Why The Amazing Spider-man 2 May Be The Best Comic Book Movie Ever
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Richard Cosgrove reveals why he thinks The Amazing Spider-man 2 may be the best comic book movie he's ever seen...
Spider Sense Tingling!!! - Here be spoilers!
Warning, this article is full of spoilers for the new Amazing Spider-man movie. If you haven't seen it yet, click away now...
Right, if you're still here, let's go.
Though it seems I may be in the minority here, I can honestly say that as a long term Spider-man fan I think the new film is certainly the best Spidey flick I've ever seen and is quite possibly one of the greatest comic book movies I've ever had the pleasure of watching.
But what about the Avengers flick, I hear you cry, or X-Men First Class? They're great, nay, awesome films, no question, but though it's not without its flaws The Amazing Spider-man 2 just about nails everything that makes the reading of comic books such a joy. Well it does for me, anyway.
Mark Webb's 2012 Spidey reboot made it clear that we weren't going to be sticking slavishly to the wallcrawler’s original 1960s mythology. Some purists may say this is a problem, but not me. I love the classic Stan Lee / Steve Ditko stories, and they will always be the definitive telling of the boy arachnid's origin, but if the comics have gotten away with endless revisionism - from the creation of the Ultimate universe, to resurrecting characters that we had already mourned or bid good riddance, to the sheer stupidity of the Brand New Day arc – then why shouldn't the movies be given the same leeway.
There was an outcry when it was revealed that Harry and not Norman would be suiting up as the Green Goblin in the new film, and I must admit I did have misgivings myself until I saw it, but you know what, it works. Instead of Norman being the Goblin, we instead see him only as a frail and dying man infected with some terrible genetic condition that we are very subtly, but very effectively, shown has turned him a sickly green colour and given him long claw like fingernails which brought to mind the Goblin as depicted by Alex Ross in the seminal Marvels graphic novel.
That he dies halfway through the movie is a great move, and one that I have a sneaky suspicion may turn out to be one of Norman's famous smoke and mirror misdirections. I may be wrong, but my gut says we haven't seen the last of Osborn Senior yet and I can definitely see Oscar winner Chris Cooper doing the insane industrialist justice if I’m right.
But what of Harry? Well despite dividing opinion in other reviews (the New York Post declared that “despite his Hitler haircut, he’s less scary than annoying”) I think that Dane DeHaan is very believable as Peter Parker's best friend and future enemy, almost perfectly channeling the Harry that I know and love from the classic 1990s Spider-man run which culminated in the jaw-dropping 'Gotcha!' panel that still makes me smile to this day (The Amazing Spider-man #388).
Having been sent away to boarding school by a father who clearly thinks he isn't worthy of the Osborn legacy (a nod to the comic mythology), DeHaan’s Harry comes across as socially cold, and with a chip on his shoulder that the Hulk would struggle to lift, yet manages to elicit a degree of sympathy as all good villains should. On top of that he's also been deliberately afflicted by the same genetic degeneration that Norman has, so it's not a surprise as to how quickly he descends into madness but rather how long it takes.
Once ejected from the Oscorp Board, Harry takes the Goblin serum (or venom – clever play on words and not so subtle foreshadowing, methinks) and becomes the twisted, devious green guy of the classic comics, complete with a superb makeup job. This transformation of body and mind is brilliantly conveyed in a brief sequence with Electro (who we'll get to in a moment), as Harry treats the former Max Dillon like a faithful attack dog.
As for the Goblin's appearance, gone is the Power Ranger look of Raimi's movies (which in retrospect isn't as bad as was made out at the time, but still wasn't really what the Goblin was all about) and instead we have a more organic look that allows DeHaan to radiate the madness, rejection and fury that Harry carries with him.
The showdown between Spidey and the Goblin is fast, furious and heart stopping. Though not atop the Brooklyn Bridge, the change of setting actually works well and I must admit that until the terrible snap of Spidey's web as he tries to save Gwen Stacy I wasn't sure if they were going to go there in this movie or wait until the next, merely toying with us as the Goblin would. That it's now Peter's best friend and not his best friend's dad that has effectively killed the love of his life is something that I think works better in this particular cinematic telling of Spidey's story and will make for a more dramatic payoff.
The question now, of course, is what happens in the next movie. The setup forThe Sinister Six is coming along nicely, having seen Rhino in action (a wonderfully brief and effective use of the villain), the Vulture's wings and Doc Ock's arms in storage, Electro temporarily discharged and the Lizard presumably still detained in the depths of Ravencroft. Is Harry the sixth member? Will there be somebody else to fill that spot while the Goblin and Spidey go toe to toe? Or will the Sinister Six not be used at all in the third Amazing Spider-man movie, the focus instead being on Harry and perhaps Venom?
But we're getting ahead of ourselves here, so let's discuss Electro. When the villain formerly known as Max Dillon was confirmed as Spidey's big bad for ASM2 I had reservations. Electro has always been fun in the comics, but he was never what I'd call an A-list villain and my opinion of him hasn't changed. That said, for the purposes of ASM2 Electro never needed to be the big bad, as the movie is really all about the relationships between Peter and Gwen, and between Peter and Harry and the build up to Gwen’s death.
Don’t get me wrong, Jamie Foxx is great as Max Dillon, nailing the nerdy, incompetent alter ego of Electro and becoming effectively a villain without any purpose but to seek revenge on Spidey for the crime of not remembering his name (there have been far more tenuous and ridiculous villain motives in the comics over the years). He looks great tearing Times Square apart and laying waste to the Oscorp power plant in his big battle with Spidey, but as I’ve noted previously he’s not much more than an annoying attack dog at best, nor does he need to be. He serves a purpose in giving Gwen something to do in order to put herself in harm’s way at the film’s climax, and in doing so justifies his existence.
As I said at the start of this review, ASM2 isn’t without its flaws, and unfortunately the lead up to Gwen’s demise is one of them. In the comics (The Amazing Spider-man #121, True Believers!), the Goblin kidnaps Gwen and flies her to the top of the Brooklyn Bridge (labelled incorrectly as the George Washington bridge originally and the source of much confusion ever since) in order to lure Spidey out, but here the fact that she’s at the power plant at all doesn’t make much sense, as Harry already knows where the wallcrawler is and has flown out there to give Spider-man a good hiding. Harry only grabs Gwen because she happens to be handy.
Yes, we all need a plot contrivance now and again to move the story along and set up certain events, but is Gwen really the only person who has the expert knowledge to reset the power grid by engaging in the awesomely complex and spectacularly mind-bending action of, err, pushing the reset button? Had she just told Spidey what to do (assuming the science student wouldn't have figured out that the big button that might as well have been labelled 'PUSH ME!' would do the job himself), she never would have been at the power plant, and ergo, she never would have died. Well, not then and there anyway.
There are other minor niggles. Who lands a scholarship in a far off country and then decides to fly off to a different continent the same afternoon? Gwen Stacy, apparently. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but it did cause my eyebrows to raise at that scene and not in a good way. I could have done without Electro playing tunes on the power towers as well, though at a push I can accept that it’s something that the nerdy Max Dillon might have found amusing (somebody had to, I suppose). These are minor grumbles, though, and certainly no worse than some of the lapses that have occurred in the comics over the years.
As in the first Amazing Spider-man, I did love the interaction between Andrew Garfield’s Peter and Emma Stone’s Gwen. It felt organic and genuine, no doubt helped by their status as a couple in real life, and made the sucker punch of her death all the more powerful. They both embody the qualities that make their comic book counterparts feel so right, much more so than Tobey Maguire and Bryce Dallas Howard in Raimi’s version, as good as they both were. It'll be interesting, though, to see how Garfield plays off whomever ends up filling the not inconsiderable high heeled shoes of Mary Jane Watson (eventually Parker) given that their bond in the comics is largely due to her being there for him post Gwen's death.
So there you have it, the reasoning behind my great love of ASM2. You'll probably disagree and think I'm mad (so knock yourself out in the comments section, as I'm genuinely interested in what others thought of it), but ASM2 felt to me like the closest thing I've ever experienced to watching an actual comic book. Not the look, not the sound, but that all important feel, which you just can't put into words. I guess you either, well, feel it or you don't.
I'm still not convinced of the wisdom of the Venom or Sinister Six movies (find out why here...), but on the strength of ASM2 which took the good but not great foundations of Marc Webb's first instalment and built a solid, entertaining and emotionally satisfying cinematic experience on it I'm certainly looking forward to however many more sequels they can stretch to in this particular incarnation. The one major obstacle I do think they'll have is surpassing Alfred Molina's Doc Ock, but then again we said Jack Nicholson's Joker couldn't be topped and the late Heath Ledger proved us devastatingly wrong on that one, didn't he?
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