Yesterday (March 19), we were treated to a special presentation of about 35 minutes of footage from "Amazing Spider-Man 2," the highly anticipated superhero sequel coming from Sony on May 2, presented by director Marc Webb.
We're going to run down what we saw, so if you're particular about spoilers, it's best to turn around now (swing away!)
If you want to know what our general impressions are, you should know that we were pretty impressed. The first film, while filled with winning moments, thanks mostly to that ridiculously agreeable cast that was led by Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, is more of a disappointment than not, a warmed-over retread of Sam Raimi's original "Spider-Man," with more emo pop music moments and an unconvincing lizard-man villain.
From what we saw today, "Amazing Spider-Man 2" is much, much better. The movie seems to move at a much better clip and the action is just as oversized as the emotions (instead of the overwhelming mope of the first film dragging any of the bigger set pieces down). Plus, the score, overseen by Hans Zimmer and featuring contributions from Pharrell, ex-Smiths member Johnny Marr, and European DJ Junkie XL, sounds pretty incredible -- it could be too cluttered for its own good, but we're intrigued just the same. This seems, very much, like an upgrade in every sense, and we would have gladly watched the rest of the movie, had the good folks at Sony obliged.
OK, so if you're still here then you're ready for the nitty-gritty, and we will be very, very nitty. There's no turning back now. Spoilers ahoy!
The footage we saw started off with the first 15 minutes of the movie, uninterrupted. It starts with an epic, 3D pullback of Richard Parker's watch. Two notes here: one, the 3D, even at this early stage, looks pretty phenomenal, and two: the movie starts with a flashback... We think... So Richard Parker is alive and well and played by Campbell Scott (his wife is played by Embeth Davidtz). He's hurriedly making plans to leave Oscorp and, in a telling moment, killing off some presumably genetically engineered spiders he has in a small container. He leaves young Peter Parker with Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and flees on a private plane.
While on the plane, Parker Senior notices that a man has come out of the pilot's cabin with blood on his hands. It's someone who is trying to stop Parker (obviously), and the two tussle, with Ms. Parker mortally wounded. Parker makes a heroic decision and shoots out a window inside the fuselage, which sucks out the bad guy but leaves the plane crippled. It goes down, in flames, which is both cool and mercifully wraps up one of the most infuriating dangling subplots from the first movie -- what the hell happened to Peter Parker's parents.
From there, it crashes right into another action sequence, which is Spider-Man falling through the sky as he swings through the city. A gang of bad guys has stolen some plutonium, kind of like Doc Brown but a lot less hilarious, so Spider-Man is trying to apprehend the driver of the truck (played, with some Russian flair, by Paul Giamatti, who seems to be doing his Viggo-in-"Eastern Promises" impression, minus the subtlety). The truck is an armored car, and it's plowing into vehicles left and right, and Webb takes particular pleasure in watching Spider-Man swing through the urban canyons of Manhattan (the new suit, inspired by the "Ultimate" line of comic books is, admittedly, pretty boss). At one point Spider-Man stops and saves someone, a nobody named Max (Jamie Foxx). "You're somebody," Spider-Man assures the nebbish dude. A "Heat"-style shoot out ensues, with Spider-Man using his newly visualized "Spidey Sense" (sort of like those bullet time sequences in "The Matrix"). At one point he gets a call from
This sequence is super cartoony, with Spider-Man pantsing Giamatti (who will later become the Rhino), and then running off to his graduation, where Gwen Stacy is giving her valedictorian speech by saying "I know we all feel immortal," which means she's probably going to die by the end of the movie (right?). Peter Parker, still rocking his backpack with his Spider-Man outfit shoved inside, walks up to get his diploma, slapping his principle five and kissing Gwen Stacy.
After this sequence wrapped, we are treated to a sequence that is set after Gwen and Peter. It seems to be the first time they're seeing each other, in a crowded market in Union Square. The two are setting up "ground rules" for their friendship, and it's cute and the actors are totally winning in their performances. You want to see them back together because they're so adorable and clearly love each other. But while this flirty stuff is going on, we also cut to Times Square, where Max is now transformed into Electro, a glowing blue villain who can "see" electricity (visually this is pretty stunning, especially in 3D, as we watch the currents of energy flow beneath the city).
Back in cutesville, there's a wonderful moment where Parker lets out that he has been following Gwen. It's both creepy and kind of heartbreaking, especially when he admits that it's, "The closest I can get to still being with you." Who hasn't felt like that, even with all the wall-crawling? Peter's attention is diverted, however, with the bad business going on in Times Square. This leads into a fairly lengthy action set piece in Times Square where Spider-Man tries to talk Electro out of destroying things and injuring people. This is where you get a full blast of the Hans Zimmer and Friends score, too -- deeply electronic and funky and a surreal.
There's a great moment when Electro realizes his power, not electrically but looking around at the giant monitors in Times Square, which are all projecting his image. When Spider-Man foils one of his attempts at destruction, the images on the screens change to showcase your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. This enrages Electro further, and you get the impression of what a deeply sad, self conscious creature he really is (the music has a chorus of "voices" that come from inside Electro's head that really amplify this sensation).
Spider-Man is injured and seemingly out of the picture, while Electro sucks in a lot of electrical juice and disperses a giant shockwave throughout Times Square. It seems like even more people will be injured or maimed when Spider-Man shows up, in a firefighter's helmet, and a giant hose. He douses the sparkly villain and saves the day... Again. Meanwhile, Gwen watches in horror and amusement. They were supposed to be sorting stuff out, after all. "Good chat," she says, dejectedly.
The last full scene we were presented with happens later in the movie, with Electro in some kind of harness within Oscorp. Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), son of the original Green Goblin Norman Osborn (played in the movie by Chris Cooper but never seen in this footage), who wants Electro to help him break into Oscorp (no idea why -- we saw what we saw and that's all that we saw). Harry promises Electro access to a new energy grid, which would supply him with an endless flow of electricity, and in order to get Electro to help him, he appeals to the villain's inner wimpiness. "I need you," Harry says, giving him a little spark from a taser. In a flash, Electro disappears and reforms, shocking a bunch of security guards who have rushed in to apprehend him. (This is one of a few odd visual allusions to Zack Snyder's "Watchmen" movie.) This sequence is pretty neat, and promises an epic team up of Lil' Green Goblin and Electro, which is sure to play out in the film's finale, presumably set at the aforementioned power plant. At the tail end of the scene, Electro turns to Harry and says, chillingly, "Let's go catch a spider."
All in all, the footage we saw was impressive and, yes, electrically alive. Webb seems to have embraced the fact that he's made a movie out of a comic book, with all of the super-sized, overstuffed goofiness. While we were pretty skeptical walking into the screening room, given our iffy feelings about the last "Amazing Spider-Man," we were, if not completely transformed, then, at the very least, hopefully optimistic. This could be a major improvement and one of the summer's more delightful big-budget baubles.
Photo courtesy Sony