Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

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The Volt in Our Stars

It may seem redundant to describe The Amazing Spider-Man 2 as ‘amazing’, and yet here we are. Where director Sam Raimi fundamentally failed, the aptly-named Mark Webb (500 Days of Summer) skilfully conducts an aptly-titled superhero sequel, weaving an intricate narrative web of high-voltage villains and sentimental undercurrents which don’t succumb to the same plot overload that short-circuited Spider-Man 3.

Where Raimi’s second instalment showcased a burdened Peter Parker (played by Tobey ‘Marmite’ Maguire) struggling to balance his dual identity, Webb’s follow up shows the wisecracking Webhead (Andrew Garfield) fully embracing his world of masked vigilantism. That’s not to say Spidey is completely carefree, and his tenuous on-off relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) is pushed to new heights, particularly by the re-introduction of Peter’s childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan). Not to mention the bumbling Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), an Oscorp employee who is obsessed with the webslinger – a soon-to-be supervillain who suffers a case of crossed wires, in more ways than one.

If the first addition to the galvanised reboot offered anything refreshing, other than Garfield’s acting prowess, it was that Webb can spin achingly authentic and searingly intimate human moments with such believability that it’s hard not to notice an awkward degree of cinematic voyeurism. Of course, this is in large part aided by the magnetic on-and-off-screen partnership of Garfield and Stone, who repeatedly tug at the heartstrings until threadbare. In a film that gravitates around the world of science, it’s wonderful to see so much chemistry between the couple, who effortlessly generate as many sparks as Electro’s voltaic violence.

Naturally, CGI is paramount to any silver screen superhero success, and while the last film drew some criticisms for some not-so-special effects in places, the quality has been massively amplified this time round. Charged with electrified energy, the visuals genuinely crackle and sparkle, and the spectacular, slow-motion sequences are undoubtedly some of the most thrilling blockbuster set-pieces to grace the big screen. Seeing Spidey’s bullet-time reactions as he goes to such lengths to protect each single bystander makes for marvellous viewing, and goes to show why he steals far more hearts than the Man of Steel. Hey, they don’t call him your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man for nothing.

Although sidestepping the landmine of narrative convolution, there is a small sense of incoherence especially in regards to character development, or the lack thereof. Dillon’s disposition switches like lightning, flashing quickly from unassuming victim to generic antagonist, whilst his transformation is not nearly as emphatic as Alfred Molina’s complex Doc Ock. But despite some minor forgivable flaws, there is little to fault in our stars; this is a shockingly well-executed affair, and these few frayed wires offer minor resistance to an otherwise electric performance.

The fault in our stars is that most fans, particularly our ever-omniscient comic-book fans, know how the film is going to end before it even begins. There is a pervading sense of inevitability throughout, personified quite literally by Denis Leary’s haunting cameos, and the funereal toll of a clock tower is just all too familiar to some. And here we are: like Peter, senses tingling yet powerless to stop what is fated to be. Nevertheless, you can’t help but enjoy every single minute of the ride. Amazing indeed.

9/10

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Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. For Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful is good, but definitely not great. This is a yellow brick road paved with good intentions, but it suffers from several potholes which highlight the fact that this is ultimately a film made solely for munchkins. 

Oz the Great and Powerful

Akin to the beloved 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, the film begins in black-and-white Kansas, which is sure to pique the nostalgia of long-term Oz fans. Oz (James Franco) is Oscar Diggs, a struggling magician as part of a travelling circus, who for all his sleight-of-hand and cheap parlour tricks is soon revealed to be nothing but a fraud. Like Dorothy, Oz is swiftly swept away by a tornado into the magical land of Oz, and thus begins his transformative journey from con artist to wonderful wizard.

Many have thought him to be miscast, but from the moment the curtains rise, Franco is enchanting, displaying boundless charm as the eponymous protagonist as he waltzes from scene to scene with a hypnotising on-screen presence. Mila Kunis, too, gives a wicked performance as Theodora, the soon-to-be Wicked Witch of the West who vacillates between heartbroken sister and vengeful antagonist. Hell hath no fury like a witch scorned, and Kunis provides a fiery, bewitching spectacle. Zach Braff also deserves merit for his amusing turn as Finlay the flying monkey, suitably injecting doses of intelligent humour into the script.

The real magic of Oz lies in the film’s gorgeous aesthetics, with a transition to colour which is every bit as impressive as the original, which was notable for it’s special effects at the time. It really is a testament to how far technology has advanced in the past century. The impressive CGI, which creates a vast palette of vibrant colours: fluorescent emerald harmonising with layers of deep ruby and sapphire. The 3D is also utilised tastefully, adding further depth to the spectrum of rich textures.

Art director Robert Stromberg’s influence is apparent, as the film bears a particular kinship to his previous endeavour,Alice in Wonderland. Unfortunately Oz suffers from the same downfalls as Tim Burton’s film, with the visuals mirroring one of Oz’s parlor tricks – smoke and mirrors hiding a thin, simplistic story. Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams are further A-list illusions, familiar eye candy masquerading otherwise predictably boring characters.

Still, there’s no place like home. Despite lacking the charm of The Wizard of Oz, this remains an entertaining, albeit unnecessary, prequel with a circus of solid performances and picturesque visuals which kids are bound to enjoy.

7/10