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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
On this week's Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Peralta is desperate to close an "unsolvable" case: Case 52ABX-32QJ, in which a man was murdered via an exploding boat, leaving behind only a charred finger and a melted torso for evidence. Since he and Terry were originally assigned the case eight years ago, Perlata convinces Terry to give up his weekend as well and help out. Of course, the real reason that Peralta wants to spend his weekend working is to distract himself from the fact that Santiago and her new boyfriend Teddy (Kyle Bornheimer) are taking a lovely weekend trip to the Berkshires. Well, they were, until Santiago remembered she agreed to help Captain Holt with a community organization meeting.
Meanwhile, Boyle and Vivian are still working through their move to Ottawa, which means he spends much of his workday on the phone. But since the precinct isn't a great place to have an emotional conversation — what with all of the hijinks, murder and holding cells full of perps — Diaz helps him out by introducing him to "Babylon," the secret bathroom she and Gina use as a private getaway. So, break out the Salt 'N' Pepa and your animal-covered nap blankets, because it's time to close a difficult case of our own: determining the MVP's of "Unsolvable."
Terry Jeffords It can be tough to balance being both an authority figure and one of the goofiest characters on the show, but Terry Crews always manages to find the right combination of the two. - It's not a fancy tea party without napkins in the shape of swans, and luckily, Terry is the king of origami napkins. - In a beautiful flashback, we learn that eight years ago, Terry wore Kangol hats to work, Peralta had frosted tips and Boyle had, quite possibly, the worst haircut of all time. - Peralta: "That doesn't sound good." / Terry: "I know. That's why I sad 'bad news.' Terry believes in having a clear topic sentence." - On Taylor Swift: "SHE MAKES ALL OF US FEEL THINGS!" - Peralta: "Do they run from the bulls in Pamplona?" / Terry: "Yes. That's the whole point of it." - Terry's biceps often mock people. It's a good thing to know. - Jake and Terry drunkenly dancing to "Whatta Man" is the best capper of the season. There is little in this world that is more delightful than Crews dancing, so it's no surprise that almost all of Brooklyn Nine-Nine's best music moments have come from him.
Santiago and Holt Santiago spends so much time sucking up to Holt that it was a nice change of pace to see her attempt to get out of doing something for him for a change. Melissa Fumero plays flustered beautifully, and this week she nailed every single reaction shot. And since she and Andre Braugher are always hilarious together, it's no surprise that their scenes were some of the funniest of the night. - Holt sprained his wrist hula-hooping: "Kevin and I attend a class for fitness and for fun. I've mastered all the moves: the Pizza Toss, the Tornado, the Scorpion, the Oopsie-Doodle." And the only person who knows this is Peralta, because "no one will ever believe [him]." Braugher's devious face as he deletes the photos is a thing of beauty. - Santiago, on her dental pain: "I am a rock, I am an island, I... have lapsed into song lyrics again." - Holt, giving last year's audio-visual presentation: "I... just deleted... everything." - Holt: "My brother-in-law is one of the best oral surgeons in the quint-state area." / Santaigo: "That's two better than the tri-state area." - Santiago: "I may be a liar, but I have great teeth, and no one can take that from me." / Dentist: "Have you ever heard of over-brushing?" / Santiago: "Oh, no."- After Santiago finds out she has seven cavities, Holt chides: "I have to say, I feel like you deserve this." - When asking for the following weekend off, Santiago starts with "I know this comes right on the heels of betraying you, but..." - Fumero had the night's best bit of phsyical comedy when her drink just spills down her face, since Santiago still can't feel her mouth.
Gina After a few weeks of Gina-heavy episodes, she took a backseat this week, and mostly hung around to help keep Boyle's storyline moving. Chelsea Peretti can deliver almost any line perfectly, and this week was a wonderful showcase for that talent. - After Santiago describes the activities she and Teddy have planned: "Sounds like you two have a lovely lesbian vacation planned." - On excuses for getting out of work: "Can't go wrong with dental emergency, or a death of a triplet. Now that one you can use twice." - Gina, on Babylon: "It's the best thing in my life, and I have a very full life. Do you know I know Papa John? The Papa John." / Diaz: "Someone is lying to you." - Diaz introduced Gina to Babylon after she got a stomach flu at a sewer rave. "Fun night, though." - After Holt forces Santiago into seeing a dentist, Gina rubs in her failure at lying with: "He's a good dude. He's a good, good dude." - Gina's over wolves. She's into angry unicorns now.
Scully and Hitchcock The fact that Scully and Hitchcock are only interested in being decent detectives when there's a secret bathroom involved is both hilarious and wonderfully fitting. They perfectly capped off that reveal with a one-two punch of them bullying Boyle into revealing Babylon's location, and then using their new secluded restroom to wash their clothes in the sink. It's kind of amazing that these two still have jobs considering how ridiculous they are.
Last night we saw one houseguest get evicted for violence, multiple houseguests get in fights with each other, a funeral, a date, a woman who can't cry, and several stunning evictions. Sounds like the most exciting night of Big Brother yet, right? Wrong! It was the worst — it was the damn clip show.
You know what I'm talking about: It was the annual episode in which the producers make the houseguests sit around and talk about the highlights of the season so they can air some dusty old footage and take us through the summer with a good dose of instant nostalgia. There are a bunch of problems with this. First, we've seen this all before. No one is flicking on the second to last episode of Big Brother and thinking, "Wow, I really want to know what is going on with this and wish someone would walk me through the events of this summer." No, that never happens. So, for all of us committed viewers, it's boring. And the commercials advertise never-before-seen footage to entice us. What did we get? We saw Britney beat up a teddy bear, Britney give Shanielle a hilarious counseling session, and, well, that's about it. Of course, there might have been more but football cut into the broadcast again and my DVR didn't tape the show on after it, so I missed the last 10 minutes. (Based on the promos during the show, the three remaining houseguests had to hang onto vines while they were dropped into water and then flung against a wall. Sounds like a classic final BB challenge, and one that Ian, thankfully, should win.)
The other problem with this show is that it all seems so canned. People often accuse the producers of BB of manipulating the game and, duh, of course they do. But there is something about this episode in particular that is so fake, like the houseguests, for once, aren't having a discussion in their own voices, like someone schooled them on the talking points. Then they seem like the cast of Punky Brewster walking us all through a preview of what Saturday Morning cartoons the network has lined up for us this season. Remember those? Those were awesome. This is not.
Can't we just do away with the clip so for good? All sorts of shows try to pull this stunt every season (Survivor, America's Next Top Model, The Real Housewives of Hoboken's Pre-Reunion Special) and I think it's kind of insulting. It's a cheap and easy way for networks to fill up an hour of TV and rope in the suckers who just want to relive a good fight and are too lazy to search for it on YouTube like the rest of us. And BB tapes every houseguest every moment of every day. Didn't they have something new and original to unearth? Or what about a behind-the-scenes special (like they do with Deadliest Catch) so we can see how they put up the games in the courtyard, how they actually make the slop, and just who has to go in and pick up Willie's dirty drawers when he gets booted for headbutting a southern-fried simpleton. Come on, Big Brother, we know you're better than this.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
[Photo Credit: CBS]
'Big Brother' Recap: O Captain, My (God!) Captain!
'Big Brother' Recap: Holy Double Eviction, Batman!
'Big Brother' Recap: The End Is Near