(WARNING – POTENTIAL SPOILERS BELOW)
I love Spider-Man. He’s my favorite superhero. His superhuman abilities have always appealed to the inner kid in me. To web-sling through the streets of New York City, feeling the air rush past you as you glide and flip through the air past buildings and the people below, would be nothing short of amazing. The city is Spider-Man’s playground and the sense of freedom it allows would feel unreal. That’s something I’ll never get to experience in the real world but, thankfully, it is something I can experience through the magic of the movies. In The Amazing Spider-Man 2, that experience feels fully realized as director Marc Webb demonstrates web slinging in such a wonderfully visual sense that you can’t help but be in awe of it. It’s one of the things about this new Spider-Man movie that Webb and his crew get right but, sadly, a good portion of the movie ends up being a big mess of missed opportunities and bad ideas.
I wasn’t a huge fan of Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man when I initially saw it. I failed to be enthused by the idea of another origin tale and I didn’t like the back story that implied Peter Parker’s father is somehow involved in Peter being destined to become Spider-Man. It seemed unnecessary and shoehorned in to make the reboot feel different than Sam Raimi’s previous trilogy. But despite the parental back story and some flaws of that first movie, on a second viewing I was able to enjoy the movie for what it was.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opens with Peter’s parents on a plane as they are on the run from OsCorp. The scene shows the death of Peter’s parents as Mr. Parker uploads a data file to an undisclosed location right before he dies. This storyline surrounding the Parker parents’ demise is force fed to us once again, even though it’s an entirely disposable C-story, and it falls flat. I knew Webb was going to have to deal with this storyline in the new film but this opening scene could have easily been excised from the film with no consequence and we could have started on what ends up being the second scene in the movie that actually focuses on Spider-Man.
The first moment with Spidey is one of the movie’s best sequences and may be one of the best Spider-Man scenes I’ve seen on the big screen ever. Webb shows Spidey swinging through New York in dynamic ways and you really get a sense of what it might be like to swing through the city like Spider-Man with the use of some really fun POV shots. The web-slinging visuals are truly beautiful and really demonstrate the amazing physicality of Spider-Man. On top of the great visuals, Spider-Man’s personality is on full display and his wise-cracking in the film felt a lot like the Spidey I’ve enjoyed in the comics. This is the Spider-Man I want to see more of. I really loved the quick bit in the convenience store where Spidey is buying cough syrup because he’s sick. The clerk is so excited to see him and Spidey tries to be charming but he just can’t get past his low energy and congestion. It’s a fun little moment.
Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker and Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy have such great chemistry that they are a treat to watch even if their scenes aren’t very well written. We basically see them in a cyclical relationship of breaking up and getting back together which makes their relationship seem to lack any progression. Stone manages to elevate the mediocre script and absolutely shines as Gwen Stacy. Garfield does a decent job as Peter but his character is pretty poorly conceived and is written to be pretty dumb despite Peter supposedly being a very intelligent boy with a great scientific mind. At one point, Peter uses YouTube to figure out how batteries work, a concept that isn’t hard to grasp and should be well-known by Peter already.
There are some funny and dramatic moments between Aunt May and Peter that work pretty well. I loved the scene in which an emotional Aunt May tells Peter that he’s her son. It’s a great little scene that speaks to the relationship between May and Peter. She may not be his maternal mother, but she is the one that has raised him. She’s earned the right to think of Peter as her son and Peter recognizes this. This is the parental relationship that should be the focus of the movie, not of Peter’s dead parents.
While the movie has some positive attributes, the movie is severely overshadowed by its lesser qualities. The first of which is Max Dillon, played by Jamie Foxx. He is portrayed as a cartoony nerd stereotype with an obvious mental illness. He feels unseen and powerless by the world until the one day he is saved by Spider-Man who says that Max is his eyes and ears on the streets. This leads Max to some unhealthy and obsessive hero worship. When he becomes Electro, he attracts the attention of the city and Spider-Man but he finds bitterness in the attention he receives and lashes out. Right after becoming Electro, Max goes from adoring Spider-Man one second and then in the next he hates him with little to no provocation. It’s one of the many examples of screenwriters Kurtzman and Orci’s writing that features convenient and unearned motivations. Electro becomes nothing more than a bad plot device and starts the movie’s descent into ‘90s Schumacherian villain territory.
The movie hits a real low in a scene where Electro has been captured and imprisoned at the Ravencroft Institute. There he is overseen by a scientist named Kafka, who feels like a caricature right out of Batman & Robin. He acts like a complete kook with his cartoony accent and hair and lipstick (what?!?). Kafka decides to test Electro’s power absorption ability all the while Electro is monologuing about how he’s going to show everyone a world without Spider-Man, re-enforcing his unwarranted vendetta against our hero. The scene crescendos into awfulness when Kafka asks Max what his name is. Max, who of course must have been thinking about new names to call himself in all his duress, says with vigor “My name is Electro.” Kafka hears this and repeats his name with a shrill voice. The moment plays out like a bad Saturday morning cartoon and I found it to be mind-boggling in how ridiculous it was. In fact, I started getting angry by the regressive bad qualities that Webb had instilled in the film. This was further reinforced by the scene that immediately follows it, which is a dramatic and naturalistic moment between Aunt May and Peter. The juxtaposition between the cartooniness and the naturalism felt extremely jarring. The movie is full of these tonal inconsistencies and it suffers greatly from it.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 sports another villain in Harry Osborn, played by Dane DeHaan. DeHaan paints the character so over the top that I’d be astonished if people don’t think he’s a terrible actor (which I don’t think is true as I’ve quite liked him in previous roles). His performance is so unrestrained that I’m not sure I can lay all the blame solely on him. Webb should have stepped in to reign DeHaan in for a more calculated performance. Then again, even if the performance had been better, the character of Harry would have still been a miss. He comes off as a brat, complete with douchey hair. The friendship he shares with Peter feels forced and is never given time to be fully realized on screen. There could have been so much dramatic tension between Peter and Harry if their relationship had been given time to gain a sense of camaraderie but instead we just wind up with stale exposition between the two. Harry’s evolution into Green Goblin feels rushed and tacked onto the storyline to help set up the franchise for its upcoming Sinister Six movie instead of letting it occur in an organic way. And when Harry actually becomes the Goblin, I felt the look of his makeup and suit looked poorly designed. For as cartoonish as the character was portrayed, they sure played it safe with the look of the Green Goblin.
The score by Hans Zimmer and The Magnificent Six does not help the film in alleviating the cartoony nature of the movie. In fact, it often makes it worse. It has a playful sound to it that just reinforces the over the top villains. Electro even gets some dub step in his themes, which will undoubtedly date the movie horribly in a few years. This is an incredibly disappointing score by Zimmer and might be the worst of his career.
The climax of the movie with the death of Gwen Stacy failed to hit me with its intended emotional effect. Perhaps that will change with another viewing because in the midst of watching the movie play out, I was still seething from the poor handling of the villains that I stopped being invested in the story. Her death was also handled differently in the movie than it was in the comics, where Peter tries to save Gwen as she’s falling only to snap her neck from the whiplash of catching her with his webbing. In the movie, Peter is too late to catch her and her head hits the ground killing her on impact. The difference between the comic and the movie might seem trivial but one version leaves Peter blameless while the other makes him responsible, even if it was only an accident. That change in the dynamic of her death would affect Peter very differently. I’m not sure if that change bothers me or not but it is an interesting difference to think about between the two versions.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ultimately suffers from poor directional choices, a dumb script and some over the top performances. The lack of story and a strong singular villain leaves the film without necessary character developments and a lack of tension. I feel the movie may have been better served by telling Electro’s story and setting up Harry Osborn to become the Goblin in another movie, allowing his friendship with Peter to be better established. Instead, what we get is a very unfocused movie that contains some very questionable decisions in its execution.
I really wanted to like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 but ended up walking out of the theater angry and irritated. The movie has some truly amazing Spider-Man moments, which makes all the plentiful bad moments that much harder to accept. The film made me feel sad for the future of the franchise. I’m not sure the course they’ve set out on will be corrected any time soon and that might mean more missed opportunities and bad storytelling. I sincerely hope that is not the case though, because the world needs Spider-Man. And I need a good Spider-Man movie.
by Ben McBride
Follow Ben on Twitter: @monsterpopcorn