I guess calling this franchise The Mediocre Spider-Man probably wouldn’t sell as many tickets, even if it was truth in advertising.
On the one hand, I am glad that the people associated with the newest Spider-Man reboot are finally getting the chance to tell a new story (if you taxonomy for “new” means “not told on the big screen” since obviously this is all based on a comic book series). One of my biggest problems with The Amazing Spider-Man was that it wasn’t bringing much new to the well-worn origin story of Peter Parker becoming Spider-Man; I am honestly a little over seeing Uncle Ben get killed. So is should have been a mark in The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s favor that we were now beyond the initial “setting the table” for this franchise and that they could explore some different stories. And they certainly do explore some new stuff, though I would argue that they explore too much new stuff. There are a lot the threads in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but they never come together to create a beautiful tapestry. Instead, you get the feeling that they just threw a bunch of stuff at the wall to see what would stick without a lot of concern for cohesive narrative and story development. There were individual moments that I liked in this film, but overall I have just not been impressed with this latest iteration of our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
My criticisms of the film are not a critique of the leads; one of the things that does work in these films is the fantastic chemistry between Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). When the two of them are bantering or on screen together, the entire movie lights up. This is, of course, assisted by the fact that Stone and Garfield are a couple in real-life; they may both be very good actors, but the underlying love and affection that the two of them have for each other clearly elevate both their performances. Tobey Maguire is still my default conception of Spider-Man, but Garfield has made tremendous strides in winning me over. I wasn’t particularly familiar with him before he donned the spidey-suit, but he’s done a fine job in bringing the wise-cracking Peter Parker to life. I am a longtime fan of Stone, so it’s no surprise that I enjoy her in this as well. I only wish that the material was better suited to both of their talents.
As I was watching The Amazing Spider-Man 2, it dawned on me that one of the big problems that I had with this film was that all the characters that inhabited this world had the emotional development of toddlers. If you have spent any time around little ones, you know that they haven’t quite learned to control their emotional reactions and can go from zero to crying in the blink of an eye (a process that is repeated when they become teenagers). Almost all of the characters in The Amazing Spider-Man have crazy mood swings and reactions that seem disproportionate to what is happening. I understand that this is an action movie and that there isn’t necessarily a lot of time to deal with emotional development, but the end result is that the audience feels like they are being bounced around like a ping pong ball. This is most obvious in regards to the relationship between Peter and Gwen, but all the characters are guilty of this. Aunt May (Sally Field) is absolutely never going to tell Peter anything about his parents – until she does less than 5 minutes later. Harry Osbourn (Dane DeHaan) throws all sorts of tantrums. And then there is Electro (Jamie Foxx).
We all know that as good as any of the other characters are in a superhero movie, the film ultimately lives and dies on the villains. They provide a necessary counterbalance to our do-gooders and need to seem like a legitimate threat to raise the stakes. I don’t know if it is Electro the character or the choices that Foxx and the writers made in portraying him, but he just never worked for me. Admittedly, I am not a Jamie Foxx fan, but I do think he can do good work and I’ve enjoyed him in other stuff. And I’m all for adding some diversity to the world of comic book movies. Electro’s origin is of a “nobody” who is accidentally transformed into having powers, but they are so over the top about his sad sack status that it became comical. Perhaps Foxx relished playing an everyman that isn’t smooth with the ladies or particularly charming. Whatever the motivation, Electro was such a doormat that he was far too easy to manipulate. It makes for a wishy-washy villain that is hard to take seriously. You should not be able to disarm a super-villain by offering to be his friend. The film also tried to shoehorn in two additional villains, but that all feels very rushed. I had flashbacks to the monstrosity that was Spiderman 3, where too many villains exasperated all the other problems with that film. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 simply tries to do too much.
Some other thoughts:
- There are some very exciting action sequences. On that front, the film does deliver.
- I saw this film on Sony’s dime, so I did see The Amazing Spider-Man 2 not only in 3-D but also in IMAX. I really didn’t enjoy the IMAX 3-D glasses, but it was a pretty cool way to see a movie. I don’t know that it’s worth springing for an almost $20 ticket to see it this way, unless money is no object.
- I have not read the Spiderman comics, but I do know some of the major plot points that occurred in them. I’ll give the film credit – they were more loyal to the source material than I thought that they would be in regards to Gwen’s journey.
- Sony is doing something weird in the post-credits sequence. If you use the app Shazam on your smart phone during the final credits (the song is “It’s On Again” by Alicia Keys and Kendrick Lamar), you can unlock a video to watch on your phone. This seems unreasonable complicated, especially since I didn’t bring my phone into the screening as they are usually discouraged. However, resourceful chickadee that I am, I just Shazam-ed the song from YouTube and was able to see the video. What I was seeing made no sense to me, but it appears that they give some (pretty vague) clues as to who upcoming villains in the forthcoming Sinister Six movie. As I said, I don’t know the source material THAT well, so unless you are pretty well versed in possible villain candidates, you may need some help in understanding the teaser.
- There is also an actual post credit sequence that teases the new X-Men movie. I forgot all about this so I didn’t stay during my screening, but have seen it thanks to the wonder that is YouTube.
- If Peter really doesn’t want his Aunt May to figure out who he is – or not think he is nuts – he probably shouldn’t erect a Carrie Matheson worthy wall-o-conspiracy:
- One would have to assume that Paul Giamatti will have more to do in future films. Too small of a part for an actor of his stature.
- The actor who plays Dr. Ashley Kafka, founder of the Ravencroft Institute for the Criminally Insane, is so ridiculous and over the top that he is a distraction.
- This film makes a pretty solid case for why you should just stay away from Times Square.
- Particularly hysterical to me was the idea that when a major battle was going down, New Yorkers wouldn’t fee but would instead stand behind barricades around the action that somehow mysteriously appear.
- The Roosevelt Station is a real thing. Sadly, I didn’t have time to look for it when I was in the City yesterday.
All in all, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn’t a terrible movie, but it isn’t all that amazing either. I have a lower standard for these kinds of summer blockbusters that I do other movies, but I still found this one to be an ultimately unsatisfying and boring superhero film. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are fun to watch and there are some visually interesting action sequences, but the failure of the film to satisfyingly interconnect all the various plot points or deliver a particularly convincing villain is too much for even the charm of Garfield and Stone to overcome. Spiderman has never been my favorite Marvel superhero and this latest franchise has not done much to change my opinion. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has its moments, but just didn’t work for me as a cohesive film.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opens nationwide today.