Tuesday, 16 September 2014
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
The Amazing Spider-Man 2's defining images are of a beanpole teen stretching and twisting in impossible directions and loving every second of it. Spider-Man isn't your rote movie superhero. He hasn't been hardened by an ill-defined training, nor does he possess the body of a Mr Olympia contestant. Most importantly, he wears a mask. Not some pathetic little domino affectation, but a full-on identity cancelling disguise.
Peter Parker's superform stresses an androgynous, everyman secrecy. Characters in Amazing Spidey 2 talk around the hero incessantly, abstracting him and his drives. They don't define him as a supernatural vigilante or an all-powerful justice God, instead he's an avatar for a deep-seated sense of human decency. You know, like Superman used to be.
The DC cycle has blown its heroes up to absurd, Wagnerian proportions in an attempt to capture the magic of 1980s Frank Miller comics. Their lack of levity makes them po-faced and exhausting. Marvel themselves have boiled their superheroes down into a basic action narrative that reeks of repetition. Against this landscape even a mumbling, compromised thing like Amazing Spidey 2 can look and feel exciting.
Sony's relentless mission to thread in as many sequel embeds as humanly possible makes the film play like mid-season oomph for a dubbed and chopped kid's cartoon. I've read a few reviews that compare the film to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, as if to invite scorn. It's a pretty on-the-money note, and actually speaks to the ideas that keep the film feeling relatively fresh.
Firstly, the villains aren't apocalyptic monsters, they're slighted nerds dabbling with powers that allow them to push people around. Crucially, these new abilities are milked for maximum pop impact rather than danger. Electro may be rendered as an invincible, incorporeal djinn, but his presence in a Kamen Rider narrative means his Dr Manhattan powers are nothing compared to a well aimed punch.
Spider-Man himself is exclusively presented as a cocksure rock star with energy to spare. He's a skinny tokusatsu entertainer that's on buddy terms with the local emergency services. This isn't a grim-dark attempt to graft Christopher Nolan ideas onto a bright, friendly character. It's Nicholas Hammond TV movies with a billion dollar budget. Spidey 2 plays like Richard Lester and the Salkinds were allowed to hold the wheel, churning out cheery irreverence for people who would rather see Superman twisting people's heads off.
Granted, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 makes very little sense. Central relationships are lost in the noise and a key conspiracy hinges on Parker Snr making a sacrifice that not only doesn't ensure his child's safety but actively, aggressively accelerates the danger surrounding Peter. What it does have though is a centrepiece, computer generated tech demo that has apportioned time, money, and effort towards rendering baggy lumps into the Spider-Man suit. Sony's war chest has been hijacked, the Japanese conglomerate burning disaster relief money to simulate the pure unadulterated joy of seeing two men in shapeless spandex trading blows in a gravel pit.