May 5th, 2014

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014) ***

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) tries to keep his promise of staying away from his girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), but predictably, he winds up back in her arms. Peter also reconnects with his old friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), who has just inherited his father’s company, Oscorp. Meanwhile, Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), a nerdy Oscorp employee who is obsessed with Spider-Man, falls into a vat of electric eels and becomes the electricity-infused villain, Electro. Harry learns he is dying of a mysterious illness and the only thing that can potentially save him is Spider-Man’s blood. He then joins forces with Electro to catch the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.

Director Marc Webb’s follow-up to his 2012 reboot of the web-headed wonder is a notch or two below that flick, but still delivers the good in the action department. The scenes of Spider-Man battling Electro are pretty sweet, and the big fight with The Green Goblin is badass. And although the brawl between Spider-Man and The Rhino (Paul Giamatti) is nothing more than an extended teaser for Part 3, it is nevertheless awesome.

Andrew Garfield gives a great performance here as Spider-Man. His delivery in the first film was a bit whiny at times, but he has really grown into the role. He captures Spidey’s wisecracking demeanor perfectly this time out; and the scenes of the Web Head talking smack with the villains are among the best in any Spider-Man movie.

Jamie Foxx is a bit of a disappointment as Electro. That may have more to do with the way that the screenwriters concocted his character than with Foxx’s acting. I mean I remember Electro in the comics being a career criminal who used his electric powers to pull off heists and robberies. I know the screenwriters are using the Ultimate Spider-Man incarnation as their stepping stone, but he’s just nowhere near as cool. Maybe I’m just a sucker for a guy in a silly-looking green and yellow suit, but the blue-skinned version of the character just doesn’t do much for me. (He looks like a cross between Mr. Freeze and one of those electricity globes from Spencer’s Gifts.)

And when I say the screenwriters “concocted” his character, I mean it’s like they stitched him together from parts of other comic book super-villains. Making him look like Mr. Freeze is one thing, but the screenwriters do him a great disservice by giving him a lame origin. I mean they basically stole Electro’s backstory from Jim Carrey’s Riddler in Batman Forever. (I guess it was because Carrey and Foxx were both on In Living Color together.) There’s also a weird bit where the electricity “talks” to Electro and goads him into doing evil; much like Doc Ock’s tentacles in Spider-Man 2. All of this seems rather arbitrary, and none of it really works. However, once the character turns evil and tries the zap the crap out of Spidey, he makes for a suitable adversary.

Dane DeHaan is very good as The Green Goblin. I just wish he spent a little more time in costume because he easily outshines Foxx. (I did like the scene where they team up though.) And he has a considerable amount of chemistry with Garfield and their scenes together are among the best in the movie.

Whenever Spidey is dodging Electro’s lightning bolts, or wrestling with The Green Goblin, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a lot of fun. Dramatically however, for every step it takes forward, it takes another one backward. The biggest stumbling block is all the exposition with Peter’s parents. The mystery surrounding their disappearance isn’t wrapped up in a really satisfying way and the big revelation about them isn’t anything you couldn’t have already predicted in the first movie. Despite a solid performance by Campbell Scott, the majority of the scenes involving Peter’s folks (especially the opening scene) just feel like filler.

Peter’s relationships are a bit uneven in the film. The scenes between Peter and Gwen are hampered by some really clunky dialogue. Although both Garfield and Stone have a decent amount of chemistry together, they struggle to make their scenes work. And the make-up/break-up dynamic of their relationship ultimately becomes predictable and trite. Because of this, their final scene together is robbed of its full potential. What could’ve packed a real emotional wallop is kinda reduced to yet another scene of Peter moping.

The scenes between Peter and Harry are rather interesting though. Their characters have a different dynamic than their counterparts in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. Both of them are essentially orphans and the way they deal with their grief eventually lead them down vastly different paths. And the scenes between Peter and his Aunt May (Sally Field) are once again solid.

I saw the flick in 3-D, and I really wouldn’t suggest seeing it in that format. It’s one of those deals where they throw a lot of stuff at the screen in the first few minutes of the flick, then sort of forget they made a 3-D movie. If you don’t see it in 3-D, all you’ll miss is:

• 3-D Shrapnel
• 3-D Web
• 3-D Spider-Man
• 3-D Glass
• 3-D Hydrant
• 3-D Water
• 3-D Web

Overall, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 probably runs on about a half-hour too long. If Webb had pared down the backstory of Peter’s folks and cut out some of the ups and downs with Gwen, it would’ve resulted in a more streamlined flick. Of the five Spider-Man movies, this is by far my least favorite, but there are still enough cool action beats and hilarious Spidey quips here to make it worthwhile for any fan of the wall crawler.

AKA: The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro.

RUNAWAY DAUGHTERS (1994) ** ½

Three girls (Julie Bowen, Holly Fields, and Jenny Lewis) spend their nights chasing boys at the drive-in. When one of the girls gets pregnant by her boyfriend, he skips town and joins the Navy. They find out he’s about to ship out and they go on a road trip to the naval base to confront him. Since their uptight parents would never dream of allowing them on such a jaunt, the girls concoct an elaborate false kidnapping plot to cover their tracks.

Directed by Joe Dante, Runaway Daughters (yet another one of those Rebel Highway movies that they used to show on Showtime) in some ways feels like a spiritual, female-centric successor to Matinee (both films were written by Charlie Haas). Both Matinee and this flick are period pieces and feature characters that are neurotic about the current events of the times. (In Matinee it was the Cuban Missile Crisis; In Runaway Daughters, it’s the launching of Sputnik.) It’s not nearly as good as Matinee, but it’s a mostly entertaining affair. It’s just that the goings-on in the film are largely inconsequential and a lot of the characters are unlikeable and/or annoying.

Julie Bowen is excellent as the carefree ringleader of the girls. Paul Rudd is solid in an early role as her juvenile delinquent boyfriend whose motto is “don’t crowd me!” And if you’re a fan of Joe Dante, you’ll get a kick out of seeing his usual stock company of supporting players being trotted out yet again and essaying the roles of the teenagers’ assorted parents. And Dick Miller is pretty great as a slimy private investigator. Even Roger Corman himself turns up in a cameo.