Warning: This review will have spoilers. Repeating that – this review will have spoilers.
Some of you know I was not a fan of the first film, and that’s putting it mildly. I was not a fan of how much monkeying around has been done with the origin and never will be. So honestly I went into Amazing Spider-Man 2 today with lowered expectations, which sometimes helps. I expected lots of action and some cool special effects. I got that – but with that came a lot of disappointment.
For those of you thinking the sequel continues a ‘smarter’ hero movie theme, i.e. more realistic, better-thought out approach to super storytelling, think again. Electro’s origin is laughably bad. He literally falls into a tank of electric eels while holding electrical cables in an Oscorp lab. While the electricity – well, electrocutes him – and the electric eels with needle-sharp teeth proceed to shock-bite him, he jerks around a lot and turns into charred carcass that the goons at Oscorp are all too willing to erase with the basement incinerator. But he gets better. The freak accident which have turned him into the master of electricity also removed the gap in his front teeth, so hey. Look at the positives.
Who is Max Dillon? Apparently he’s the genius who designed New York’s power grid – and he’s also a slovenly loner who is desperate for people to notice him. Except for his boss at Oscorp, ‘Mister Smythe’ – played by B.J. Novak who is in two very short scenes in the movie. Spider-Man saves him from dying (he ‘notices’ him) during a plutonium hijacking in one of the film’s early scenes. Max then goes into full-on Spidey man-crush. At home he’s got Spider-Man pictures splattered all over his walls and he talks to himself constantly, acting as if he’s having a conversation with Spidey. ‘Spidey’ even gets him a birthday cake and leaves it in his fridge for his birthday. One cannot help but draw parallels between Jamie Foxx’s Electro and Jim Carrey’s Riddler from Batman Forever. Carrey’s Riddler was a genius shut-in who idolized Bruce Wayne.
The writers give Electro the film’s worst dialogue. If he’s not mumbling in confusion about whether or not he likes Spidey or whether or not people are noticing him he’s delivering one-liners that would make Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze grimace. There is one especially painful exchange between Electro and Dr. Ashley Kafka at Ravencroft. Kafka is working for Oscorp and is torturing Dillon to find out more about him. Oh and I forgot to mention that in Marc Webb’s flick Dr. Kafka is now a dude. In addition to growing a dong, Dr. Kafka is also an over-the-top parody of a crazed Nazi mad scientist torturing Dillon for information – and for fun. At one point Foxx’s Electro says “Don’t you know who I am? I’m Electro!” Well no jackass, he doesn’t know that, and neither does anyone else since that’s the first time anyone’s heard it in the movie.
The villain dialogue in this flick is just God awful. That’s me putting it as mildly as I can and being as gentle as I can be. It’s just terrible. And it’s not just the dialogue! During Spidey’s final fight with Electro the villain actually has parts of a power plant light up and hum the ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’ song. Sometimes storytellers cannot resist the low hanging fruit. Even when it’s already on the ground and rotting.
Dean DeHaan’s Harry was not as smarmy as the trailers made him out to be. I used to joke with folks that, at least in the eight trillion trailers that preceded this flick, DeHaan’s Harry seemed to be the product of James Spader mating with himself. DeHaan’s skills are fine; the writing they give, however, is sub par. The writers are trying to cram so much into this movie that Harry’s development feels very rushed. He comes back to New York after graduating from military boarding school and takes over the company when his father Norman (Chris Cooper, who is in one scene) dies. Note that we never seen Norman’s body; the world is just told that he’s dead.
Harry and Peter talking about their similarities (both feel abandoned by their parents) gets off to a rocky start with some clunky dialogue. Their relationship and history is built in just two scenes. We’re not given enough time with Harry to really start caring for him or even be sympathetic towards him. He just shows up, doesn’t get his way, starts dying and goes apeshit. After Spidey defeats him in the end Harry is put into Ravenloft, where the ‘mystery man in shadows’ from the first movie comes to talk to him about creating the Sinister Six. Peter on the other hand never once thinks about his lunatic buddy afterward. Because, you know, besties n’ all. The Raimi films did far, far better by Harry than Marc Webb does here. At least Raimi let us get to know Harry.
DeHaan’s Goblin though… it’s over-the-top creepy. At one point he’s even flicking his tongue out over his teeth. Ugh. Both he and Norman are dying from a rare genetic disease that causes them to twitch and become complete pricks when their skin starts drying out and falling off. Luckily for Harry there is still some super spider-venom at Oscorp, which he takes to become… well more crazy and ugly. What’s funny is that time is spent to point out that Harry is dying and there’s no cure, except (he thinks) Spider-Man’s blood. As soon as he shoots up with spider-venom to become the Goblin he leaps into a powered exosuit that flashes ‘Injuries Detected, Healing Protocols Initiated’ – which apparently stabilizes him. So some random armor suit in Norman’s lab apparently held the cure all along. I actually laughed aloud at how bad that was. The spider that Peter’s dad created for Osborn (which also gives Harry his ‘Goblin’ powers!) is even named in the movie as ‘Araneus Oscorpea’ or ‘Araneus Oscorpeus.’ Couldn’t remember which. Spidey DNA, Goblin DNA… screw it, it’s all the same now! Heh.
A big chunk of the movie is tied up with what happened with Richard and Mary Parker after they left Peter with Ben and May and disappeared – then died. We get to see their demise on a plane as Richard starts uplinking an important video to… something… while he and Mary fight an Osborn assassin who has just killed the pilot. Mary’s shot and dies, the plane is in a sharp descent but thank God Richard gets that uplink finished. So what was he uplinking? A video that explains his part in creating the spider research at Oscorp. Peter later sees the video at his father’s secret underground lair (no, I am not making that up) and finally makes peace with his parents’ abandoning him. All of it was unnecessary. All of it added nothing to the main point of the movie… but then this movie didn’t have a main point so much as several subplots swirling around one another. But the Richard and Mary stuff took time away that could have been used to build up the Harry/Peter relationship better. Or maybe explaining why Dr. Kafka has a dong now. Heh.
Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are fine as Peter and Gwen. Unfortunately the writers have given us a Peter that is not as smart as the 616 comics Peter. In fact it is Gwen Stacy who manages to find a way for Peter to stop his webshooters from being short-circuited by Electro using eight-grade science. And thank God it’s Gwen, recently graduated from high school, who knows how to reset the city’s power grid because she “saw some plans.” Hey, at least we didn’t have every crane operator in the city help escort Spidey to Oscorp this time.
Gwen’s death is telegraphed almost from the start of the movie. Everywhere you turn there is something telling you that things are probably gonna end up bad for Gwen. From her graduation speech to Peter seeing her dad’s ghost everywhere we are beaten over the head with “Gwen’s gonna die.” Comic fans might not be bugged by it but there *are* people seeing this movie who don’t know about Gwen’s death in the comics. But rest assured there are clues around every turn telling you she’s gonna die.
Her death is brutal. It is not just a ‘snap’ as we saw in the comics. No it’s a THWIPP and THUD as Spidey manages to web her but not in enough time to stop her from slamming into the ground. I actually winced at that and thought “Damn!”
Peter’s reaction is very much what you would want to see and that success is all on the shoulders of Garfield. The emotion, the reaction… it’s right out of the comics. You feel Peter’s pain when Gwen’s gone. It’s very well done. Another very good emotional scene comes earlier in the film when you realize that Aunt May is actually a little hurt that Peter is spending so much time obsessing over his lost parents since she is the one who raised him. Garfield and Sally Field really do a good job with that scene.
On a side note – someone either on our boards, our front page or elsewhere, I cannot remember, noted that the hands on the clock tower get stuck on 1:21 when Gwen dies. I’d read that before and confirmed it. That was kinda neat. (EDIT: It was Tyson on our very own forums! Holla!)
Paul Giamatti’s Aleksei Sytsevich is a caricature of a dumb brute criminal. You just get a taste of what his Rhino will be like in future films: big, Russian, stupid. I remember when we first saw ‘the Rhino’ on the movie poster I hated it. I hated the idea that the Rhino is an armor suit. I just do. Especially in a movie where we’ve firmly established that people get powers from monkeying around with animal DNA. I remember complaining about that and having people say “Well it’s just not believable to have him look like a Rhino!” Apparently it’s believable that Electro got his powers by being bitten by electric eels while being electrocuted but splicing Rhino/Human DNA… no no, we just can’t have that. Not believable, you know. Laughing my ass off!
Rhino’s barely in the movie but he appears to be the first of Harry Osborn’s Sinister Six, given Oscorp Tech after being busted out of prison. In fact we’re given many hints about what’s to come with the Sinister Six, including Doctor Octopus and the Vulture. I don’t like Oscorp being the genesis of all of Spider-Man’s villains. It’s lazy. What’ll be the future for Norman? No idea. What about Felicia Hardy, who is in the movie for a couple of scenes as Harry’s assistant? No idea.
They do finally get around to introducing Jonah. But not really. Peter already knows him and is already selling Spider-Man pictures to him. He sends Jameson a picture and suggests that he could be wrong about Spidey, to which Jameson emails back with a resounding ‘WRONG!’ It’s a cheat; this allows them to have Jonah without having Jonah. If the filmmakers weren’t busy shoehorning in too many villains and wasting time with Peter’s dead parents we might have gotten to meet Jonah. More’s the pity.
To sum up for the “I can’t read this because it’s longer than a paragraph” folks:
-Too many villains works against the movie and doesn’t allow major characters to be better developed.
-The writing is bad at times. Real, real bad. Especially when the villains speak.
-Too much time is wasted on Peter’s parents.
-There are a few good emotional beats.
-Story holes and “Wait, wtf?” moments abound.
-Some good action and special effects to help ease the pain of the awful story.
Disappointing, especially to someone who went in with low expectations hoping to be surprised. But there’s a lot of good action and lots of ‘splosions. For some that will be enough but not me.