Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
As grand as the themes of good and evil, needs and deservings, power and responsibility and such forth are, superhero movies are generally pretty straightforward in premise: hero stops villain from wreaking havoc. As off-putting as this kind of simplicity might sound, it's usually the right way to go. If you pack enough substance into your characters and adhere your plot to these linear margins, you can actually wind up saying a healthy amount (and having a lot of fun). The Amazing Spider-Man 2 gets half of this formula down pat. Although Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker is still a moreover undistinguished identity, his emotional magnitude (re: his relationship with Gwen Stacy) is enough to keep him valid through the storm of lunacy that is his second feature. And it's not even that lunacy that holds him back. The problem isn't how wild his conquests are, how silly some of the action sequences feel, or how absolutely bonkers his villains turn out to be. It's all the other stuff (and yes, if you can believe it, there's a ton more going on in this movie than what I've already mentioned — that's the issue). All the plot twists, tertiary mysteries, ominous flashbacks, abject reveals, and weightlessly sinister pawns in this brooding game that, save for its fun with the baddies, takes itself way too seriously. All that stuff that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 thinks is necessary to make Peter Parker matter? It actually does just the opposite.
Peter is at his best when he's playing Tracy and Hepburn with the girlfriend he's perpetually disappointing (the eternally charming Emma Stone), or trying to win back the favor of the only remaining parental figure from whom he's rapidly slipping away (Sally Field, reminding us why she's a household name), or angling to connect with the mentally unstable engineer who just wants people to notice him (Jamie Foxx working his comic shtick with a frightening zest). We have the most fun with Peter when he's playing the simplest games, and we connect best with him on similar ground. But Peter and company, at the behest of The Amazing Spider-Man franchise's Sandman-sized aspirations, spend so much time exploring new avenues: the secrets surrounding the death and work of Richard Parker, the behind-the-curtains operations of OsCorp, the nefarious goings on in the waterside penitentiary Ravencroft.
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
As a result of the grand stab at world building, there is just so much stuff that Peter has to wade through in this movie, dragging the likes of Gwen and his boyhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan, mastering angst, menace, and upper-class privilege all at once) into the dark crevasses of narrative waste. With so many diversions into the emotionally vacant, deliberately joyless explorations of Parker family origin stories, secret brief cases, and underground subways — The Amazing Spider-Man 2 rivals Captain America: The Winter Soldier in complexity, but forgets the necessary ingredient of fun — we barely have enough energy left when the good stuff hits.
And in truth, the good stuff isn't really good enough to sustain us through all the duller periods. Garfield and Stone do have laudable chemistry. Foxx is a hoot as Peter's maniacal new foe, especially when paired with the grimacing DeHaan. And the action, while often straying from any aesthetic authenticity, is nothing shy of neat-o. It's all passable, occasionally worthy of a hearty smile, but rarely anything you'll be definitively pleased you took the time to see.
But beyond coming up short in the micro, the film's regal downfall is its scope. With so much to do, both in accomplishing its own necessary plot points and setting up for those to come in future films, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 doesn't seem to take time to make sure it's having fun with its own premise. And if it isn't having fun, we won't be either.
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More news from the shuffle to find a new lead for the Bourne movies: Joel Edgerton is the latest name to drop into the rumor mill. According to Vulture, Bourne Legacy director Tony Gilroy hopes to sign the Australian actor for the lead in the flick. Once more for clarification: the role is not Jason Bourne, it's a man named Martin who is part of a "Treadstone-like project."
Anyway, even though Gilroy is down, it's not that simple. After Hugh Jackman turned down the lead role in Snow White and the Huntsman, Universal set out to find another man for the job. They're eying Edgerton for that role as well. As Vulture already noted, his lack of international fame wouldn't present as much of a gamble here because Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron are already shouldering that burden. With Bourne, Edgerton would essentially be carrying the film on his own not-so-famous shoulders. The studio is also trying to get this Hunstman role cast as soon as possible so that filming can get underway over the summer. So what does this mean? Well, if Edgerton gets the Huntsman role, he won't be able to take the Bourne role.
And if that happens, we're back to speculationland. There we find rumors of James McAvoy and Shia LeBeouf as the Bourne-less Bourne flick leads, as they are at the top of the studio's list. Then again, we've heard plenty of names thrown around this project from all different genres, talent levels and fame levels. With all these different types, it would seem that Universal hasn't yet figured out what sort of hero they're looking for, which would make a lot of sense. How do you make a Bourne-less Bourne flick while still drawing existing fans and brand new ones? That's one hell of an order, for sure.
Based on the best-selling prize-winning novel by Gail Carson Levine of the same title Ella of Frell (Anne Hathaway) lives in a magical world where ogres giants fairies elves and such live together in relative harmony. When Ella was born her fairy godmother Lucinda (Vivica A. Fox) gave her a special gift--obedience--which turns out à la Sleeping Beauty to be more like a curse. As the young beauty grows up she's unable to refuse any command which often leaves her at the mercy of unscrupulous personalities--in particular her new stepmother (Joanna Lumley) and wicked stepsisters who get a kick out of torturing her à la Cinderella. Before long the headstrong Ella has had enough. In a bid to regain control of her life she goes on a quest to find Lucinda and free herself from her burden. She picks up some friends along the way à la The Wizard of Oz including a know-it-all named Benny (Jimi Mistry) an elf named Slannen (Aidan McArdle) and the dashing soon-to-be-king Prince Charmont (Hugh Dancy). But Ella also encounters ogres giants and Charmont's uncle the egomaniacal Sir Edgar (Cary Elwes) who as the de facto evil despot has caused great discord in the land. Ella has to make the prince realize his uncle is a bad bad man help him own up to his kingly responsibilities restore peace in the land and--of course--fall in love. But first and foremost she has to get rid of that stinkin' gift.
Hathaway who was a breath of fresh air in the 2001 sleeper hit The Princess Diaries solidifies her reputation as a natural comedienne in Ella Enchanted. The sassy forward-thinking medieval lass forced to obey every command despite herself gets into some precarious situations (watch how her nasty stepsisters make her steal stuff from the medieval mall "Galleria of Frell") and Hathaway's endearing qualities--the expressive face the affinity for physical comedy--accentuate the charming story. As her love interest Prince Charmont Dancy (Black Hawk Down) clicks with Hathaway and has the looks and personality Teen Beat readers (or as the magazine's called in the film Medieval Teen) drool over. But it's the rest of the cast who truly complete the film--including Minnie Driver as Ella's fairy nursemaid Mandy who isn't very good at dispensing magic; Mistry (The Guru) as Benny the boyfriend Mandy accidentally turns into a talking book; Elwes who does a complete turnaround from his hero in Princess Bride; Lumley (Absolutely Fabulous) as the greedy stepmother; Heidi Klum (yes the model) as a fetching giant; and especially newcomer McArdle who as an elf supposedly destined to only make merry and sing songs really wants to be a lawyer.
In addition to its fresh storyline Ella Enchanted looks great too. In green magical Ireland director Tommy O'Haver (Get Over It) re-created the details of the enchanted medieval kingdom's thatched-roof houses tall castle spires and fields of poppies in colorful comically anachronistic sets and costumes. Die-hard fans of the novel however may feel slighted that O'Haver (along with a long list of writers) veered too far from the original source choosing to cater to the teen set with modern-day MTV touches not found in the more traditional book. The "Frell Galleria " for example with its man-powered wooden escalators is cute but not entirely necessary. Neither are the two musical numbers in the film one in which Ella is ordered to sing at a giant's wedding and bursts into a rousing rendition of Queen's "Someone To Love." But despite whatever targeted audience the movie's going for they'll all be completely entertained by the whole package.