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 – Iron Man 3

The law of diminishing returns has long been an affliction of the modern movie franchise, wherein bigger is believed to be better and the script often resembles a paint-by-numbers exercise in calculated cynicism.

Iron Man 3 - "Black has forged a Marvel-ous summer blockbuster that’s as cool, collected and cocksure as its hero"

Iron Man 3 – “Black has forged a Marvel-ous summer blockbuster that’s as cool, collected and cocksure as its hero”

The rust appeared to have set in for Ol’ Shellhead with the turgid Iron Man 2, a vacant mess as bloated as its director John Favreau that undid all of the good work of the entertaining first instalment.

However, the mojo is back thanks to another bold decision by the powers that be at Marvel (following the call to appoint Kenneth Branagh to direct Thor) to take a punt on meta-man Shane Black to co-write and helm the studio’s first salvo since Joss Whedon’s Avengers Assemble struck box office platinum.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) with his latest toy in Iron Man 3

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) with his latest toy in Iron Man 3

Anyone familiar with Black’s only previous stint in the director’s chair, 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang will know getting him on board for Iron Man 3 makes total sense. For one thing, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang starred Robert Downey Jr (in something of a career comeback performance), whose rapid-fire delivery fitted Black’s snappy, wise-cracking dialogue to perfection.

It therefore shouldn’t come as a major surprise to learn that Black has a blast with Tony Stark (Downey Jr), the ingenious, fast-talking billionaire egotist and self-appointed superhero who must go back-to-basics and overcome his post-Avengers Assembled panic attacks when his cosy world is turned upside down at the hands of the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a megalomaniacal terrorist seemingly hell-bent on bringing America to its knees.

Although there are obligatory boxes that need ticking when dealing with a franchise picture, there are more than enough Blackisms peppered throughout the film’s 130-minute running time. While Whedon got away with one truly inspired moment in Avengers Assembled when a crew member on S.H.I.E.L.D’s flying aircraft carrier is caught playing classic video game Galaga, Iron Man 3 is all Black.

The mysterious Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) in Iron Man 3

The mysterious Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) in Iron Man 3

He has a field day pulling the rug from under the viewer by undermining familiar screenwriting tropes, such as in the amusing relationship between Stark and troubled kid Harley (Ty Simpkins), who helps him get to the bottom of the Mandarin’s dastardly plan. Black knows we’re expecting a father/son bond to form, but buries the notion in a blizzard of cute one-liners.

Likewise, he saves some of the best lines for the smart-suited henchmen, who in any other blockbuster outside of an Austin Powers flick would be nothing more than target practice for our hero.

Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) picks up the pieces in Iron Man 3

Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) picks up the pieces in Iron Man 3

To Black’s credit, he and co-screenwriter Drew Pearce keep Tony out of the heavy metal suit for long periods (even during the inevitable robots-hitting-each-other final reel), no doubt understanding the franchise’s greatest strength isn’t the wham-bam special effects (although there’s still plenty of them), but rather Downey Jr’s scenery-chewing performance.

That being said, Downey Jr’s turn is so big many of the supporting cast barely have a chance to make an impact, especially Gwyneth Paltrow as Tony’s soul mate Pepper Potts, who looks confused or shocked most of the time, and Rebecca Hall as Stark’s former conquest Dr Maya Hansen, who has so little to do it’s almost tragic.

War Machine, make that Iron Patriot, in Iron Man 3

War Machine, make that Iron Patriot, in Iron Man 3

Don Cheadle gets a lot more to do this time around as Rhodes, whose Iron Man suit has been sprayed red, white and blue and renamed Iron Patriot (as opposed to its previous moniker, the more honest War Machine) and who gets to enjoy some Lethal Weapon-style buddy action with Tony, which is only appropriate bearing in mind Black wrote that 80s blockbuster.

The only one who truly stands out alongside Downey Jr, however, is Kingsley, who steals every scene he’s in as the mysterious Mandarin. It’s a superb, multi-layered performance that’s as out-there as it is memorable.

Tony Stark's former number one fan Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) in Iron Man 3

Tony Stark’s former number one fan Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) in Iron Man 3

One of the problems with creating a post-Avengers universe containing a big green guy and a hammer-wielding god is that they’re notable by their absence in Marvel’s stand-alone movies. The film tries to get around this big, gaping logic hole when Stark explains: “This isn’t superhero business. It’s American business.” But if that’s the case, then where’s Captain America?

As with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Black’s numerous other scripts (in particular The Last Boy Scout), Iron Man 3 gets a little too-cute for its own good, to the extent whereby some scenes get so caught up in the next one-liner the narrative grinds to a halt.

That being said, the direction Black and Pearce take the main character is a real winner. This Tony Stark must swallow his pride, understand the consequences of his actions and rely on the skills that created Iron Man in the first place if he is going to prevail.

Whether this is Downey Jr’s final solo stint as Ol’ Shellhead remains to be seen; either way Black has forged a Marvel-ous summer blockbuster that’s as cool, collected and cocksure as its hero.