‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ Has Way Too Much Going On

The Amazing Spiderman 2 poster

I figured after “Spider-Man 3,” movie studios and filmmakers would think twice before putting three villains in a film, but lo and behold they have done it again with “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” a sequel to the surprisingly successful reboot which wasn’t necessarily needed so soon. Director Marc Webb is forced to deal with a story that doesn’t have much of a focus and contains too many characters for it to deal with. What results is a incredibly underwhelming superhero movie which plays more like a two-hour plus trailer for other movies, and while this is the fifth “Spider-Man” film in just over a decade, my disappointment with this one has little to do with franchise fatigue.

Not much time has passed since the events of “The Amazing Spider-Man,” and we find ourselves catching up with Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) as they are graduating from high school. Of course, Peter is delayed a bit as his alter ego of Spider-Man has to fight crime when Russian mobster Aleksei Sytsevich, who will later be revealed as Rhino, tries to drive out of New York City with a case full of plutonium vials. Paul Giamatti plays Aleksei and he clearly is having a blast playing such an over the top character, but he’s barely in the movie. We see him at the very beginning and at the end, but nowhere in between.

This brings me to one of my major gripes with superhero movies today. Studios are so insanely desperate in starting the next big franchise to where they already have at least two sequels planned before their big tent pole movie is even released, and it has gotten to where everyone has forgotten how to make a self-contained movie. Rhino is basically here to act as a bridge to the future spinoff “The Sinister Six,” and it ends up taking away from a movie which already has way too much on its plate.

Then we get to meet Max Dillon, an electrical engineer who is invisible to everybody and has no real friends. But after a freak accident lands him in a tank full of genetically modified electric eels, he quickly mutates into an electric generator of a monster who calls himself Electro. Jamie Foxx plays this character who is considered one of the greatest villains in comic book history, and his performance in a way reminded me of Jim Carrey’s in “Batman Forever” where he played Edward Nygma/The Riddler. Both characters come to idolize the heroes which dominate their lonely lives, but when they feel betrayed by those same heroes, the affection they have toward them is revealed to be a deep-seated resentment that soon evolves into sheer anger.

Foxx is a terrific actor and this role could have given him a number of great avenues to explore, but once again this movie has too much to deal with which results in Max Dillon/Electro not getting enough screen time. In fact, Electro ends up disappearing for a good portion of the movie to where you wonder if he’s disappeared for good. When he does come back onscreen, he’s reduced to spewing out a lot of lame one-liners I kept thing were rejected from “Batman & Robin.” Electro could have been one of the most memorable villains to appear in movies this year, but instead he turns out to be one of the lamest.

Next, we come to villain number three which is Harry Osborn/Green Goblin who has just inherited his late father’s business, Oscorp Industries. Played by James Franco in Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” movies, he is portrayed here by Dane DeHaan who has made quite the name for himself after his acting triumphs in “Chronicle” and “Kill Your Darlings.” DeHaan does excellent work as Harry in portraying his manipulative control over his newly acquired board of directors, and he makes us feel his desperation to escape the same fate which befell his father. But when DeHaan becomes the Green Goblin, he goes from giving one of the best performances in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” to one of the worst as his acting is reduced to hissing a lot at people. Don’t even get me started on his makeup because it made me miss that cheap looking mask Willem Dafoe was forced to wear in the first “Spider-Man” movie.

So, is there anything which works in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2?” Well yes, the scenes between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone which continue to be the best parts of this rebooted franchise. Whenever they are together onscreen, the movie comes to life in a way that doesn’t require a single special effect. Like Tobey Maguire before him, Garfield understands what makes Spider-Man such a relatable superhero as, aside from his amazing superpowers, he is a really down to earth guy who has problems like everybody else. As for Stone, she makes Gwen Stacy a wonderfully intelligent human being and the appealing girlfriend many of us hope to have.

Seeing them together also reminded me how Webb directed one of the best romantic movies of recent years, “(500) Days of Summer.” While his handling of this superhero franchise has become shoddy, he really does know how to direct actors to where their intimacy feels ever so genuine. I hope he goes back to directing character dramas very soon.

Actually, when it comes to the failure of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” I find myself blaming Sony and Columbia Pictures more than I blame Webb. In trying to make a hugely entertaining movie, everyone involved got so caught up in setting the stage for future sequels and spinoffs to where this feels like a coming attraction for something far more entertaining. Yes, there are some fantastic special effects on display here which look great in either 2D or 3D, but even they can’t lift this movie out of the muck. There’s never a shortage of fights, explosions and chases, and maybe that’s the problem. While Webb is looking to unlock his inner Michael Bay here, this sequel ends up getting robbed of much of its soul.

I really hate it when history repeats itself, be it in the real world or at the movies. Maybe you can get away with two villains in a movie, but you should not have three. “Spider-Man 3” and “Iron Man 2” should have taught us all this, but some people just don’t listen. Seriously, haven’t we learned anything? Are we destined to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again?

* * out of * * * *

Advertisements

‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ is a Better than Expected Reboot

The Amazing Spiderman poster

When “The Amazing Spider-Man” was finally released in movie theaters everywhere, we finally got to answer the question nagging at us: isn’t it far too soon for a franchise reboot or remake or whatever the hell you want to call this? Well, the answer ends up going both ways here as Marc Webb’s film does tread familiar ground, but it gets better as it goes on. This time, our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man has a lot more edge to him and is a little more complex than he was in the Sam Raimi-directed movies.

This version starts off with a very young Peter Parker being left in the company of his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) by his parents, Richard and Mary Parker (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz), who are forced to leave town under mysterious circumstances. Forward several years later, and Peter is now a sullen teenager played by Andrew Garfield, one of several actors who should have gotten an Oscar nomination for “The Social Network.”

Like before, Peter is a social outcast who is not exactly the most popular person on the high school campus. But unlike Tobey Maguire’s interpretation, Peter here is sullener this time around; sensitive and shy while dealing with anger at the life he has been dealt which is anything but normal. In essence, he is more of a real-life teenager than he was in previous incarnations; confused about his place in life and unsure of himself. “The Amazing Spider-Man” hence becomes the story of a young man on a journey to find himself, and this helps ground the superhero in a reality we all know and understand.

The first part of “The Amazing Spider-Man” made me a bit impatient as it travels through all the things leading up to Peter adopting his alter-ego. Sam Raimi’s first “Spider-Man” movie may have come out ten years ago, but its images are still fresh in our minds. I’m not just talking about Kirsten Dunst kissing Maguire while he hangs upside down. Still, Webb and company do their best to make the material their own. The moments where Garfield develops his power to swing from place to place is exhilarating to watch, and whereas Raimi’s “Spider-Man” movies were like a comic book brought to life, Webb deals with Peter Parker in a more realistic fashion.

Speaking of Garfield, he has repeatedly said how happy he was to get this role, and the thrill he gets from playing this iconic comic book character is clearly on display. Throughout “The Amazing Spider-Man,” the actor looks to be having the time of his life, and he certainly has earned the right to enjoy himself based on his excellent performance here as he makes this role his own. I also really liked was how he wasn’t afraid to make Parker unlikable at times. Clearly this is a young man with issues, having lost his parents in a way no child should, and the actor makes Parker’s confusion over what is expected of him all the more palpable.

Matching Garfield scene for scene is the wonderful Emma Stone who plays his highly intelligent love interest, Gwen Stacy. Stone shares a strong chemistry with Garfield, and she gives the role a feisty kick which makes her so much fun to watch. She also infuses her Gwen with a strong humanity which keeps her from being just another love interest, and her performance goes way beyond what we could have expected.

Rhys Ifans portrays Dr. Curt Connors, once a friend of Parker’s father, who is developing ways to regrow limbs and human tissue. But something ends up going terribly wrong, as it always does, with an experiment, and he is soon turned into The Lizard. The dilemmas this character faces are not too different from what Norman Osborn/Green Goblin character dealt with, but Ifans makes the character a fascinatingly complex one as his intent to test his experimental serum on himself is not about proving oneself to a whole bunch of doubters as it is about taking responsibility for one’s creation when others are more interested in results and profit.

While I miss seeing the late Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris as Uncle Ben and Aunt May, both Martin Sheen and Sally Field fill the roles wonderfully. I also really liked Denis Leary as Gwen Stacy’s father, NYPD Captain George Stacy, who gets into an argument with Peter as to why he considers Spider-Man a vigilante. After watching him on “Rescue Me” and as an endlessly cynical standup comedian all these years, Leary once again reminds us of just how effective an actor he can be in playing an upstanding citizen and a strong family man.

Previously, Webb was best known for directing music videos, and the only other movie he made was “(500) Days of Summer.” You can’t help but wonder what the studio executives were thinking when they hired him after he made a $7.5 million indie movie to helm a summer blockbuster with a reported budget of over $220 million. Maybe all the other big name directors were busy or something. Then again, when you look at both “(500) Days of Summer” and “The Amazing Spider-Man,” they have strong similarities. Both feature main characters in the process of figuring themselves out while moving on to the next stage of their lives, and they also have them romancing a female who is as intelligent as she is attractive. Each movie succeeds in giving us relationships which were not the usual dopey romantic kind, and they are all the better as a result.

With “(500) Days of Summer,” Webb also showed a keen understanding of how important it is for the audience to be emotionally involved with the characters in a movie. This ended up making him an ideal choice to direct “The Amazing Spider-Man” as we need to care about these characters in order for the movie’s story and its special effects to work effectively. Webb succeeds in getting us emotionally involved in what goes on, and it makes this reboot stand out from the typical summer blockbuster which invades our local movie theaters more often than not.

Another thing I have to point out is the film score by James Horner. Danny Elfman had done such a brilliant job defining the sound of Spider-Man in Raimi’s movies, and this gave Horner a hard act to follow. But Horner succeeds in giving us music which is as adventurous and invigorating to listen to as Elfman’s was. Of course, this doesn’t keep him from stealing from himself as there is a musical cue from “Star Trek II” in here, and it is instantly recognizable to those who have listened to that soundtrack over and over again.

It would have been nice if Raimi and Maguire got to make a “Spider-Man 4,” if for no other reason than to make up for the huge disappointment that was “Spider-Man 3.” But in retrospect they must have seen the writing was on the wall as there was nowhere else for them to take the character. While a reboot still feels way too soon for this franchise, “The Amazing Spider-Man” is a very entertaining movie which looks to get this series back on track. Now that we got the origin story out of the way once again, we can get to an even more exciting chapter in Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy’s lives.

* * * out of * * * *

’99 Homes’ Director Ramin Bahrani Talks about Surviving Without a Home

99-homes-poster

The late Roger Ebert proclaimed Ramin Bahrani director of the decade on the basis of his movies “Chop Shop” and “Goodbye Solo,” both of which came out in the 2000’s. His films have received tremendous critical acclaim and numerous awards from one film festival to the next, and this streak does not look to stop with his latest movie. “99 Homes” stars Andrew Garfield as an unemployed contractor who is unjustly evicted from his home and Michael Shannon as the real estate magnate who kicked him out of it and who eventually becomes his mentor in the art of home foreclosures. It’s a thriller which is unsettling as it is heartbreaking as it calls attention to the housing crisis which swept the nation and those cold-hearted and greedy men who profited greatly from it.

Bahrani gives us a story which hits close to home as it contains agonizing scenes of Garfield and his family being given only a few minutes to pack up all their belongings and leave their house. He makes you feel the searing discord between the haves and have-nots as it’s open season on homeowners who have no chance of defending what is rightfully theirs. But when Garfield comes on board with Shannon, he finds a way to dig himself out of his financial black hole so he can get back his house. But as Garfield gets deeper and deeper into Shannon’s world, he starts losing his ethical and moral bearings as he starts to others what was done to him.

Bahrani was at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, California to do a press conference on “99 Homes.” I was one of the reporters there and told him the movie seemed to be as much about survival in an economically shaky world as it is about greed and home foreclosures. When I asked him what he felt “99 Homes” had to say about surviving in this crazy world the characters inhabit, he said the following:

Ramin Bahrani: “One of the scenes I really like, for me it was like something from Dostoyevsky in my mind, was when the two men sit at the dock at night. And I remember Michael (Shannon) came up to me and said, ‘Ramin, is this the important line in the scene?” I told him, ‘Michael, this is the important line in the whole movie.’ And that’s after Michael tells Andrew (Garfield) that he carries a gun even at two o’clock in the morning because he was almost run off the road one time when he goes to dinner with his family and all this stuff, and Andrew says, ‘Is it worth it?’ And Michael looks at him and says, ‘As opposed to what?’”

It’s a haunting question which left the reporters at the press conference speechless, and it’s one of the many reasons why you must see “99 Homes” which is now available to rent and own on DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital.

Andrew Garfield Talks about ’99 Homes’ and Survival

99-homes-andrew-garfield-poster

Having escaped “The Amazing Spider-Man” universe intact, Andrew Garfield gives one of his best performances to date in the tense and timely thriller “99 Homes.” In it, he plays Daniel Nash, an unemployed contractor and construction worker who gets evicted from his home along with his mother Lynn (Laura Dern) and son Connor (newcomer Noah Lomax). In an effort to get his home back, Daniel ends up working for real estate magnate Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), the same man who evicted him and his family, and in the process, he becomes Rick’s protégé and learns how to work the housing market to make a lot of cash. This leads to Daniel making more money than he ever dreamed of, but considering what he’s doing to others what Rick did to him, this newfound wealth is coming at a high moral price.

“99 Homes” is an urgent thriller which demands your attention as it deals seriously with the housing crisis which erupted in America in 2010 and the insatiable greed that followed. Garfield makes Daniel into a very empathetic character, and it’s hard not to feel bad for him even as he makes a Faustian bargain to get his house back. You share in Daniel’s fury at being evicted so unjustly, and you root for him even as he becomes more and more ethically bankrupt. Some will call Daniel a traitor while others will see him as just another guy trying to survive in an increasingly insane world. In the end, we have to ask ourselves what we would have done if we were in his situation.

Garfield was one of several cast members who appeared at the press day for “99 Homes” which was held in Los Angeles, California at the Four Seasons Hotel. I pointed out that while this movie is about money, greed, and ethics, it is also about survival and what we are willing to do to keep a roof over our head and food on the table. I asked Garfield what he felt “99 Homes” said about survival, and he answered my question in a very personal way.

Andrew Garfield: I betray myself every day. I betray myself in small ways, in big ways in order to fit in, in order to be accepted and in order to stay on the path I think I’m supposed to be on. I feel afraid a lot as well in the modern world. I feel a lot of fear about instability to be honest. I don’t feel a great foundation in our culture as of now. I think there are great things happening, there are soulful things happening usually on the outskirts, but it takes a great deal of treasure hunting to find those things or find something that’s deep and meaningful. I’m so grateful and lucky. Thank God for storytelling and thank God for this medium of storytelling because without this I would be lost, I know I would be. This is a big part of survival for me that I get to give myself to something that feels meaningful. And that’s why, when a story like this comes along, it’s really impossible to say no because it’s very rare, the essence of what this story is. That’s my very shallow answer to a very difficult question.

To be honest, it didn’t sound like a shallow answer at all, and it’s not hard to see how Garfield put all his heart and soul into this project. It should go without saying there’s much more to this actor than him playing Spider-Man, and we should expect to see more great performances from him in the future.

“99 Homes” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital.