We are in 20-fucking-14. We are in the middle of hyper-saturation of comic book films thanks to the reception and recognition of their worth as lucrative properties (Hell, one comic adaptation won the Palme d’Or something I would have never called prior), where every damn studio will be playing around with trying to stretch out their comic book properties as much as they possibly can and adopting the idea of “universe” establishing and world-building. As such, we’ve seen and are going to be seeing some great ones and we’ve seen and are going to be seeing some trashy ones. But the one thing we can’t really avoid recognizing is this:
They are all, no matter how good they are, going to be experiments and exercises within the studio system. That’s just their nature as pictures from the foreign properties (Snowpiercer‘s battle for distribution uncut being on) to the brand names (Batman vs. Superman will be fan service the movie). Some of these movies are really able to avoid bringing it out to the audience that much, like the X-Men films have done. Some are just able to transcend that aspect to become worthwhile standalone movies, despite not neglecting or denying their position in a universe.
And then there is The Amazing Spider-Man series which is just Sony flopping around on themselves like Chaplin’s Tramp trying really damn hard to cobble together a movie with as much synergy as they can muster before the next flick. And this is all because Sony doesn’t want to give Marvel the rights to the Spider-Man film productions, trying instead to pretend they can actually fucking do something worthwhile themselves – Marc Webb’s direction seems like it is a non-entity, devoid of character or personality the way Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films were honest-to-fucking-God comic book flicks.
Not one thing in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 feels anything but facilitated as an adventure in branding – from the various Sony product placements to the name-dropping rock star arrangement barely listenable in what amounts to Hans Zimmer’s worst score in his career so far sounding like an attempt at force-feeding melodrama while the movie does nothing to earn its melodrama.
I weep for Fox doing the same with the Fantastic Four.
Let’s swing through it.
2 years after the events of The Amazing Spider-Man, fresh high school graduate Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is fully in the flow of being Spider-Man, but is still somewhat haunted by spooky Denis Leary (I call the character Denis Leary because whatever the hell he was playing in the last movie, it wasn’t George Stacy) enough to avoid a true relationship with his daughter, Gwen (Emma Stone). I gladly ignore the fact that this actually nullifies his choice at the end of The Amazing Spider-Man to disregard Capt. Leary’s dying request because it means that we actually have a relationship arc with the two central characters for the talented Garfield and Stone to live in, rather than do the heavy lifting they had to do with just giggles in the last movie. And at this point, I’d warrant the emotional stakes of the relationship lead for a much more engaging romantic conflict than anything in the Raimi trilogy.
Something else that the Amazing Spider-Man 2 is able to finally surpass the Raimi trilogy in is giving Spidey a true role of a sort of “community rock star”. Embracing being known as a part of New York City, engaging as Spider-Man with people he helps and establishing, a rapport akin to how a firefighter or police officer would when helping someone. He truly is a “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” in this. It is one of the few compliments I will give this movie (you can count the amount in one hand and I wouldn’t be afraid to cut off fingers).
But that’s just within the suit. Outside the suit, Garfield’s Peter Parker is just as much a fucking dickhead as he was well in The Amazing Spider-Man, most notable in his relationship arc with Gwen now just being Parker refusing to quit being Spider-Man for some reason – since Uncle Ben actually seems totally forgotten at this point, it’s safe to say Parker feels no moral obligation to being Spider-Man and nowhere in the movie does he try to prove me wrong. And Aunt May (Sally Field) is just tossed off for every scene she is in, just as I had a problem with in The Amazing Spider-Man, this time less because the movie doesn’t allow her to be on-screen as a voice of reason/inspiration for Peter and more because Peter uses her as a meat puppet for comic relief until some surprisingly self-aware moment where May doesn’t take it anymore and bitches Peter the fuck out.
Let’s get something straight one more time, because every time I mention this in conversation, people try to rebuke with the opposite point and prove they don’t know the first thing about Spider-Man: Peter Parker is NOT a fucking asshole. I don’t know where the defenders of The Amazing Spider-Man keep drawing this idea (I like to think it comes from mainstream audience’s sudden love for cynical, sarcastic, but well-meaning characters that like to mess with everyone in a borderline cruel manner but still save the day and to the misconception that sarcasm is only exclusive to cynicism when… well, I used those two adjectives together for the reason that they are separate), but the definition of who Spider-Man is is that he is strictly NOT an asshole. That he always holds to himself to do the right thing, no matter how the choice is. That is the cross he has always carried since his conception and this reliability as a humanistic character was what made him popular to begin with. He wears his heart on his sleeve. He cracks jokes, of course, his humor is also what makes him admirable. But, he’s not a cocky little shit who never grew beyond the age of 18.
Anyway, infidelity to a character is not what makes a movie terrible, even if said character is the center of the movie. Regardless, that is a pet peeve of defenders of the franchise based on one of my favorite superheroes that I must condemn, because they make me have to.
Anyway, let’s move on with what the hell happens in this movie:
Apparently Parker was also friends with Harry Osborn (a thanklessly ill-used Dane DeHaan) – despite never bringing it up in the many many times he was at or involved in OsCorp within these two movies prior to Harry’s appearance. Y’know, that’s kind of something that would warrant a mention to your girlfriend who works at the corporation or the worker who wonders why the fuck you are in a classified area… or y’know calling Harry because you found out that your dad was heavily involved with his company. But no, Harry is there because Sony decided it was needed.
Harry has a contrived disease that is inconsistent with its appearance and how it affects him (and the movie even tries so hard to deflect this seemingly imperative plot point with the line “It comes and goes”) and apparently really needs the blood of Spider-Man to fix up the cure for this. In the meantime, an awkward OsCorp worker Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) is constantly shafted by his workplace and this abuse ends with him having a very comic book-like accident that leads him to becoming the electric villain Electro. His motivations are, like his design, writing, and acting, hard to put a bead on, but given the objective of figuring it out: He thinks the world hates him and wants to rip it apart. Just like Harry.
So yeah… that’s what happens in the movie. Shall we call it a plot or something? These are the days of Spider-Man’s life, I guess? It’s not just lazy, it is cobbled and pasted right along together. It’s not formulaic in the sense that The Amazing Spider-Man obviously was, it is a mess that trips over itself in forced plot points that make little sense except that the writers want very much to finish their job and get their paycheck – Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman are easily recognizable for this sort of work, James Vanderbilt is clearly the guy who had to remind the writing team that it’s a Spider-Man movie and they needed Spider-Man stuff, and I don’t know enough about Jeff Pinkner to hypothesize about his involvement.
But that’s a full fucking 2 hours and 26 minutes that the movie wastes trying to pretend it has anything to say and not only does the script fail as a plot or a Spider-Man adaptation, it gives no room for the actors to save the movie themselves. Really, this is the line-up we got
- Chris Cooper
- Paul Giamatti
- Colm Feore
- Marton Csokas
- B.J. Novak
These aren’t bad actors. None of them. There’s some I’m unimpressed by (ahem Foxx), but I’d hardly expect them to give a terrible performance unless they were forced to. And that’s how this film has forced every single one of these guys to go.
Now, I promised there was maybe a few compliments, as weak as they are to save the movie, and I will do so to deliver. The film itself looks fine. It’s not a miracle of cinematography genius, really. And it still doesn’t have the flavors of comic book popping action that the Raimi films gave his films, but it’s colorful to a distinctive degree and you just can’t help but feel the splashes of purple and blue a little bit more than the movie probably would have if it had just not cared about being a good movie a little bit more. None of the movies – Raimi or Webb – have ever gone cheap on the web-slinging interims that Spidey is best known for doing in his little nest of New York, giving the city a bit more definition within the realm of the film and having the experience whoosh right by us like the wind to our hair, so I will not begrudge giving this movie that freebie point. The action scenes are not exactly as terribly made either, as a result of the movie’s attempt give off passable picture and sound enough to satiate anybody not paying attention to the movie itself (God help those who do). They do what they’re meant to, be fight scenes and such.
And of course, when you-know-what moment happens that most comic book fans or anybody interested in Spider-Man with access to wikipedia (summarizing most of the people who seem to like this movie) was expecting by the end of the film, it’s not laughable like the rest of the film. It’s not exactly poignant or sad, in fact it seems just as brushed through as Uncle Ben’s death, acted like a required inconvenience rather than as an emotive moment within the otherwise mechanically cold flick, but it’s not a shit moment. It probably works for a few people and I’m glad it does. I’m just happy it doesn’t fail outright.
But that’s again, the longest fucking movie of the whole Spider-Man brand yet and it turns into the most boring, the most banal, the most stupid, and the most lazy film in the franchise yet and all because its only purpose was being a product and it probably felt less obligated to fix itself up than The Amazing Spider-Man did.