[Review] - The Amazing Spider-man 2

Courtesy of Sony Pictures
One thing I won't do in this review is compare the film with the earlier Sam Raimi-directed films. When the first Amazing was released two years ago, comparisons were apt, because that film was directly influenced by the previous trilogy. Story and production decisions were made based on what the previous films had already done, which made the new film feel disingenuous and redundant. This film establishes it's own cinematic identity, and with the sole exception of the glaring absence of J. Johan Jameson, isn't making decisions based on what had been done before.

However, that it isn't constantly looking over it's shoulder at what Raimi had previously done doesn't mean it isn't looking over it's shoulder, attempting to ape someone else's success. And it doesn't mean that a more assured sense of identity has elevated this film to a new level of quality over it's dull and disjointed predecessor. It's a different kind of bad, this film, so at least this franchise is achieving consistency. It is surprisingly bloated for a film that has very little direction, but it's worst sin is being aggressively predictable and about as subtle as a manhole cover upside the head.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers which are about as subtle as a manhole cover upside the head.

The clearest and most pointed analysis I can provide of this film are my thoughts as I left the theater: Amazing Spider-man 2 felt like a movie made in the 90s. If James Cameron had succeeded in making the Spider-man film he wanted to make in 1991, it might have some of this flavor. The general flavor of the film was that of a rushed, primarily merchandisable quality, where things happen simply because they must, and motivation and emotion are treated as qualities that can be glossed over with a couple flip lines of dialogue, if it means moving to the next set piece (it also includes a cheesy musical montage, with an uplifting Phillip Phillips song overlaid). Villains are meant to be big and fuzzy at the edges, while heroes have obsessions and flaws that they forget they have when convenient. This is the sort of superhero movie that other producers have spent the last decade trying to convince the public that they don't make anymore. Amazing 1 was a failed attempt to make a Christopher Nolan-style Spider-man film, Amazing 2 is a failed attempt to make a Marvel Studios-style Spider-man film. What it succeeds in replicating, more often than not, was Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin.

What this film finally got right, after five films based on the character (yes yes, I know...), is the character of Spider-man. The webslinger has never felt more true to his comic origins. When in the spandex, he's nubile, hyper-aware, and endlessly chatty. There is a panel in a recent Spider-man book, where a bystander is able to identify that it is the real Spidey because "he's talking again." This film's Spider-man never shuts up. He's sarcastic, playful and annoying, and that exactly what Spider-man needs to be. He isn't a brooding, silent figure. He's a larger than life showman, using his babbling to distract the villains from both their task, and his own nervousness. He's also the sort of hero who will zip out of a fight to save a single bystander, and engage in a little reaffirming banter with the crowd. Because the films - all of the films to this point - have been more concerned with how sad Peter Parker is, none of them have taken the time to appreciate Spider-man as a separate character. When he's performing in front of an audience, no matter what is happening in Parker's life, Spidey has to be his friendly neighbourhood self.  And this film finally got that right. It's pretty much the only thing it did right...

I've mentioned before that, physically, Andrew Garfield is practically perfect as Peter Parker. But that fact cannot disguise the truth that he is annoying as hell as Peter Parker. His performance is grating. Others have commented on his and Emma Stone's chemistry, and if nervous flirting is what you call chemistry, then they've got that in spades. But Garfield himself, displaying one of a rotation of three expressions, either isn't interested or isn't capable of making Parker anything other than grating. Perhaps it's a holdover from the hipster vibe they tried to give him in the last film, or maybe it's just that the film is underwritten across the board. But Parker, out of the suit, isn't a character that is appealing or interesting in the least.

Which is a problem, considering that the "emotional heart" of the film is his anguish over his love life, and his parent's deaths. The latter of which isn't really explained. He's searching for them, though why he's chosen now to look for them despite having access to his father's work in the last film isn't something the film is interested in. Discovering the secret Ninja Turtle base his father worked in doesn't lead to anything either. Finding out his parents were traitors, then finding out the next day that they weren't didn't seem to have any great impact on him. And he certainly didn't use his access to the Parker lab to aid his fight against Electro and Harry. No, for that he needed a makeshift science fair project.

Then there are the villains. Jamie Foxx's Electro lacks anything resembling motivation (unless you count "they missed my birthday"), and basically decides that it'll be his life's crusade to destroy Spider-man because that's what you do when you acquire super powers. Much like Dr. Conner's plot to turn New Yorkers into giant lizards, Electro's journey to a Spider-killer just occurs to him one day. It certainly wasn't hinted at during his establishing scenes, where Max Dillon is presented as an eighties stereotypical nerd (because despite writing two Star Trek films, writers Kurtzman and Orci love them some nerd bashing). The presentation of the character is practically identical to Jim Carrey's Riddler, both in arc and presentation. Which makes sense, since he seems shoehorned into the script late one night because the film was getting a little too focused on character and development, and not enough on repeated bullet time sequences (of which there are way too many, to the point where I thought Ang Lee had stepped in as director).

Harry Osbourn (Dane DeHaan) is actually interesting, and I'd have liked to get to know him more. Instead of focusing on his and Peter's relationship, and his complex emotional problems with his father (talk about wasting both a character and an actor, dispatching Chris Cooper's Norman Osbourn after a single scene), they give him a vague blood disease, and make him obsessed with Spider venom. He's got a lot of facets that could have made him an engaging and sympathetic villain. He even comes with his own built in adversary, in the form of Colm Feore, as the apparently nameless overlord of Oscorp (if I watch one more film that feels that introducing characters is a waste of time, I'll put my hand through a projector lens). He even has a potential love interest, in the equally ill defined Felicia (Felicity Jones, who deserves better).

The film clearly isn't interested in being patient and taking its time in establishing characters and events and interactions. It wants things to happen, it wants them to happen now, then it wants everyone to get over them and move on to the next thing. The film really needed to end about ten of fifteen minutes earlier, to leave something to follow up on in the inevitable next film, instead of resolving what should be complex issues with terse, shallow time-lapse and a less than rousing speech about getting over grief. It also touches on Parker's own guilt over the death of Captain Stacey in the last film, but is never interested enough for that guilt to actually play a role in his character's development, it used as a plot device to make his and Gwen's meetcutes that much cuter.

It is also so focused on establishing what Sony thinks is going to be a shared universe to rival Marvel Studios, that everything feels both abrupt and overdrawn. Rather than spend this film establishing Harry's various psychological problems and his degenerative physical condition, creating the environment for a villain to emerge in a leading role in a Sinister Six film, they rush past the emotional stuff, give his "condition" a boost, and stick him in a suit in a forced and contrived manner. But at least it ignores doing all these things, hoping the audience won't notice. Oh, and he's fine at the end, so they can maintain that precious status quo for the next film.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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