The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Title Is Only Half Right
Yet another spider man…
Every time I think the comic book movie genre is evolving into something more… shall we say…sophisticated, along comes a film like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to remind me that Hollywood still has a crippling grasp on the process, where success is measured strictly on box office figures and not on a Rotten Tomato ranking. How else can you explain taking an unnecessary and underwhelming reboot and finding a way to make it worse on the next go around? Who cares if it’s good, it’s going to make a boatload of cash! Brandy and caviar all around!
In an era where we see glimpses of greatness, be it in Whedon’s Avengers or Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, it baffles me how no one- not one person with an ounce of influence- has the sack to stand up and proclaim a product inadequate. But I suppose a $92m opening justifies the argument that, at least for this superhero franchise, whatever is tossed out there is going to work well enough for the bean counters.
Director Marc Webb has stood behind the lens for both of these latest Spider-Man films, and I can’t help but think he’s found himself on a runaway train, not sure exactly where it’s headed or where it’ll stop. He’s frantically pushing buttons and pulling levers, searching for something to bring this blurred vision into focus. Screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci aren’t doing him any favors either. As the navigator, Webb is using a poorly written map and a broken compass. Buyer beware when the warning label reads ‘the writers of Cowboys and Aliens and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.’
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is burdened by a cumbersome script that is forced to juggle too many plot points, resulting in underdeveloped characters with questionable motives and a story that speeds by far too quickly for a 140 minute run time to handle. There are literally five different stories being told here, most of which would have been better served with their own full length feature.
The best part of this new series continues to be the chemistry shared by its two main stars, Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy. Perhaps buoyed by their off-screen relationship, all of their beats feel honest and organic. I can even set aside my mild distaste for Peter’s sullen, mopey mannerisms when he’s side by side with Gwen because I care about them as a couple. This dynamic allows the film’s climactic moments to pay off emotionally as a result. Less impressive is the stable of villains, wedged in and hurried along, feeling more like a necessity to help ramp up excitement for a planned Sinister Six film.
Jamie Foxx as main bad guy, Electro, feels wasted here, never really convincing as a corporate nerd and even less so as a legitimate threat to Spider-Man. If you can get past yet another villain that seems motivated by poor self-esteem, good luck latching onto menacing dialogue like “You wanna know how powerful I am? Well I wanna know too. I’m Electro!” That’s inspired writing right there. I would have preferred he rolled into Times Square in a dune buggy with Christmas lights like that Dynamo guy from the 80’s Schwarzenegger flick, The Running Man. At least the means would have justified the end.
If the plan was to wrap up canonical arcs in this film, I get the need for Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborn/Green Goblin. Perhaps the character would have been better served with more than 10 minutes of screen time with Peter Parker in order for us to establish some sort of relevant connection between the two. In contrast to the Peter/Gwen relationship, which was almost beaten to death in these two films, the Peter/Harry relationship is barely given lip service, and it’s a difficult sell to a viewer that’s expected to care about Goblin’s ultimate betrayal when it feels like these guys have only known each other for about a week.
The short end of the villain stick is given to Paul Giamatti as The Rhino. As easy as it was to take down Electro, I’m not sure how much excitement I’m supposed to muster for this guy. With Spidey’s elusiveness and quick thinking, I’m not sure how difficult it would be to out maneuver some Russian palooka in a giant mechanical suit that clearly has limited range of motion. The entire sequence felt more like a tacked on advertisement for Amazing Spider-Man 3 and should have been relegated to post credit status. In effect, it cheapened the impact of the events that led up to this part of the film. They could have left this story in a very interesting place, with Spider-Man at a crossroads, perhaps with one last parting glare from a silent Dennis Leary. Instead, we get Giamatti hamming it up with Spider-Kid.
Because all of this wasn’t enough to cram into the film, we are again saddled with a boring and anti-climactic sub-plot involving Peter’s obsession with finding out what happened to his parents, forcing them to abandon him with his aunt and uncle as a young boy. No game changing secrets are revealed, and even though we learn of their fate, the entire subtext seemed to exist for the sole purpose of giving Sally Field something to do.
So what is the consequence of such a convoluted film? In order to reconcile most of these arcs, it’s necessary to incorporate ridiculous leaps of faith and brush aside gaping plot-holes in order to move forward with the narrative. As a viewer, it’s insulting to be considered so much of an idiot that I wouldn’t either notice or care about the incessant need to spoon feed me critical elements of the story. Perhaps a couple more minutes with Peter and Harry onscreen together might have shored up some of the lacking cohesion between their relationship. Instead I have to endure two jumbo airliners on collision course, only to avert disaster at the last minute by means of some acrobatic, illogical CGI maneuvering. There’s a blackout in New York City. That’s bad. I can do that math in my head without the insertion of some Roland Emmerich inspired 2012 bullshit. I could spend the next week listing all of the preposterous moments in this film, but I’ll leave that up to those “Everything Wrong With ______ in Less Than __ Minutes” guys on YouTube, who for the first time might actually end up with a video equal in length to the film they’re satirizing.
I pretty much refuse to waste money on 3D effects that aren’t managed by Alfonso Cuaron or James Cameron, so I was more than happy to plop down matinee shekels for a 2D viewing. As you would imagine, outside of the Peter/Gwen lovey dovey scenes, this film is constantly reliant on CGI, and while I did feel many of the action sequences were done well, even those became tiresome over time, due in large part to the underwhelming characters and the fact we all knew exactly where this was all headed.
For me, the excuse “it’s just a comic book movie” or “it’s just a fun popcorn movie” doesn’t fly anymore. This is the unfortunate mantra of myopic fans who will unconditionally love whatever they’re given and other people who just don’t care enough about the product. It’s how Adam Sandler films still bank $100m even though his unfunny shtick has been idling for over 15 years. For the amount of cabbage these films generate, why are we not demanding better? The Amazing Spider-Man 2 leaves me with nothing to hang my hat on. Marc Webb has made a mess of this series. It’s akin to a toddler dumping out a box full of toys and not being able to decide which ones to play with. This film does nothing but further the stereotype of big summer blockbusters, content to rest their laurels on big explosions and contrived plots. Why should we have to sacrifice good storytelling simply because the film has a $200m budget and a summer release date?