It bests the first Amazing Spider-Man, but structural and tonal issues still swarm around this sequel
Peter Parker is of two different minds. Dressed in red and blue, he’s birthed into the contemporary form of Marvel heroes – no longer the shaken outcast of the comic universe, but rooting for geeky sarcasm and wit. As Parker, he exists as a human: curious, confused, and romantically attached. Four writers were attached to Amazing Spider-Man 2 and it’s as if they split into two groups without consulting their peer’s progress.
And really, this is capsulized from two movies ready to unleash a rush of loud action (with an overdose of villains) and the contrasting look into Parker’s quiet past. When they come together, it is more of a mystery as to how the sides ever combined.
One side features a boorish caricature of German scientists, a madman poking fun at an easily riled Electro (Jamie Foxx). Therein lies the true comic book movie, where a suspension of logic is required. It’s for the sake of splashy action scenes with winding electrical bolts singing the screen in 3D extremism, and Paul Giamatti’s hilariously kooky Russian accent in a bit part as Rhino. It’s weird, a touch off, and wholly in the colorful escapism Spider-Man’s world is allowed to provide.
Tonal confusion is thus incited by the sharpened romance of Parker (Andrew Garfield) & Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) crunched between an unveiling of past events, trouble with Aunt May (Sally Field), and further Spider-Man resentment harbored by Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan). Amazing Spider-Man 2 can never make up its mind.
It is as tragic as Spider-Man himself. Both sides become genuinely effective if still committing the sins of movie’s past. Amazing Spider-Man 2 douses the screen in villains, roping them in with multiple origin stories when this sub-piece of Marvel cinematic literature isn’t even done building Parker’s own. Aside from the strain of Sony’s infecting product placement, this reboot follow-up (that’s a thing now) bides its time. Despite shifting toward the morose, never does this piece feel a need to rush into another segue action scene. Considering the way films are currently structured – even Disney’s own Marvel escapades at times – Spider-Man is unusually story friendly.
All of it is almost for naught though as the story proves pitifully inconclusive all within the realm of middle film syndrome, assuming this turns only into a trilogy. Amazing Spider-Man annoyingly interlocks to future sequel(s), dangling the impressiveness of its dialog brevity for what amounts to a marketing stunt rather than a direct character study. Work in establishing Electro evaporates because the feature decides that it requires three finales. Oh, and sending the audience home on a downer is apparently against company rules.
Somewhere in this break away Spider-Man story is a great film, but one web tangled in its own doing. Premiere writing work has twice been lost through inconsistencies and clashing misdirection. Eventful action is thrilling if unfulfilled, production design is superior but confused, and performances are spectacular yet sadly victimized in a rush to relevancy against the growing greatness of rival studio outputs.
If nothing else, Amazing Spider-Man, the series, is a break. Maybe not in the sense of its $200 million splurge of special effects with limitless CG, but rather in the dour mood and appreciable time spent producing human level stories. This series is distinctive and different in the weary gluttony of comic adaptations. There is relief, but it’s a shame Amazing Spider-Man 2 can’t decide on which way is forward. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Movie]
Likely the only Marvel series still being visually built on film, there is an opportunity for further separation from Spidey’s screen heroes. What the Blu-ray ends up with is frustrating cinematography (from series newcomer Daniel Mindel) which battles the idea of clear focus. When in its prime, the effect is alluring. Fidelity in clothes, hair, faces, and the city are brilliant. Any grain is readily resolved as to be almost non-existent as part of the frame, and not due to processing. Then, other shots clash as the lens seems to dart in and out, away from the sharpness visible seconds ago.
The images are also sloppy with black levels, moving from stunning shots of New York at night with perfect blacks to more controlled conditions (Parker/Gwen having an outdoor, nighttime chat) where they’re whisked away. Good outweighs the bad, if making it no less of a distraction.
Content will save this disc. Highlighting – somewhat literally – Electro, Amazing Spider-Man 2 is able to produce plentiful strokes of visual excitement. A brawl in Times Square is every bit a technical showpiece as it is the film’s action center. Between the splash of lights and added punch of Electro’s power, there are few examples of Blu-ray’s prowess not on display.
Sony’s encode is premiere work, as if their new release output is anything but. Compression handles the difficulties of swaying camera work and fast action, even if you’re the type to super scrutinize scenes in stills or when on pause. For the faults, Amazing Spider-Man 2 should elicit a number of stunned “wows” from the hardened videophile audience, enough to counter act the eye rolling during those scenes of lesser source detail.
On the flipside, there are few reservations with this massively improved 3D situation. While the first was flatlined in both theaters and on Blu-ray, the sequel’s conversion work is immense. Finally, those web swings through the city are loaded with high class depth work, selling New York’s streets as they whip by and well into the horizon line. Seeing Spidey dive from rooftops is exhilarating, and are more than a stop gap bit of gimmickry. It’s a sensation meant for massive screens. While not being propelled through the air, the villain side of things further adds energy. Bolts are shot toward the camera and extensive slow motion fully accentuates the aerial driven battles. This sequel is actively considerate of 3D space and the need to avoid incomprehensible editing to quicken pace.
Work continues into dialog exchanges, with building interiors well molded into the needed 3D form. Backgrounds in office buildings or around board room tables are deeply stretched without feeling unnatural. Only inside of Parker’s own home do things tend to squish together, but not sans reason. It’s simply a modest location. [xrr rating=4/5 label=2D-Video] [xrr rating=5/5 label=3D-Video]
Plenty of fun to be had with this DTS-HD 5.1 mix as well, even if Sony should step up to the wonders of 7.1. There is no loss of activity or sheer volume due to the mixing decision as this disc pumps out tremendous work. New York becomes an active space to play in, whether as a host of action or simply existing. This city is alive sonically. Amazing Spider-Man 2 uses ambiance as well as it does the blasts of CG action for the soundscape.
This Blu-ray is in overtime from the outset with a complex scenario on a plane featuring growing levels of danger, beginning with interior ambiance before escalating into a full crash sequence of rushing air, exploding engines, and other foley driven effects. Gunfire is frequently paraded across the soundstage with satisfying splits between each channel, matching the camera movement.
On the (further) plus side, there is an accentuation of Electro, who not only dazzles with crackling bolts fired from his hands, but the boomy voice which catches the LFE. So yes, the low-end is never forgotten, treating the flurry of rising flames, overturned cars, and total destruction with respect. Variances create scale between those smaller moments and humungous bits of city devastation. Lots of fun here. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Audio]
Commentary opens this disc, bringing together writers Alex Kurtzman & Jeff Pinkner along with producers Matt Tolmach & Avi Arad. Twenty three minutes of deleted scenes are interesting (and are given optional commentary), but nothing touches one of the best bonuses of 2014, The Wages of Heroism.
Six-parts make up this 103-minute documentary, and while the structure is typical (story, shooting, and eventually closing on the score), there is almost nothing to find wrong through this in-depth extra. Rarely is this piece fluffed up with endless praise. A music video and a redundant featurette on Hans Zimmer’s score are all that’s left, but that’s okay. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Extras]
Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.