Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
Directed by Marc Webb
Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Colm Feore, and Dane DeHaan.
Reviewed by Anthony Servante

SPOILERS!! This review is written for comic book fans who know Spider-Man's history well. If you are not aware of Amazing Spider-Man 121-122, best to read this after you see the movie. 

As a pre-teen, I watched Horror and Science Fiction comics such as Tales of Suspense, Journey into Mystery, and Amazing Adult Fantasy, put out by Atlas Comics, turn to Super-Hero stories as accompanying pieces for the monster and crime noir tales with a twist. Soon, the Heroes took over the comics. Iron Man became the star of Tales of Suspense, Thor was the main feature on Journey into Mystery, and Spider-Man overthrew Amazing Adult Fantasy. While DC comics dominated the market with Superman and Batman titles, the new upstart Marvel Comics turned the story of the Super-Hero on its head. Marvel Heroes had problems. The X-Men were rejected teens (and we yearned for Cyclops to tell Marvel Girl that he loved her, yes, we did), Iron Man was a flawed human who relied on his armor suit to keep his heart beating, Thor was exiled on Earth in the form of a handicapped doctor, and Spider-Man was both a curse and a blessing for poor Peter Parker, whose life as a teenager was burdened with hardship when he turned to helping people; after all, who helped Peter? Marvel Comics turned the Super-Hero stories into soap operas. And we loved it.

First Spiderman

The biggest tragedy, however, was the story of Peter Parker. Spider-Man's biggest fan, Flash Thompson, was also Peter's nemesis in high school. His employer at the Daily Bugle, J. J. Jameson was also Spider-Man's biggest foe in the media (accusing our hero of being an outlaw). And Parker's love-life was a sad tale of Shakespearean proportions. The most tragic event in Marvel history was the death of Peter Parker's girlfriend. It shook the comic book industry and set the trend for other major comic book publishers to follow. No character was safe anymore; he or she was subject to being killed off. Sure, the character could always be brought back later (as Kenny on South Park), but the door was opened with Amazing Spider-Man issue #121 and 122 to kill off major characters and not bring them back. 

The Night Gwen Stacey Died

I bought that comic book. I joined the world in the shock of the century. Gwen Stacy, Peter Parker's girlfriend, was killed (long story). I felt the pain. I wanted Spider-Man to get revenge. In issue #122, the story concludes with the death of the Green Goblin, aka, Norman Osborn, father of Harry, Parker's best friend. Harry blamed Spider-Man for the death of his father and friend, Gwen. The Daily Bugle ran stories accusing Spider-Man of murder. The ramifications of this story paved the way for countless more tragedies and plot twists, and there were many as Marvel tried to outdo its own story and DC comics tried to outdo Marvel. Thus it was that this kid, this young punk name Anthony Servante waited since 1973 for the movie of the Death of Gwen Stacy.

The famous panel from Issue #122.

It has arrived. And let me first say that there is no way in Hell that any movie could match the emotional impact of Amazing Spider-Man issues 121-122. No way! I knew that going in. I knew that when I saw the first Spider-Man in 2012, which was basically the set-up for Gwen's death. I knew it because this was not the Marvel universe this story was playing out in. It didn't even follow the comic book storyline. It was merely  a promise for the moon, a desperate attempt to tell the story without the emotion of the comic book. It didn't work.

Death of the Green Goblin

But I speak for myself, of course. I speak for the geeks and fanatics who did grow up purchasing Silver Age Marvel Comics off the drugstore racks and corner market shelves, way before there were even comic book stores, when Archie, Casper, Little Lotta, Richie Rich, and the Justice League of America comics were next to True Detective Magazine, and the TV Guide and the Hollywood Confidential rag. Back then when the National Enquirer was a gore splattered exploitative newspaper that didn't deal in celebrity gossip. How could the movie compete with the memory of that little kid?! No way.

So, how was the movie from the point of view of a critic who left those nostalgic recollections at the door? Well, it was quite good, as in above average. This is a movie for those who don't know who Gwen Stacy is. This is a movie meant to appeal to a new generation of Spider-Man fans. Fans more familiar with Todd Macfarlane than Steve Ditko. This is a good movie about the MOVIE Spider-Man, in the MOVIE universe that Sam Raimi started in the first three Spidey films. And that's okay. After all, I do like movies, and that's what this was: A MOVIE.

 Gwen Stacy

Hero and villain first meet.

Spider-Man cracked twice as many jokes than in two Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. The main villain (Electro, played by the talented Jaime Foxx with his acting handcuffed by CGI) plays his role as if he were a Batman villain from the 60s TV show (goofy and tongue in cheek). But Emma Stone shines as Gwen Stacy, who is torn between her love for Peter and his duty to his Super-Hero responsibilities; she is always one step ahead of the storyline, at once committed to her love while headed out the door for a life in England without Parker in her life. If the movie were made at the same level of the Emma Stone performance, it just might have been able to compete with the comic book mythos of the Gwen Stacy tragedy.

The Green Goblin

Jaime Foxx

But it didn't. There was just too much not to like about this movie. (Really? A real goblin instead of a mask--are you kidding?!). Even Colm Feore's understated performance was lost in the melee of caricatures. Since the movie was meant for movie-goers, the film-makers thought that no one would notice that there was a masterpiece somewhere in those pieces of puzzle that incompletely tells a story not even close to being easy to follow. (Really? That's the reason Parker's parents abandoned him?!). 

Doc Ock

The closest we comic book fans have gotten to the comic book universe of Spider-Man was Raimi's second movie with Dr. Octopus (brilliantly played by Alfred Molina). But then that bloated part three by the Evil Dead director shot down his chances of making part four. Instead Marc Webb was hired to fill in the role of visionary and instructed to reboot the Spider-Man legend. He acquired the right story, that of Gwen Stacy, but he decided to go with bloated instead of solid. This is the reason why Christopher Nolan should be the only one allowed to make Super-Hero movies. He gets it (although Joss Whedon comes a close second with the Avengers movie).

Catwoman, Batman, and Bane.

There has not been a comic book movie that has truly satisfied this nostalgia geek. The best "movie universe" version of a Super-Hero was The Dark Knight Rises (2010) for shear chutzpah. But even that great film was not the comic book universe of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight. At this point, that is all I can ask for: a great comic book hero in a great movie universe, because I've accepted long ago that a comic book universe will never fit in a movie universe. But that little kid inside me keeps hoping and shushing the critic in me. Ultimately, however, the critic always wins the argument. Hey, but there's nothing wrong with hope.

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