Chuck Koplinski: Manic 'Spider-Man 2' nothing but a blur
One gets the impression that director Marc Webb knew he was going to have a hard time squeezing in everything that was in the script for "The Amazing Spider-Man 2."
After all, there must be some reason the film starts with an action sequence, progresses directly to another and proceeds to pile one breathless set piece onto another, character development be damned.
Reminiscent of Zack Snyder's botched reboot of Superman, "Man of Steel," Webb sets out not to entertain but rather bludgeon us into submission with what seems a constant barrage of earsplitting, spine-rattling action sequences that generate headaches rather than thrills.
Hurtling from an opening scene in which we get a teeny bit more information on why Richard and Mary Parker (Campbell Scott & Embeth Davidtz) left their only son Peter behind to a frenetic sequence in which the titular hero (Andrew Garfield) is trying to thwart the hijacking of an armored car, Webb lets us know from the start that moments of respite and reflection are collateral damage in the face of action barrage he has in store.
Peter Parker saves the city, with a wisecrack or two to spare, just in time to make it to his high school graduation where his girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) is waiting anxiously. All the while, an old colleague of theirs, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) returns to town for a final bitter confrontation with his father Norman (Chris Cooper) who lets him know that the rare disease that's killing him is hereditary and will soon start to affect him. However, once the old man dies, his heir takes the reins of Oscorp and soon discovers many secret experiments and products that will ultimately have a dramatic effect on his life.
Scenes in which Peter and Harry catch up or Peter and Gwen discuss the inherent danger of her being involved with a superhero are rushed and given very little weight in the overall scheme of the film. These sequences serve as bookmarks of sorts, abrupt transitions between the movie's WOW moments — of which there are far too many — and even these conversations are rushed and played out far too dramatically, to the point of parody.
No, the film is far more concerned with introducing its bevy of villains, laying the groundwork for future movies that will focus on them alone as they come together to form a seminal group from the Spidey canon, the Sinister Six. Jamie Foxx, as an engineer who meets an untimely accident involving electric eels and high voltage, is Electro, a deluded sort who can channel and harness electricity. Paul Giamatti has a brief appearance at the beginning and then the end as the tank-like Rhino, while DeHaan becomes the Green Goblin after Harry subjects himself to an ill-advised experiment with tragic results.
Truly connecting with these characters is a casualty of the film's pace as Electro, comical, one-dimensional and at times buffoonish, looks as if he escaped from the campy "Batman" TV show of the '60's, while Giamatti is given little screen time and does nothing more than rant and rave. Only DeHaan makes an impression, tapping into the maniacal intensity that made Heath Ledger's Joker so memorable. His Green Goblin is truly unhinged, dangerous and fascinating, making him the only character I'm anxious to spend more time with.
While I liked Garfield and Stone the first time out, here they're a bit grating at times. Their conversations come off as rehearsed patter rather than genuine discussions, while the former brings a brio to Parker/Spider-man that runs counter to the character's traditional sense of insecurity. In the end the film ends up giving us a hero that's irritating, a love interest that's a cypher and villains we barely know.
Without question, "Spider-Man 2" is the most impressive film yet where capturing the webslinger's exploits are concerned. There's a fluidity to the character's movements that mirror those of a spider and gives us a focal point amidst the flurry of activity that's constantly swirling about the screen. However, even this becomes exhausting and in the end, viewers will likely be left praying for a break in the action rather than clamoring for more spider-centric exploits.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 — 2 Stars out of 4
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Sally Field, Campbell Scott, Paul Giamatti, Chris Cooper, Embeth Davidtz, B.J. Novak and Felicity Jones. Directed by Marc Webb; produced by Avi Arad and E. Bennett Walsh; screenplay by Alex Kurtzman, Robert Orci and Jeff Pinkner. A Sony Pictures release. 142 minutes. Rated PG-13 (sequences of sci-fi action/violence.) At the AMC Village Mall 6, Carmike 13, Harvest Moon Drive-In and Savoy 16.
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Challenging "Enemy" refuses to pander (3 1/2 Stars)
While I wasn't completely won over by his first American film "Prisoners," I was impressed by the way director Denis Villeneuve created a sense of foreboding that hung over the movie like an awning weighed down by a rain of despair. There's a similar sense of dread from the very first frame of his latest "Enemy," a mind-twisting cinematic conundrum that, thanks to an arresting lead performance and unique premise, keeps the viewer hooked despite spinning its wheels at times.
Jake Gyllenhaal, currently our most daring film actor, is Adam, a depressed history professor who shows little enthusiasm for his job or life in general for that matter. That he has a girlfriend (Melanie Laurent) is something of a miracle as he's so withdrawn he seems rarely present. Adam's content to go through the motions of his bland existence, that is until he spots an actor in a movie who looks exactly like him. He becomes obsessed with Anthony (Gyllenhaal as well), watches other movies he's in and ends up tracking him down, as he conveniently lives in the same city. Their meeting is, to say the least, odd.
The film plays out like an extended "Twilight Zone" episode and has only just enough plot to fill one out. The premise is clever but it's a conceit that can only be expanded so far as Villeneuve holds his cards close to his chest and only doles out enough information to keep us barely hooked. The pacing is deliberate and lags at times, but Gyllenhaal is a wonder to watch, essentially playing two sides of the same coin, as Anthony is as confident and forward as Adam is nervous and reserved. It's the kind of role actors crave as it gives them the chance to showcase their diversity; however it never comes off as a gimmick in the performer's hands, as Adam and Anthony are distinctive in their own right.
To be sure, "Enemy" is a film that toys with its audience, giving only so many clues to its meaning and deliberately withholding others. Do all of the pieces fit together to give us a complete picture? I'm not sure they do, but I think that's Villeneuve's intent, as he's underscoring the confusion and inexplicable nature of our world in which things sometimes happen without purpose or explanation. Still, Adam's constant references to patterns repeating themselves, censorship and control are all vital clues to the movie's meaning, as are the isolated settings and frequent references to events happening in twos.
As for the endingit is truly a shocking curveball that sent me reeling both mentally and physically, a scene that cut me to the core and stands as one of the most horrifying moments I've witnessed in a movie. That being said, it may leave some cold, others incredulous but everyone surprised. That this moment will generate its own set of questions is part of the appeal of "Enemy," as it is that rare breed of film that challenges its audience, daring it to think outside the box while refusing to pander to the lowest common denominator.
Charming "Le Week-End" a rare breed (3 Stars)
Roger Michell's "Le Week-End" is the sort of film that sneaks up on you, a movie that seems to be headed down a well-worn path, only to take an abrupt turn, surprising the viewer by upending expectations, having the nerve to deliver a heartfelt message about life and love in what, for all appearances, seems to be a piece of fluff. However, in the capable hands of director Roger Michell, who directed "Notting Hill" and the underrated "Morning Glory," the proper mix of pathos and honesty is achieved.
Nick and Meg (Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan) are two long-time marrieds who leave England behind to spend a weekend in Paris to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. They initially seem at peace with one another but when the room he's booked ends up being far too small for them and, heaven forbid, painted beige, she flies off the handle, refuses to stay there and unleashes a litany of complaints rooted in long-harbored resentment. It becomes readily apparent that the purpose of this trip is not to celebrate their marriage as much as it is to save it, as Nick and Meg have conflicting views as to how to move forward: He's hoping to spend the rest of the days with the love of his life, while she's eager to break out and try something new, even going so far as contemplating divorce.
Broadbent and Duncan are very good here as they bring to this couple a sense of familiarity that creates a genuine feeling of closeness between them and not simply in the way they express tenderness to each other but the vitriol as well. They've reached a point in their relationship where honesty is second nature, whether it be nurturing or damning, and they know their abiding love can weather whatever's said. It's a refreshing approach and the two performers hold nothing back, helping us invest in their plight.
Then there's the matter of Jeff Goldblum, who appears midway as a former colleague of Nick's who insists they attend a dinner party being thrown in his honor. Some abhor Goldblum's mannered, tic-filled performances while others embrace the eccentricity he brings to each film he's in. I happen to be in the latter camp and his turn here as a charming, smarmy, vain, pompous, self-aware (self-absorbed?), slightly condescending but ultimately gracious intellectual jumpstarts the film when it needs it most, while his character provides Nick and Meg with a mirror upon which to reflect upon themselves and their marriage.
There's an absolutely heartbreaking moment late in the film in which Nick lays himself bare in front of a group of strangers, expressing his fears, doubts and failings. It's a wonderful scene that Broadbent sells perfectly, resisting the urge to milk it, finding the proper tone of desperate courage and heartfelt sentiment. It's a game-changer where "Le Week-End" is concerned and one of the most genuine moments I've witnessed this year, a rare expression of love and desperation that rings true and proves to be one of the many pleasant surprises in this delightful movie.
For DVR alerts, film recommendations and movie news, follow Chuck Koplinski on Twitter at @ckoplinski. For his blog, head to news-gazette.com/blogs/cinema-scoping. Koplinski can be reached via email at email@example.com.