Review – The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Amazing by name, but not unfortunately by nature, this bloated second installment in the hastily rebooted Spidey franchise fails to trap you in its web.

A trio of great performances can't save what is, at best, a very average movie and another underwhelming entry in a franchise that's so far failing to live up to its title

A trio of great performances can’t save what is, at best, a very average movie and another underwhelming entry in a franchise that’s so far failing to live up to its title

When Sam Raimi brought Spider-Man to the big screen in 2002, it landed at a time when the new era of comic book movies that had begun with X-Men two years earlier was still in its infancy.

Fast forward to 2012 and Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man arrived in a far more crowded market place, dominated by the double whammy of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises and Marvel’s The Avengers.

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) investigates the death of his parents in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) investigates the death of his parents in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

While it did good business, when compared to these two box office behemoths, The Amazing Spider-Man felt like a lesser film. Lest we forget, it had only been five years since Raimi’s forgettable Spider-Man 3 and Webb’s reboot felt like what it was – a money-grabbing exercise by Sony Pictures to muscle in on the comic book movie boom.

The strongest aspects of that film remain the highlights of this follow-up – namely the performances of Andrew Garfield as awkward teenager Peter Parker turned superhero Spider-Man and Emma Stone as his smart and spiky love interest Gwen Stacy; and the winning chemistry both actors have together.

Nerdy Oscorp employee Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) shortly before becoming Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Nerdy Oscorp employee Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) shortly before becoming Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 finds Peter struggling to maintain the promise he made to Gwen’s father to stay away from his daughter in order to keep her safe, while also settling into his role as Spidey. With great power comes great responsibility and Peter’s responsibility to the people of New York is severely tested by the arrival of powerful supervillain Electro (Jamie Foxx), formerly sad and lonely Oscorp engineer Max Dillon.

Meanwhile, Peter’s long-absent childhood pal Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) returns home in time to take over the reins of Oscorp from his dying father (Chris Cooper) and it’s not long before Spider-Man gets in the way of their friendship.

Peter Parker's love interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Peter Parker’s love interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The film inevitably draws comparisons to 2004’s Spider-Man 2, easily the best in Raimi’s Spidey trilogy, but falls short. The narrative is pretty similar – a brilliant Oscorp employee accidentally mutates into a supervillain and, with the help of a vengeful Harry Osborn, faces off against Spider-Man. However, while that film featured a properly three-dimensional villain and a storyline that zipped along, Electro’s arc feels underdeveloped, the action set pieces fail to properly engage and the pace often flags (at 142 minutes, it’s at least half-an-hour too long).

It also falls into the same trap as too many other comic book movies (Spider-Man 3 in particular) of believing that bigger is always better. Paul Giamatti’s Russian nutjob Aleksei Sytsevich is as superfluous as he is ridiculous and has presumably been injected into the film as a platform between this film and the next chapter in the franchise, while the curious shifts in tone between comic book goofiness and brooding seriousness suggest a movie that’s trying to be all things to all people, but ends up coming off as directionless.

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) catches up with old buddy Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) catches up with old buddy Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2‘s saving grace are the trio of Garfield, Stone and DeHaan. The strained relationship between Peter and Gwen is effectively brought to life by both actors and Stone in particular radiates in a role that commands strength, purpose and fortitude. DeHaan, meanwhile, is great as the increasingly desperate Harry and employs a smile that turns more crooked as the film wears on.

Special mention should go to the soundtrack, crafted by Hans Zimmer in collaboration with Pharrell Williams and several others. The music that introduces the newly created Electro is particularly effective as it both drives the action and provides a schizophrenic audio accompaniment to the confusion and anger coursing through the character’s mind.

However, a trio of great performances can’t save what is, at best, a very average movie and another underwhelming entry in a franchise that’s so far failing to live up to its title.

Review – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

After seriously dropping the hammer with the disappointing Thor: The Dark World, Marvel has got its mojo back with this superheroic espionage thriller that packs a real biff, pow and bang.

Although on paper a two-dimensional relic of 1940s flag-waving propaganda comics, Captain America's onscreen adventures are fast becoming the Marvel movies to look out for

Although on paper a two-dimensional relic of 1940s flag-waving propaganda comics, Captain America’s onscreen adventures are fast becoming the Marvel movies to look out for

On its 2011 release, Captain America: The First Avenger was an unexpected pleasure, skillfully mixing pulpy action and period nostalgia with a World War Two setting that perfectly suited the old school heroics of Captain Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, a great fit for the role).

His appearance alongside Iron Man, Thor et al in Avengers Assemble (as it was called over here) was largely about him trying to come to terms with the modern world and it’s an issue that inevitably permeates through The Winter Soldier.

Steve 'Cap' Rogers (Chris Evans) forms a valuable friendship with fellow veteran Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Steve ‘Cap’ Rogers (Chris Evans) forms a valuable friendship with fellow veteran Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

However, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley (who also wrote the first movie) deserve a lot of credit for crafting a story that transcends fish-out-of-water narrative tropes and instead gives the character something he can really get his shield stuck into.

While the bad guys he’s fighting this time around aren’t as clear-cut as the uber-Nazis he was battling in The First Avenger, Cap’s inherent goodness and staunch belief in the enduring power of freedom are traits that prove just as necessary in The Winter Soldier.

Cap (Chris Evans) expresses his concerns as to the direction S.H.I.E.L.D is taking to Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Cap (Chris Evans) expresses his concerns as to the direction S.H.I.E.L.D is taking to Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Since being thawed out from cryogenic stasis at the end of The First Avenger, Rogers has allied himself with S.H.I.E.L.D, the labyrinthine spy and law-enforcement network led by Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson, given more to do this time) – but is growing ever-more sceptical about its true motives. Rogers is forced to go on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D after finding himself in the middle of a massive conspiracy and, with the help of deadly assassin Natalia Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson, also with more to do this time), and fellow war veteran Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie, underused) sets about uncovering the truth.

While Thor’s second solo outing got lost in an Asgardian vortex of Dark Elves and cod-Lord Of The Rings nonsense, Cap’s big return has a far more engaging narrative.

Cap (Chris Evans) must work with deadly assassin Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Cap (Chris Evans) must work with deadly assassin Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The central plot makes no bones about its nods to 1970s conspiracy cinema classics like The Parallax View (1974) and Three Days Of The Condor (1975), right down to the casting of Condor‘s Robert Redford, who effortlessly raises the level of the film every time he’s on screen as senior S.H.I.E.L.D figure Alexander Pierce.

The juxtaposition of Cap’s clearly defined outlook of right and wrong with the murky, compromised ideology of S.H.I.E.L.D is a nice idea and a very contemporary concept, but the film doesn’t trust the audience to work it out for themselves. When he witnesses just how far S.H.I.E.L.D is willing to go to “neutralise threats”, a rattled Rogers tells Fury “This isn’t freedom, this is fear”; to which Fury replies the agency “takes the world as it is, not as we’d like it to be”. The point is made several more times in case we haven’t picked it up.

Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) with old buddy and fellow S.H.I.E.L.D colleague Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) with old buddy and fellow S.H.I.E.L.D colleague Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

In spite of the lack of subtlety, it’s undoubtedly the most interesting element of both this and any other Marvel picture to date, and one you feel directors Anthony and Joe Russo would rather have concentrated on more. This being a superhero movie, however, it’s a prerequisite that things go boom sooner or later.

That being said, an early set piece involving an ambush on Fury’s S.H.I.E.L.D mobile is exhilarating stuff, while a fight involving Rogers and a dozen or so S.H.I.E.L.D goons in a lift gets the pulse racing. It’s when the scale of the action is amped up that the film – especially in the final act – loses its way and turns into just another Marvel movie involving a stack of CGI explosions in the sky.

The mysterious Winter Soldier in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The mysterious Winter Soldier in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

In spite of being part of the title, we’re given only a brief taste of who and what the Winter Soldier is. It’s a plot thread you suspect had more meat on it during early drafts and is left dangling for Cap’s third solo movie. At 136 minutes, the film is too long anyway, so it’s not surprising this wasn’t developed more.

Although on paper a two-dimensional relic of 1940s flag-waving propaganda comics, Captain America’s onscreen adventures are fast becoming the Marvel movies to look out for.