Monday, May 5, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 3D review

To make a good movie romance, you've got to have three things. One, the plot conflict must be plausible. The stereotypical love triangle where one partner is kind of bad usually ends up in bad cliche. Two, you've got to have realistic dialogue between the two lovers. Three, there must be chemistry between the two. So, why am I discussing screen romance when reviewing the summer's first popcorn superhero movie, The Amazing Spider-Man 2? Because at its heart, this film is basically a romance.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 starts out with a flashback. We see Richard Parker, and Mary Parker, the parents of Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield). It's their last moments alive on a doomed plane. This is a plot point from the first movie, The Amazing Spider-Man. An assassin is on the plane and Richard struggles with him. A gun is fired and the plane decompresses. Richard is able to send a secret message via his computer. The movie then flashes forward to the streets of New York. Peter Parker aka Spider-Man is trying to thwart the theft of plutonium by Aleksei Sytsevich. (Paul Giamatti) It's a wild car chase scene that has some touches of humor. Perhaps a little too wild as I thought the movie would veer into camp. During the chase, Parker gets calls from his girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) reminding him of his high school graduation ceremony. This leads Parker to see images of Gwen's late father who made him promise to leave Gwen out of his actions as Spider-Man. At one point, Spider-Man saves Max Dillion, (Jamie Foxx) a nerdy OsCorp employee. Anyway, the truck containing the plutonium runs over Spider-Man squishing him like a bug and the movie ends after twenty minutes. Okay, that didn't happen. Spider-Man stops the theft and Parker makes his graduation.

Later, Max Dillon finds out that his plans to unify the power grid of the city has been stolen by other employees at OsCorp. Additionally, he's forced to work overtime to repair electrical problems at OsCorp's research labs. Now Jamie Foxx is a fine actor but he's too strong to play a geek. Thankfully, that part of his performance is short as Max falls into a vat of mutant electric eels. He's transformed into Electro, a super villain who can manipulate electricity. It's this transformation and his final stage as Electro where Foxx is truly frightening. Meanwhile, there are other changes at OsCorp. Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) returns to run the company. There's very little exposition for Harry as he's Peter Parker's childhood friend. But Garfield and DeHaan do a good job of showing us a real friendship. But Harry's got a problem. He's suffering from a genetic disease.

Director Marc Webb returns from the first film. This time he uses slow motion and stop action shots to demonstrate Spider-Man's "Spidey" sense. This is good since it gives the audience a clear understanding of what is going on in an action set piece. I appreciate the break from the fast cutting that modern moviemaking has devolved to. Webb knows how to handle an action scene. They're fun and exciting. Less impressive is the music. Gone is The Amazing Spider-Man's first heavy weight composer, James Horner. In his place are Hans Zimmer and Pharrell Williams. Unlike the first movie with heroic musical themes, we get a kind of musical wallpaper. The movie also ends abruptly, sapping a little out of this epic.

But it's the romance between Peter and Gwen that makes The Amazing Spider-Man 2, well, amazing. The three elements for a good screen romance are here. Plausible conflict. Peter feels guilt and worry over his relationship with Gwen after promising her late father to "leave Gwen out of it." She's in danger as long as he is around her. Gwen wants to be able to choose how to maintain her relationship with Peter rather than leave it to her dead father's wishes. Two, there is realistic dialogue. I found the conversations between Peter and Gwen to be things that people in their position would say. Three, there must be chemistry between the two lovers. It helps that actors Garfield and Stone have a real life relationship. But that must still be duplicated on screen and in character. There's a chemistry between Peter and Gwen that's electric. Their love leaps joyously across the screen.

Much of the credit for The Amazing Spider-Man 2's success should go to the writers of the screenplay, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci (Star Trek Into Darkness) and Jeff Pinkner. It's a script that balances the action with heart and the themes that are part of the Spider-Man world. Great power requires great responsibility. Heroism can come from ordinary people. And of course, there's the amazing romance between Peter and Gwen.

Less amazing however is this film in 3D. Unlike its predecessor, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was converted from 2D rather than shot in 3D. To paraphrase Roger Ebert, you cannot make a 2D movie into 3D. This film did not pop or have that popping effect where the action reaches into the theater. Depth was lacking. And almost all the live action scenes did not work in 3D. Go see The Amazing Spider-Man 2 but skip the 3D version.

It's the romance rather than the explosions that is more compelling in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. I walked out of the theater captivated by Peter and Gwen than thrilled by all the action. But if you want that, it's there too. The grade is A.

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