So I’m sure by now you folks have read George Berryman’s review of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (and if not, you really should), but I figured I might as well toss in some of my own thoughts about this film as well. For the sake of those who haven’t seen it yet, I’ll try to avoid spoilers whenever I can, but there may be a few here and there that can’t be avoided. So the question is, are George and I on the same page when it comes to this film? Might as well read on, if only to see just what I kind of a would-be film critic I really am.
- Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker / Spider Man
- Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy
- Jamie Foxx as Max Dillon / Electro
- Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborn
- Colm Feore as Donald Menken
- Felicity Jones as Felicia
- Paul Giamatti as Aleksei Sytsevich / The Rhino
- Sally Field as Aunt May
- Marton Csokas as Dr. Kafka
- Embeth Davidtz as Mary Parker
- Denis Leary as Captain Stacy
- Chris Zylka as Flash Thompson
- B.J. Novak as Allistar Smythe
DIRECTOR: Marc Webb
SCREENPLAY: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Daniel Mindel
MUSIC: Johnny Marr, Pharrell Williams, and Hans Zimmer
Rated PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi action/violence)
RUNNING TIME: 142 minutes
My fellow comic book fans may recall a story from the late 1990s, in which Spider-Man, having been framed for a crime he didn’t commit, attempts to clear his name by adopted four different costumed personas. The story was aptly called “Identity Crisis,” and director Marc Webb’s sequel to The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) suffers from the very same affliction.
One thing The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and especially actor Andrew Garfield, do know however, is just who Spider-Man is supposed to be. They both get that Spider-Man isn’t just a wisecracking smart-ass but that he also tries to reason with his enemies first, only resorting to fisticuffs when all else fails. They know he’s someone driven to save as many people as he can, how ever he can, even when he has a cold, almost misses his own high school graduation, or has to leave in the middle of a date with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). They get that he’s a character whose aptitude for science can help him win the day as using his powers. They knows that, because of his own experiences of being an outcast, Spidey will take the time to protect a kid from bullies, fix his science project, and walk him home. They know that, in spite of the negative press he receives, Spider-Man still manages to inspire hope for the everyday people of New York City. They understands that, for all the guilt that drives him, Peter still enjoys and has fun being a superhero.
Unfortunately, what is arguably the most faithful depiction of Spider-Man as character put to film also winds up stuck in a bloated, haphazard mess that, while certainly better than Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, winds up making nearly all same mistakes and then some. It can’t decide whether it wants to be a rousing, fun, action-packed superhero romp, a sweet and tender romance where Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) endure an on-again, off-again relationship, a conspiracy thriller full of corporate intrigue and secret laboratories hidden in abandoned subway tunnels or the sub-basement of an office high-rise, or a special-effects extravaganza that makes it look like the most expensive video game ever made, so it cobbles together pieces from all of them. It is a movie in a desperate search for a story–any story–but after failing to find one, opts instead to be a two-and-a-half hour-long trailer for a franchise Sony desperately hopes will rival Marvel Studios’ string of blockbusters.
This isn’t to say there aren’t any great scenes—there’s plenty of them, in fact. Every action set-piece from the chase sequence involving Spider-Man attempting to stop Paul Giamatti’s Alexei stealing a truckload of plutonium in downtown Manhattan, to Spider-Man’s confrontation with Electro (Jamie Foxx) in Times Square, and especially the entirety of the last minutes are fantastic. Along with the aid of a fantastic looking costume even better than the one from Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man trilogy, and some genuinely creative, jaw-dropping web-slinging and wall-crawling effects, it feels Spider-Man has leaped, crawled, swung, and quipped his way right out of the comic book pages.
I certainly cannot find much fault in Garfield’s performance. Sure, his portrayal of the now high-school graduate turned college freshman, Peter Parker, is still too cocksure than the more humble portrait of dweeby innocence Tobey Maguire brought to the role, but as Spider-Man, Garfield is sublime, taking inspiration not just from the comics, but also from classic film stars like Charlie Chaplin, James Dean, and Fred Astaire. As far as I’m concerned, Garfield’s version now joins the ranks of Christopher Reeve’s Superman, J.K. Simmon’s J. Jonah Jameson, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man, Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon, and Heath Ledger’s Joker in terms of an actor who becomes synonymous with that character.
Also, the much-lauded on-screen chemistry between Garfield and Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy does indeed live up to the hype and then some. I’ve never been much of a fan of Gwen from the original comics, but I certainly am of this Gwen, as Stone’s portrayal of Peter’s first true love gives as a young woman who is equal parts sweet and sassy, one who, as much as she’s loves Peter, is unafraid to speak her mind and, in some respects, is smarter than Peter himself (she did, as this film reminds us, graduated top of her class ahead of Peter). Perhaps it’s due to Garfield and Stone being a couple in real-life, or Webb’s ability to handle the joys and pains of young love as he did with 500 Days of Summer (2009) and the previous film, but the romance between Peter and Gwen in this movie feels more genuine, charming, and ultimately heartbreaking than any other romance in any comic book movie adaptation to date.
And even though Sally Field’s Aunt May gets just as little screen time as she did in the last movie, she genuinely comes across as a loving, surrogate mom doing the best she can wake of losing her husband and supporting her teenage nephew. One the film’s better moments occurs when Aunt May, after discovering Peter has tried to look into what really happened to his parents, all but breaks down over her fear of losing the closest person she’s ever had as a son, as she says, “As far as I’m concerned, you’re my boy.”
Yet for every flash of brilliance that’s on-screen, Webb, for some inexplicable reason, always throws in something ridiculous and necessary. In spite of decent performances from the principle cast, we still get Marton Csokas’ Dr. Kaffa (that’s right, Dr. Kafka, unlike the comics, is a man in this film for who knows why) as a torture-happy mad scientist stereotype, complete with thick and hammy German accident and Johann Strauss II’s “Blue Danube” playing in the background. For every snappy remark from Spidey like “Good thing you’re not one of those cops that rides a horse,” there’s still some cliched, cheesy one-liner that also double as pun like, “Looks like the tables have turned.” For every scene such as when Peter, despite being in a love-struck daze, uses his spider-sense to effortlessly walk across a busy street to meet Gwen, we’d also get a scene like Max Dillon at his apartment pretending Spider-Man has shown up for his birthday. And for as awe-inspiring as composer Hans Zimmer’s score is, we still have out-of-place pop songs in pivotal moments, and “The Itsy, Bitsy Spider” played in dubstub on electrical pylons.
Much of the fault in the film also lies squarely Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner’s disjointed so-called script, and the failure of Webb as a director to give it a proper rewrite. Turns out the wisest decision Webb did was edit out Shailene Woodley as Mary Jane Watson, as her scenes, no matter how well done they might have been, would’ve only added more superfluousness to the already overcrowded proceedings. Yet what should have sent to the cutting room floor is the unnecessary subplot hinted at in the previous film about the mystery behind Peter’s scientist parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) and how his father was responsible for creating the very spider that gave Peter his powers. Granted, the implication for how Peter was able to obtain those powers while others did not makes sense and isn’t nearly as bad as one might believe, but it’s also convoluted, and turns Peter into another “chosen one” while also trying to claim he’s still a “victim of circumstance” just like in the original comic book origin story. Not to mention makes Uncle Ben, who should be the real motivation for Peter, all but a complete afterthought, save for an occasional mention and views from behind a not-Martin Sheen.
Despite of Foxx’s indisputable caliber as an actor, his version of Electro could have also been removed as well; because aside from the loss of some computer effects work and Zimmer and The Magnificent Six‘s techno-infused, rage metal lyricism that comprises their “Electro Suite,” the nerdy electrical engineer turned electrical super-villain could have been removed from the film completely, and nothing of value would’ve been lost. As much as the film tries to sell the notion that Max Dillon’s deep-seated anger borne out of feeling like a nobody, that Oscorp never gave him credit for his electrical grid designs, and feeling betrayed by his idol, Spider-Man, his transition to evil doesn’t feel the least bit convincing. It’s Jim Carrey’s pre-Riddler Edward Nygma from Batman Forever (1995) without the underlying menace transformed into a poor-man’s Doctor Manhattan from Watchmen (2009).
DeHann, meanwhile, is given the thankless task of playing a Harry Osborn who the film tries to set up as being Peter’s best friend despite the fact this was never established in the last movie. Not only that, DeHann’s Harry also saddled with a character arc (if you could call it that) which should have gone to Norman Osborn (an uncredited Chris Cooper) right from the start. That’s because the character who is arguably Spider-Man’s number one archenemy dies on his death-bed after just one scene and never even meets Peter at all. Thus Harry not only becomes the CEO of his father’s company at the age of twenty, he also has the same “retroviral hypoplageia” that took his father’s life, and believes the only cure lies in Spider-Man’s blood—something which is seems tailor-made for Norman more so than it does his son. DeHann still manages to pull off a decent enough job, even though his Harry is just as a more wealthy, more slicker, over-the-top version of the same character he played in Chronicle.
Nevertheless, this is still a very enjoyable and entertaining film in spite of its many flaws, and worth going to see in theaters at least once. That way, when The Amazing Spider-Man 2 comes out on DVD and Blu-Ray in a few months, you’ll know in advance which scenes you can skip and select to your heart’s content. Then you’ll be able to do what the filmmakers couldn’t and find the remnants of a great Spider-Man film buried somewhere within the mire of a mediocre one. Or you can always watch that other Spider-Man 2 (2004) as a a comparison.
NERDY NITPICKS (With Some Minor Spoilers):
- Okay, so Dr. Richard Parker, despite being a brilliant geneticist, was not only foolish enough to think he could escape, he was foolish enough not to check first for a loaded gun inside an unlocked drawer in the very plane he and his wife were escaping in. But he is smart enough to use a Sony Vaio (hooray for product placement) to upload Gigabytes worth of classified data, including his prerecorded confession, into a PC that still runs on dial-up on a broadband signal while in flight. Not to mention is able to kick-ass at the same time. Although, what did happen to that would-be assassin’s parachute?
- You know what easy-money is? It’s Dennis Leary reprising his role as Captain Stacy. All he has to do is show-up at random times to act as the specter of Peter’s guilty conscience and, with the exception of a flashback to the previous movie, not say a single word and looked bored out of his mind.
- Max, I know you’re lonely and a bit introverted, but you do realize Gwen is an 18-year old intern and you’re a guy in his mid to late 40s, right? Even though you didn’t actually invite her to your birthday, you slicking back your bad come over was enough to make her a little creeped-out, even though she was still being nice to you.
- And speaking of Max, he knows he’s dealing with a live cable and thus risks electrocution, hence why he radios his colleague to shut down the power in that section of the building. But after his buddy tells him “Sorry, gotta bail,” does Max think, “Hmm, maybe I should go put on some protective gear to insulate myself just in case I should, I don’t know, get shocked by thousands of volts and fall into that vat of electric moray eels swimming below me?” Of course not! That sure was money well spent on your electrical engineering degree there, Max.
- So OsCorp destroyed all the cross-species genetic experiments, including those human-spider hybrids that gave Peter his powers. Which, as we saw in the last movie, were also being used to weave industrial cable made from spider silk. Which we also saw in the last movie is what Peter was buying in bulk directly from OsCorp to use for his web-shooters. Gee, I hope Peter knows how to make more of that stuff because he’s bound to run our of his supply stock right quick.
- Gwen, when you ask Peter “How often have you been following me?” and he answers with “Just once a day…sometimes more,” that is not being endearing; that is what we call “stalking.”
- Can someone explain to me how is it that Harry’s disease is progressing faster than that of his dad’s even though they both have the same condition? Also, if Norman’s condition also got worse as a result of trying out that spider-venom just like Harry did, then why Norman never utilize that same experimental battle armor, too, since it’s actually does stabilize the progression of their disease?
- Pete, remember how you said that J. Jonah Jameson was paying you 1961 wages for your photos? Well how much money did you think it would cost to live in London with Gwen? She’s going to Oxford on a full scholarship whereas you are barely scrapping by as it is. I know you two are madly in love, but this is what Elvis meant by “Wise men say only fools rush in.” And the irony is you’re being played by a British actor who should know what the standard of living is like in his home country.
- Okay, when it comes to the scene (and you moviegoers know exactly what I’m talking about) was indeed emotionally powerful and something fans of the comics have wanted to see done justice for decades, but…really Marc Webb? A outstretched hand forming out of Spidey’s webbing? Really?
- By the way, I so want to find out if that YouTube video of that wacky scientist guy explaining how batteries work actually exists. If only so I can find out if “And explode!” put through an endless loop has become an internet meme yet.