Early Monday morning, Sony gathered select press for a preview of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The first fifteen minutes of the sequel was shown, in addition to two other sequences from the film: an early Times Square fight between Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) & Electro (Jamie Foxx) and a later scene involving Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) and Electro. For a recap and thoughts on the footage screened, hit the jump. (Of note: there are, of course, spoilers in the following article).
There’s a strange trepidation surrounding the release of the upcoming The Amazing Spider-Man 2. While the latest Marvel superhero films are wont to provoke overwhelming enthusiasm from rabid fans, their DC, Sony and Fox counterparts often are awaited with indifference, if not outright scorn (see the whole nonsensical hoopla over the recent Fantastic Four casting for proof). There’s a perception that Marvel caters to the hardcore fans with its vast interlocking mythology and increasingly byzantine comic-friendly universe; while all other comic owned properties cater cravenly to “the all mighty dollar” (of course this seems rather silly – as ALL multi-billion dollar franchises are made for your hard earned bucks.) Sony did itself no favors though to its perceived miserliness when it reneged on a proposed Sam Raimi directed Spider-Man 4, opting instead for an indie (read: cheaper) reboot of the franchise scarcely five years after Spidey 3’s release.
Of course this supposed ‘cheaper’ Spider-Man film ballooned to an estimated 230 million dollars, not much under Spider-Man 3’s reported 250-mil budget. There were rumors of script changes, last minute editing, excised storylines, un-happy executives… Pretty much everything and anything negative sounding you can think of. So when The Amazing Spider-Man was finally released, the deck was suitably stacked against it. Even so, the film was generously if mildly received. There were the expected complaints: 1) what was the point of a step-by-step remake to a film made not even a decade prior? 2) It wasn’t as good as the Raimi films 3) A muddled and obviously truncated-in-editing storyline (what the hell was the deal with Peter’s parents?); but still the film had a lot going for it – everyone seems to agree Andrew Garfield made for an excellent Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Emma Stone was delightfully winsome as his paramour Gwen Stacy. In between the competent (if somewhat obligatory-feeling) multi-million $$$ set pieces, the film took its time to stop and give its leads actual scenes to talk, flirt, argue, emote… It was as if you could see the supposed ‘indie’ smaller version of Spider-Man battling the archetype of the huge SUPERHERO film. It made for an interesting (if not 100% successful) dichotomy. But in this increasingly polarized film-critique landscape of BEST THING EVER or WORST THING EVER, being pretty decent doesn’t really register on the spectrum.
And so still the whispers persist. Before the preview screening of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I overheard the journalist to my left remark how he ‘couldn’t explain it, but [he] was sort of dreading the film.’ and the journalist directly behind me opining that she ‘just kind of yearned for the old Sam Raimi films’. This thought-line seems to be pervasive amongst most comic film friendly audiences. There’s no way a movie that cost north of 200 million could ever be considered an underdog – but The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is about as close as you could theoretically get.
The footage screened of the forthcoming sequel seemed mostly to focus on spectacle, eschewing the smaller scale “indie” stuff. There’s a gunfight on an airplane, an airplane crash, over a dozen police car crashes, a shootout, and a rush to contain multiple canisters of plutonium all within the first fifteen minutes of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (AS2).
AS2 opens with the same flashback that opened AS1 as Peter Parker is abandoned by his parents — except here: the perspective is switched from Peter Parker to his father Richard (Campbell Scott). It’s fun to watch the posh Scott of The Spanish Prisoner and Rodger Dodger fame in what is ostensibly his own little action film for the first five or so minutes. Richard discovers some mysterious classified secret at Oscorp. He juggles a series of vials, looks contemplatively at a computer screen, discovers his entry code has now been locked out and then rushes home only to discover its been broken into and his office ransacked. He and his wife (Embeth Davidtz) immediately whisk their boy Peter off and drop him at the Aunt & Uncle’s. They then rush onto a private plane to hide away from whatever far-reaching malevolent corporate force Richard has seemingly gotten onto the bad side of. On the plane they have the standard heart-to-heart of how difficult it is to abandon their child but they don’t want Peter to live a life on the run and that it’s a necessary sacrifice for his better good. It’s pretty rote stuff – but Davidtz and Campbell sell it like the pros they are. Plus about five seconds later, an assassin posing as a co-pilot attempts to off Richard as he frantically tries to upload some important file – so there’s not much time to think about the stuff that doesn’t quite work.
There’s a propulsive energy to the first fifteen minutes. Whereas AS1 opened on a much more somber and contemplative note, the sequel opens BIGGER and more action-focused. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Filmmaker Marc Webb seems to have taken a huge stride in staging the action of the sequel. Too often the Lizard-centric action beats of The Amazing Spider-Man felt muddled and unclear, perhaps due to the shoddiness of the CGI or the inherent difficulties in shooting a fight scene between one character and another not yet created. But here in the opening of the sequel and later in the Times Square fight (which I’ll get to in a bit), Webb seems to relish in the opportunity to craft as much mayhem as possible. The aforementioned fight on the plane featuring one gun, a seatbelt, a dead pilot, a free falling aircraft, a man, his wife, an assassin and only one parachute culminates with a surprisingly powerful emotional beat. It’s such a good little bit that when the movie jumps forward afterward to a grown up Peter Parker/Spider-Man in-action set piece, it’s a bit of a let down.
There’s an odd tonal discrepancy cutting from the somber finality of the airplane sequence to Spider-Man pantsing criminals and cracking wise – but any misgivings had are soon drowned out by the sheer joy and clarity Webb injects into the Spidey set piece. Most of this scene has already been spoiled via the trailers and online photos — but basically Spider-Man is called into action to stop a pre-Rhino Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti going as broad as possible) from robbing an Oscorp van full of plutonium. A seemingly endless number of car crashes and Spider-Man one-liners follow. The scene is intercut with Gwen and Peter’s high school graduation, which Peter is in danger of missing given his preoccupation with the ongoing robbery. At the graduation, Gwen Stacy, as valedictorian, gives a fairly on-the-nose speech about living life to its fullest because you never know when it’s going to end (HINT! HINT!). But yet again any eye-rolls are immediately quashed by a sequence minutes later where Spider-Man must juggle a dozen canisters of plutonium in a Keaton-esque bit of physical comedy. Any time The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems like it’s about to go off the rails and prove the naysayers true, it finds some little action bit or inspired Andrew Garfield one-liner to bring you back into its good graces. It’s quite a tight rope even for just fifteen minutes – but Webb, Garfield and co. are able to maintain the balancing act at least for these opening scenes.
The footage then jumped to a later scene in AS2 where Peter and Gwen, who have seemingly broken up at some point earlier in the picture, try to rekindle their relationship. It’s an oddly written scene – at one point, Peter admits to following Gwen around at least once a day to make sure she’s all right. It’s supposed to read as romantic and charming, but instead comes across as a tad stalker’ish’. It’s only through the sheer chemistry of leads Garfield and Stone, all batty eyes and wayward glances, that the scene works in any sort of capacity. And the final emotional beat wherein Gwen tells Peter she’s thinking of moving to England feels like it was borrowed from any number of high-school melodramas. However the two wayward lover’s rendezvous is soon cut short when the newly formed Electro stumbles into Times Square causing all kinds of havoc.
Jamie Foxx plays Electro as wounded pride incarnate, a guy prone to exclaiming ‘I’m a nobody’ and quick to offense when Spider-Man can’t remember his pre-trans name Max. So imagine Electro’s sudden sense of accomplishment when he sees his blue face projected onto every single news outlet screen in Times Square – and then imagine his displeasure at seeing Spider-Man’s face take his place on all those screens once the web-slinger shows up. It’s a bit of an obvious visual; but effective nevertheless in getting at the mad need for self-acknowledgement that drives Electro and ultimately provokes the fight scene at Times Square.
The Times Square scene, like the previous action set pieces preceding it, is well staged and captured. Webb plays a lot here with speeding the footage up and then slowing it down at crucial points. For instance: Electro charges the metallic rails of an entire bleacher stand. In slow motion, the camera pauses as a number of citizens (unaware of the electricity running through the bannisters) reach their hands out about to touch, grab hold of these railings. The camera then speeds up again as Spider-Man shoots his webbings, stopping the various citizens from touching the railings, thereby saving their lives. Sure it seems de-rigueur for action films nowadays to employ the ol’ slow to fast motion one-two punch, but still it’s used effectively here to convey the seeming impossibility of saving all these lives and than the skill and ease in which Spider-Man does exactly that.
There’s a vividity in the color schematic to much of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – from the bright red and blue outfit Spidey wears to the shiny baby blue of Electro and his circuit vision (in a POV of Electro’s, we see that the entire world looks like nothing more than a computer circuit). The action beats really pop in no small part due to the comic-panel nature of the footage. This isn’t the dark griminess of Nolan’s Batman films, instead opting for a look much more at place with the lively saturated tones of Marvel’s Captain America: First Avenger and Ang Lee’s Hulk.
In the final scene screened to press, Electro is locked up in prison, hooked up onto some board that negates his electrical charges. Enter Harry Osborn, sporting a fresh black eye and a nasty cut to his neck, intent on releasing Electro from his confines. Osborn seems to be on the verge of tears in the scene, wounded not just physically but emotionally. Dane DeHaan, so good in films ranging from Chronicle to Lawless, gives it his all in the brief scene. It’s a variation on the old “villain tries to convince the other villain to join up with him” routine, pretty much the same scene actually from Spider-Man 3 where Venom convinces Sandman to team up. But DeHaan almost makes you forget the tropes of the convention by sheer force of will. There’s a deep-seeded insecurity and desperation to DeHaan’s Osborn here. It feels raw in a way you wouldn’t expect to get from a comic book sequel where so often villains are played arch and mannered. It’s only a brief clip – but if there’s reason to be excited about the prospects of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, it’s the thought of DeHaan sharing screen-time opposite the stellar Garfield and Stone.
The scene, of course, concludes with Osborn releasing Electro – who now seems to be able to materialize at will wherever he pleases. There’s something very “Dr. Manhattan” about Electro in the scene, this big blue man floating off the ground capable of imparting so much damage with no effort exerted. In one particular nasty bit of business, Electro throws an electrical charge so intense, it blows a hole clear through a poor guard’s chest. Freed, Electro and Osborn set their sites on defeating their common enemy: Spider-Man.
And there ended the footage shown. All in all, I would say it ran for about 25 minutes.
Afterwards, director Marc Webb took to the stage to offer a couple choice sound bites in a brief Q&A. On the final runtime for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, he offered up that it would most likely be over two hours. On whether or not the sequel would provide answers to the mystery surrounding Peter’s parents and the identity of the man speaking with The Lizard in the post credit scene of The Amazing Spider-Man, Webb answered affirmatively ‘Yes’. On the cut Mary Jane Watson scene, Webb stated that ‘it was a separate tiny tease’ that didn’t serve any purpose for the larger story of the sequel and was thus omitted. Finally despite the recent news that Webb will not be directing The Amazing Spider-Man 4, he still seemed keen on ‘being involved in any way possible’ with The Sinister Six and all upcoming Spider-Man related films.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opens everywhere May 2nd. I, for one, can’t wait.
Here’s the new trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 if you missed it.