Since I’ve seen the first two big-budget blockbusters of the summer, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” I felt compelled to weigh in with a few thoughts.
Both have already grossed the GDP of a small African nation, but, should you see them?
Before delving into “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” which I saw at the Princess Theater here in St. James, we must answer the question of whether we really even need this movie. After all, it seems like just yesterday we had the Sam Raimi-directed, Tobey Maguire-fronted trilogy of the webbed hero, which hit theaters in 2002, 2004, and 2007. And, while the third one was an abomination--it’s one of only two movies I’ve ever walked out of the theater on--the first two were excellent--and made gobs of money.
So, if this series wasn’t crying out for a reboot, why do it?
Money, of course.
But, despite the greedy motivation, the first in this new adaptation, “The Amazing Spider-Man” (2012), was actually quite decent. Andrew Garfield, who first came to our attention as the Mark Zuckerberg sidekick who is eventually kicked to the curb in the brilliant “The Social Network,” dons the suit and mask, and Marc Webb, who directed the unique and delightful “500 Days of Summer,”--plus a quality supporting cast--won me over.
This second entry, more than anything else, confirms Garfield as a future star. It’s my belief (and hope) that his time starring opposite the wonderful (and too soon departed) Philip Seymour Hoffman under the direction of the genius Mike Nichols doing Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” (arguably the finest American play ever written) on Broadway in 2012 has rubbed off on him. Wouldn’t it have to?
In this movie, he has sublime chemistry with his on- and off-screen love interest, Emma Stone (who I’m also in love with, coincidentally), and his guardian/mother-figure, Sally Field. Odd to say this about an action movie, but the serious, emotional scenes between those three are the best parts of the film. Stone and Garfield could be a modern Tracy and Hepburn; I could see them playing and doing just about any material with aplomb. (Oh, and Garfield also has great hair; I’m so jealous of him!).
But, like all these popcorn movies, the villains, violence, and CGI-special effects became ridiculous and wearisome--at least to me. Also, the Jamie Foxx character is much too weird to begin with--and that’s before a ghastly accident renders him a mutant. Additionally, Paul Giamatti, arguably the finest character actor out there, is woefully miscast as a Russian gangster and given nothing to do but snarl incoherently. Furthermore, Chris Cooper, another phenomenal character actor, gets basically one deathbed scene as Norman Osborn. If you’re going to bother casting these two treasures, use them!
And, I haven’t even mentioned Harry Osborn, who becomes the Green Goblin. That’s really the point, though; the movie is simply over-stuffed. When you’re film is nearly 2.5 hours, and it still feels unfinished, you have too much material.
For me, the best part of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” which is also a sequel, to 2001’s “Captain America: The First Avenger,” was Robert Redford (who still looks fabulous. If I could trade faces with anyone for our lifespans, it’d be him.), playing an unalloyed villain for the first time in his decorated career. But, Chris Evans, as the eponymous hero, and Scarlett Johansson, as the “Black Widow,” really do shine, and the movie hints at something deeper, more serious, and more expansive in terms of the debate over safety, protection, and privacy than these types of movies are usually allowed to--even if it eventually gets buried under all the action, as these films always do. At times, it echoes some of those excellent paranoid, political thrillers from the 70s, like “The Parallax View” (kids, ask your parents) and “Three Days of the Condor” (which, coincidentally, starred Redford). There’s also some genuine humor, usually relating to how behind the times Captain America is. As these movies go, it’s one of the better efforts.
On the 20-80 baseball scouting scale I use for movies--and most everything else--I’d give the former a 55 (above average) and the latter a 60 (plus), although I’ll confess I enjoyed the former a bit more than the latter.
(Spider-Man 2 is still playing the Princess Theater this weekend.)
Ryan Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or followed on Twitter @randerson_ryan