The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Spoiler Free Review:
With great internet, comes great responsibility to review this movie. Actually, my internet is pretty shit and I’m not the most responsible person in the world, but I hope you’ll bear with me here anyways.
It has been a short and oddly paced path to The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Sony made it abundantly clear that they wanted to start a Spider-Man Cinematic Universe, so in the downtime between TASM and TASM 2, they revealed plans for a Sinister Six and Venom movie. Since Sony only has the rights to one hero, Spider-Man, the game plan is to focus on his villains to construct a franchise of movies for years to come. After the debacle with The Lizard in the first Amazing Spider-Man, I wasn’t too excited for this notion. Even though I grow more excited for a Sinister Six movie, I still think it’s a horrible idea to focus on so many villains in place of Spider-Man. I worry about it undercutting the Peter Parker development and what it means for the Spider-Man character. It looks like my worries were not unfounded. TASM 2 is a bloated, incoherent mess of a film. It also has some fun action, amusing character bits, and a riveting climax. Unlike the reboot in 2012, this is a more functional movie with underlying narrative problems (Like how there isn’t one) but it’s still worth a trip to the movies.
The Best Sinister Six is the Worst Sinister Six
We came here to see Spider-Man develop his superhero persona and swing around fighting crime while saving civilians, you’ll be mostly satisfied. We start off with a 6 minute sequence of Peter Parker’s parents going on the run. They’re on the run because they discovered Oscorp plans to use their knowledge for evil deeds and intend to expose them. This entire sequence could be cut as the film later reiterates these facts from the perspective of Peter. It literally is of no consequence. After that weird opening, we get a throwback to Saturday morning cartoons (The good kind!). Spider-Man chases Aleksei Systevich, in his pre-Rhino days, through the streets of New York and is late for his own graduation. He’s still dating Gwen and feels guilty for breaking his promise, you know, to a dead man. It bears such a weight on Peter that he ends up breaking up with Gwen. Again. Then starts following her through around New York for an extended period of time. Meanwhile, we never really see what Gwen is up to. We get a scene of her at Oscorp and we’re introduced to Max Dillon but we don’t know where either character is coming from. The whole “I love you but we shouldn’t be together” makes for some initially compelling drama, but there’s never any time to learn who these people are. They aren’t so much characters as they are conduits for action and drama. Peter has Spider-Man and we see him enjoying that. Gwen has Oscorp where she does… something. Then she has a chance to travel to England so she can continue her studies. Being the only 18 year old in the history of cinema to have a job doing… something… in a shady organization sure has its benefits! The actor’s chemistry is so damn good that it’s easy to overlook these flaws. A scene where Peter catches the gaze of Gwen and walks across the street to meet her is beautiful. He practically grows Cupid wings as he hovers over to speak with her. The script doesn’t sell the romance. The actors do.
Unfortunately, the movie is so intent on pouring other characters to set up those future villain movies that there is no cohesive narrative or thematic purpose behind it all. The way the movie handles the villains isn’t the quintessential reasoning for it, but it sure doesn’t help.
Before Max Dillon becomes Electro, for the first act of the movie, he’s nothing more than a bumbling loser who reaches cartoony levels of pathetic (NOT the good kind). Jaime Foxx works best when he owns the screen with his overwhelming charisma. Even when the character is written into the deepest depths of buffoonery, Foxx has fun with it. Once Dillon returns as Electro for the final act, the big showdown, Foxx is unleashed. He is more threatening, is *ahem* shockingly cool, and ridiculously cheesy. We’re talking 90s level of cheesy ridiculousness. I might have loved it. I can’t think of anyone else who would be able to sell lines like “Let’s catch a spider” (1). The Times Square scene with Max trying to control his newfound electric powers is handled relatively well. Spider-Man gets to save some people, dodge some electricity, and wear a fireman’s hat. It’s a visually effective action scene if anything. Electro himself is the most visually satisfying baddie to date with his ethereal blue skin and powerful blasts of electricity. What works best here is we get to see Spider-Man’s more likable side. In TASM he came off as more of an angry asshole in a costume than a wisecracking teenager trying to keep his head straight in a fight with some thugs. Now we’re shown Peter trying to save a man who is confused about what’s happening to him. He wants to help him overcome whatever it is that’s affecting him. Until the final fight of course! Then it’s all-out war, take no prisoners, blow ‘em up good, type stuff.
Oh that thing about Electro returning in Act 3? Yeah, they pull a Spider-Man 3 in terms of villain overload. Then again, this was the crew that couldn’t handle a single villain the first time. I don’t know what I was expecting. This is a much better movie than Spider-Man 3, (My guilty pleasure of a movie but undeniably bad. Just not an abomination) it just suffers similar narrative problems. There’s simply too much going on. In Raimi’s masterpiece, Spider-Man 2, we understood the weight on Peter’s shoulders as he struggled to balance jobs, friends, and family with his superhero persona. Here, it feels like that weight has been lifted off of his shoulders and placed on ours, minus the in-depth look at Peter’s personal life. Apart from the lovely romance (I swoon just thinking about it) we only get brief mentions of Peter trying to get a job at the Daily Bugle, going to school, and helping Aunt May. There’s a brief exploration of the friendship between Harry Osborn and Peter Parker. Much like the romance, it only works because of the actors involved.
Dane Dehaan is a pretty good Harry Osborn for new fans of the franchise (2). The iconic comic book father/son relationship between him and his father is cut to make way for Green Goblin to appear. Like the rest of the movie, an interesting relationship is established before being squandered by other extraneous plot developments. Garfield and Dehaan sell the history between the characters, with their initial meeting onscreen playing out well enough, but it’s hurriedly thrown aside to make room for his rise to villainy. “Sins of the father” themes permeate through both of the actors performances with no context in the story. They both suffer abandonment but it never gets explored properly.
Not Much Electro but Plenty of Boogaloo:
The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Electric Boogaloo
The characters are hollow shells of their comic book counterparts (Again, great acting. Mediocre characters). The action here finally feels more alive. There’s enjoyment to the web-swinging and electric showdowns. It all feels a bit weightless, sure, and the stakes aren’t very involving, but the unimpressive action of the first TASM is nowhere to be seen. The final showdown with Electro and Green Goblin in a power plant/clock tower thing (I don’t even know) is good fun too. Electro goes full comic book villain as he begins draining the city’s power supply and phases himself into a giant face on a skyscraper to get Peter’s attention. Necessary? Not at all. Exciting? Yeah. Very exciting actually.
While the narrative problems plague the movie for its entire 142 minute runtime (3) I’ve got to admit, I was really invested by the time the final showdown was happening. All character logic and motivation had gone out the window by that point, but the emotion was never more present in the movie. Actions finally have consequences and there’s the realization that not all of these characters might not make it out alive. The climactic battle never reaches the better fights in Raimi’s trilogy (Don’t even bother comparing it to the train fight sequence) but it all looks good. I mean, really good.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a must buy for anyone looking to expand their home movie theater collection. The visuals are bright and fluid. The sound is explosive. Specifically the music by Hans Zimmer. It’s a vast improvement over James Horner’s dismal score in TASM. Minus Electro’s jarring theme, it’s a good soundtrack worth humming down the street to. But really, don’t even talk to me about Electro’s dubstep theme. It doesn’t flow at all with the musical score by Hans Zimmer. It’s on par with Horner’s work the first time.
The Pretty Good Spider-Man:
The tonal differences between this movie and the first will put some people off. It’s more in line with the tone of the Raimi films minus the deeper thematic elements (Sans Spider-Man 3). Since the reboot has just sort of switched gears back into more lighthearted territory, I can’t help but think if this franchise is even necessary (4).
A major difference between this and the previous Spider-Man franchise is that Raimi knew how to balance tone (For the most part. I like how I have to constantly mention “sans Spider-Man 3”). Don’t get me wrong; I’m glad this sequel finally embraces the elements of fun Spider-Man is known for. Pitting him against a dismal grim ‘n gritty backdrop doesn’t bode well for the character. He doesn’t need to be focused on realistic. He’s a guy who can lift up cars with one hand and stick to walls for crying out loud! The problem here is that it often strays into Batman Forever territory, particularly with the Dr. Kafka character played by Martin Csokas. The term “hammy” gets tossed around a lot these days with performances are over the top. Csokas has a performance so bad that it sinks the whole movie into a bottomless pit whenever he speaks. There’s no cartoony fun to be had here. Just bad acting.
I have mixed feelings about TASM 2. It’s not the same situation as TASM where I indefinitely question what anybody saw in that movie other than crappy editing, shoddy characterization, and lack of all-around sense of fun. Here, it’s mostly an entertaining movie. Entertaining in that first Transformers type of way. Characters and events that should be spread throughout a series of movies are compressed into a single movie. Characters and events that should be contained to a single movie are spread over the entire series, leaving the audience with an odd sense of deflation and lack of investment. The characters are weak but the actors shine. It’s not a stupid movie. Just an oddly frustrating one. Even with all that, I find myself excited to check out The Amazing Spider-Man 2 with a larger audience.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 gets 4.5 out of 7
TWP Grading Scale
(1) Off the record, I’ve been saying that at least once a day to exude some of that Jaime Foxx coolness.
(2) Dehaan was good but I’m seriously worried about him being typecast in these roles. Audiences know he can deliver malice and anguish well. I’d hate for it to become his calling card.
(3) It is a VERY long movie. You feel the length. There’s also no after credit scene so feel free and go pee before and/or after your showing. Your bladder isn’t worth this movie.
(4) Spoiler Alert: No, it’s not necessary. This was a franchise built after Sony and Sam Raimi parted ways after Spider-Man 3, a movie that Sony producers, namely Avi Arad, had bogged down in multiple demands it ended up sinking the entire project. Guess who’s in charge of the Cinematic Spidey-Verse now?
Spoiler Talk: The Problem With Fan Service
SERIOUS SPOILERS THAT YOU PROBABLY KNOW IF YOU’VE EVER HEARD OF SPIDER-MAN OR WATCHED ANY OF THE TRAILERS
I’ve often got into debates over why The Amazing Spider-Man does and doesn’t work as a movie with close friends (HI, GUYS!). The fact of the matter is, TASM does and doesn’t work. It’s all about perspective and what’s presented to us in the movie. This franchise is all about fan service (Money, but also fan service so you can keep giving them money to keep the rights to Spider-Man). As a fan of the comics, there’s lots to love about TASM and this new franchise. You’ve got web-shooters, characters who act just like their comic book counterparts, and trademark Spidey humor! While I think the humor works way better in this movie, the problems from the first movie still bothered me.
The character and plot developments speed on by to make way for moments that trick you into thinking they work because “It’s in the comics!” A prime example being Dane Dehaan as the Green Goblin. The story skips over the Norman Goblin and goes straight to the Harry Goblin for seemingly no reason. Maybe it was because they couldn’t fit Chris Cooper onto a glider (He’s not that old, guys!) or perhaps it’s because Dehaan sells tragedy to a younger audience. But by taking away Norman Osborn as the first Green Goblin and passing it down to his son, any “It’s in the comics!” development gets shattered. It does make way for a pivotal turning point in the history of Spider-Man. They actually do go through with the Gwen Stacy death. Gwen Stacy’s death is a huge moment for comic fans everywhere, and while her death is still heartbreaking and emotionally powerful, it all felt a bit rushed. There served no thematic value other than “You shouldn’t have been an ass Peter Parker” As I reiterated several times in the review, it thankfully never comes across this way because of the actor chemistry.
You sure you don’t want to develop this iconic Spider-Man villain before his big scene? No? Okay then.
Another spot where “It’s in the comics!” detriment has never been more severe is with the character of Rhino. I will say that I do like that he opens and bookends the film fighting Spider-Man. He does serve the purpose of showing that even after Gwen’s death, Peter has to stay strong and continue being Spider-Man, but the character is still so one-dimensional that the blatant build-up to the Sinister Six does end up softening the emotional impact of it all.
And then you have the cameos from other characters like Alistair Smythe and Felicia Hardy. Is it a nice nod for the fans? Sure. But they’re used for exposition and serve no purpose in the context of the story.
I’ll reiterate one more time, because I did have fun: I did enjoy this movie. I’d pay to see it again. I just don’t know if this is a step in the right direction for Sony’s Spidey-Verse. I do know that pandering to comic book fans doesn’t cover up any flaws the final product has underneath its shiny exterior. Just because it’s in the comics, doesn’t mean it translates to screen well without proper context. But what do you guys think? Are you fans of The Amazing Spider-Man series?