The Last Jedi is a Messy Masterpiece
Recently, I had the chance to watch what may be one of my favorite superhero films of all time. It involves Peter Parker, the superhero Spider-Man, fighting to act as his city’s superhero (beginning the film by thwarting a robbery) and number-one citizen, while juggling a relationship with the woman he loves, as well as school and family. Along the way, he has to question what he wants out of life and spends most of the runtime going back and forth between his desire for a meaningful relationship and his commitment as a superhero. The stakes are raised considerably when Spider-Man, and his loved ones, are targeted by a villain using technology from Oscorp, a company run by Harry Osborn, a friend of Peter’s who has come to resent both him and Spider-Man upon feeling ignored.
This film, of course, is Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, which recently celebrated it’s tenth anniversary by being remade. In retrospect, it’s not a masterpiece, and it seems odd that, in the days before the year 2008 introduced us to Christopher Nolan and the “Avengers Initiative”, it was widely regarded the best film in the genre, but a lot of it has to do with the humanity of the main character and his plight.
Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, like it’s predecessor, retreads a lot of the major plot points in the original sequel, but that’s probably for the best. This time, of course the man behind the mask is Andrew Garfield, whose skater-boy charisma has replaced most of Tobey Maguire’s shy nerdiness. As before, this is not necessarily better, both characters are charming in their own way, but Garfield is perhaps more fun to watch. Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey is a more than a welcome replacement for Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane, but the same cannot entirely be said for Dan DeHaan as Peter’s pal Harry. DeHaan was fantastic as a more realistic, cynical alternative to Spider-Man in Chronicle, but here his delivery often borders on awkward, almost provoking nostalgia for James Franco’s oddly endearing mugging.
The rogues gallery is different as well. Although the marketing hints at several villains, the infamous Rhino only shows up for a few minutes, played by a clearly jubilant Paul Giamatti. But, for the most part, the villain of the week is Jamie Foxx as a surprisingly vicious Electro. Foxx begins the film as Max Dillon, a hapless, Spidey-obsessed electrician who falls into a vat, where he is attacked by radioactive electric eels. Whether the “bitten by a radioactive whatever” treatment will be given to Dr. Octopus, Vulture, or, heck, Rhino, in future installments is unclear. It’ silly, yeah, but focusing most of the film’s fantasy on the machinations of Oscorp actually lends a very welcome level of consistency.
In any case, Dillon’s frightening level of electric power (a far cry from the comics incarnation, who I’m pretty sure got beaten up by Daredevil in his early days) causes problems for Peter, who is also dealing with an on-again off-again relationship with Gwen Stacy. A relationship that, while beautifully affable, is haunted by the ghost of Dennis Leary, who pops up in Pete’s psyche to symbolize his guilt and fear for Gwen’s life. It’s also haunted by Gwen, who is almost as brilliant as the woman who plays her, and her possibly life-changing aspirations after high-school. As if that wasn’t enough, Peter is also continuing his search for the truth about his parents (a plot thread abandoned by the previous film), a road that not only takes him farther from his beloved Aunt May (Sally Field), but also brings him closer to the disreputable people in Oscorp; including its new CEO, and Peter’s childhood friend, Harry Osborn.
Already, the biggest problem with the film is how much it has to deal with. Once again, the film makes the mistake of thinking the mystery of Peter’s parentage is an intriguing enough plot to keep the audience interested in sequels. The film opens with a fifteen-minute scene involving the Parker parents that is almost completely pointless, and could have easily been replaced with a scene introducing Parker’s relationship with Harry, which is otherwise aggressively shoehorned into the movie later on.
However, all things considered, I will have to go against the grain and say that this is a pretty solid film. It does not quite reach the heights of the original second Spider-Man, but it works, occasionally very well, and may in fact be the best installment since that film. For starters, Emma Stone is, as usual, the best thing in the movie. The scenes between her and Garfield have more spark in them than any joke about Electro I could have put in this sentence. Much has been made about the two’s chemistry, so it’s not a far cry to say that almost every dialogue between the two feels not only improvised, but genuine in the most heartwarming way. Foxx also shines as the Electro, who, accompanied by a score by Hans Zimmer and Pharell( as well as some reverb in his voice) comes across as a thoroughly menacing villain, far more so then Rhys Ifans’ giant lizard.
The film also has more than it’s share of affecting moments, more than a few of which come, again, between the two leads and the ups-and-downs of their relationship. However, for my money, it’s one scene between Garfield and Fields where the tears truly come out, as Parker, in the middle of discovering his origins, has to sit down and remind May that she is and always will be the closest thing he has to a mother.
In short, Amazing Spider-Man 2 is very much a retread of the Maguire movie from 2004, but in most of the right ways. There’s a reason why that story makes for such good cinema; trying to be a normal person and a superhero has always been the driving story behind Spider-Man, and the new film manages to get that right. It’s a bit long, and a lot of the obvious sequel foreshadowing gets a tad repetitive, but when the film works, it really works. You may want to bring tissues though.