggles 1) Jamie Foxx’s Max Dillon as he undergoes the kind of surely-fatal accident that in comic books doesn’t kill you but only makes you a super-villain—in this case Electro; 2) The return of Peter’s friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), who is struggling to use his family’s vast fortune to find a treatment for his incurable disease; 3) Peter and Gwen’s relationship which is complicated by Peter’s guilt over the death of Gwen’s father; 4) Peter’s efforts to discover what happened to his long-lost parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz).

Also this happens. Because why not?

Also this happens. Because why not?

This is a lot for a comic-book movie to juggle—probably too much—but this is where the choice of director Marc Webb—formerly a director of mooney, indie 20-something romantic dramas—really pays off. Webb is a fine director of actors and uses his overly-talented cast exceptionally well. So, while Peter’s search for the truth about his parents could have simply been a plot-point, Webb makes it involve a wonderfully emotional scene between Garfield and Sally Field (playing Peter’s Aunt May). Gwen and Peter’s will-they-won’t-they dynamic could easily get tired, but Garfield and Stone are so good and have such palpable chemistry, it’s immensely entertaining.

But Webb has also picked up on how to stage the action, too. Or someone behind the camera has. TASM2RoE (no, that doesn’t work) simply looks great, with vivid colors, and great 3D freeze-frame scenes, which give this film’s action sequences their own style distinct from the hyper-kinetic set pieces of the Marvel Comics Universe films. Electro himself turns out to be a serviceable, if uninspiring villain, with electrical powers that don’t really hew to any internal logic. He can suck energy, blow energy, fly, float, dematerialize…whatever the plot demands. His dubstep soundtrack is pretty nifty, though.

Yes, the hoodie totally distracts me from your pulsing, plasma-energy body. Nicely done.

Yes, the hoodie totally distracts me from your pulsing, plasma-energy body. Nicely done.

All-in-all, this movie is a solid Spider-Man installment, which easily stands among the Sam Raimi originals (which were impressive in their own right simply for translating the character to the big screen). Certainly it’s hell of a lot more fun than the latest Thor or Wolverine installment.

Until the end. And her we have a spoiler buffer:

Uh, sorry if you didn't know that already...

Uh, sorry if you didn’t know that already…

Okay, just in case you can still see this part of the screen, I’m just going to fill some space. Lalalala! I’m typing nonsense. Blah blah blah. Hey, you know what I’ve been thinking about recently? The Colt Delta Elite. It’s a 1911 handgun chambered for the 10mm Auto round. It’s a sweet gun, but I wonder if there’s any pony in getting one, since the full-power 10mm rounds aren’t even available anymore. I mean, you might as well just get a .40S&W for that matter. Still, that Delta Elite has a certain cache…

CDE

Okay, now we’re in spoiler territory.

So, yeah, the worst-kept spoiler since, well, last summer’s worst-kept spoiler is that Gwen Stacy dies. Poor Gwen. I realize that this happened in the comics, but that doesn’t mean it has to happen onscreen. I mean, this story was fine ending as it did with the demise of Electro: there, done, drop mic. Unnecessarily shoe-horning in the Hobgoblin and killing Gwen just didn’t fit with anything else that had happened in this story.

Take a good look, 'cuz she ain't gonna be in the next one...

Take a good look, ‘cuz she ain’t gonna be in the next one…

What purpose did her death serve to the story or Peter’s journey? He already made the decision to follow her to London (granted Spidey wouldn’t really work as well in comparatively-low London–I mean, how many times could he go to Big Ben, the London Eye, that penis-shaped building…). Surely they could have written around that. It also means that this movie, like the last, ends with a funeral. Which is really two Spider-Man movies too many featuring funerals. The charm of Peter Parker is that he is angst-y in that teenage way—which we can all relate to—not in a “Oh God, I’m now responsible for the death of two generations of Stacys” kind of way.

But Peter’s grief and renewal (in, what should be said, is a wonderful scene involving a little kid and a new villain) also happens too quickly. We just spent two movies watching Peter and Gwen’s courtship envelop and mature. It’s dramatically ineffective to have him shake it off in ten minutes of screen time.

Anyway, it doesn’t critically-injure TASM2RoE, but it does rather prevent it from sticking the landing. Here’s hoping the next installment (which is already well and set up in this one, by the looks of the deleted scenes that made it into the trailer) holds together a bit better.

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