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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Top Story: Mystic River Kicks Off Awards Season
Clint Eastwood's Mystic River has won the first major prize of this year's film award season. The National Board of Review on Wednesday named the drama best film of 2003 and its star, Sean Penn, was named best actor for Mystic River as well as the drama 21 Grams. Other honorees include Diane Keaton, who won best actress for her role in Something's Gotta Give, and Edward Zwick, who took best director for The Last Samurai. Some see the NRB's selections as an indicator of what to expect in the race for Academy Awards, although the board's choices have not usually mirrored the Oscars. The top 10 films named by the board were: Mystic River, The Last Samurai, The Station Agent, 21 Grams, House of Sand and Fog, Lost in Translation, Cold Mountain, In America, Seabiscuit, and Master and Commander. Best foreign film was The Barbarian Invasions, a Canada/France production.
Academy Taps Horovitz for Oscarcast
Preparations for the 76th Academy Awards are getting underway. According to Variety, Louis Horvitz is set to direct the Oscar ceremony, which will be held Sunday, Feb. 29, at the Kodak Theater. This will be Horvitz's eighth stint as director of the the Oscar presentation. Michael B. Seligman will be the supervising producer, marking his 27th year of work with the show, while Roy Christopher will come back to give his artistic touch as 15-time production designer.
Watch Star Wars With ... Princess Leia
Carrie Fisher, famous for her role as Princess Leia in the first three Star Wars films, will hold a private screening of The Empire Strikes Back for up to 10 fans as part of a Hollywood costume auction this weekend by Fisher's mother, actress and memorabilia preservationist Debbie Reynolds. Five winning bidders and one guest each will be invited to attend the screening of The Empire Strikes Back, the 1980 sequel to the first Star Wars film, with Fisher. The screening will be held early next year in the Los Angeles area. Proceeds from the sale, held in Beverly Hills and on eBay Dec. 6, will go to the planned Hollywood Motion Picture Museum.
L.A. Judge Dismisses Streisand's Privacy Suit
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Allan Goodman dismissed Wednesday Barbra Streisand's $10 million lawsuit against a multimillionaire who posted photos of her Malibu estate on a Web site documenting erosion along the California coast, Reuters reports. Streisand sued Kenneth Adelman in May, accusing him of violating California's anti-paparazzi law and her privacy rights, but Goodman ruled that Streisand lawsuit chilled Adelman's free speech rights on a matter of public concern, and ordered her to pay his legal bills. The judge also noted that Adelman had not tried to photograph Streisand personally and had not even known that he was capturing her estate on film when he snapped the photos from 2,700 feet away.
Ray Romano To Pen Children's Book
Ray Romano, the Emmy-winning star of CBS' Everybody Loves Raymond, is writing a children's book, The Associated Press reports. Publishers Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers described Raymie, Dickie, and the Bean: Why I Love and Hate My Brothers as "the funny and true story of why brothers can be gross, disgusting and downright mean--but still love each other." Romano is writing the book, expected to be published next fall, with his brothers Richard, a retired New York police sergeant, and Robert, a New York City schoolteacher. "When my brothers and I weren't fighting with each other, we had a lot of fun growing up," Romano said in a statement. "Now it's great as adults to collaborate with them on this book and fight with each other again."
Ray Liotta Gets "Best Human" Accolade
Actor Ray Liotta has been honored with a unique award by Hollywood standards: Best Human. Liotta took home the award for "Best Performance By A Human" in the 2002 hit criminal adventure game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City at the first Spike TV Video Game Awards held Tuesday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Liotta gives voice to the lead character in the game, which was the best seller of 2000, Reuters reports. The two-hour awards show was hosted by comedian David Spade and will be broadcast Thursday night on Spike TV.
Record Label Drops "Murder" From Name
Record company Murder Inc., the label behind rap artist Ja Rule and singer Ashanti, announced Wednesday it had changed its name to The Inc., the AP reports. "Over the course of the years, it seems as though no one is really looking at the talent ... more so than that damn word 'murder,'" label founder Irv Gotti said at midtown Manhattan news conference. Gotti, whose real name is Irv Lorenzo, added that he had no intention of changing the nickname he shares with the late Gambino family boss John Gotti. "It's just a nickname, like any other nickname," he said. "I ain't going to change it."
British Actor David Hemmings Dies