Title: The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Director: Mark Webb
Writers: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner
Distributed By: Columbia Pictures
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Sally Field, Campbell Scott, Chris Cooper, Marton Csokas, Embeth Davidtz, Paul Giamatti, Denis Leary
Release Date: May 2, 2014
MPAA: Rated PG-13
Welcome back to Movie Mondays (aka Movies Monthly)! Sorry I’ve been away folks, but I’m back now with more reviews on the way.
Everybody’s favorite wall-crawler recently leapt back to the big screen in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. If you’re reading this, then you’re probably already familiar with old web-head’s story, whether from the last movie, the Sam Raimi Trilogy, the cartoons, or the comics themselves. For those of you who aren’t up to speed, Spider-Man is the story of Peter Parker, a high school kid who becomes a masked vigilante/superhero after his own brash actions inadvertently cause the death of his Uncle Ben. If you need any more catching up, I suggest you check out my review of The Amazing Spider-Man, go watch the movie, and pick up a few of the comics. … I’ll give you a moment. Okay, moving on….
The story this time around focuses on the theme of loss. Peter coping with the loss of loved ones and allies, Gwen coping with the possible loss of a companion, Peter’s friend Harry handling the loss of his father, and the film’s new villain Max dealing with the perceived loss of a friend and the betrayal that accompanies it. Max is a nobody, a doormat ignored and mistreated by anyone and everyone. He grows to idolize our film’s hero, and when he is apparently betrayed by Spider-Man he launches into a destructive quest for revenge. It’s slightly more complicated than that, with Max being tragically manipulated down this path by outside forces and his own growing insanity, but that’s the simple version of the story. It’s unfortunately a story that’s been done numerous times already, from Batman Forever and Iron Man 3 for example. That being said, I feel as though this film handles this sort of character/story better than either of those two films.
So many superhero origin stories involve the death of parents or other loved ones, from Superman to Batman to The Punisher, but Spider-Man sets itself apart from most other stories by making the titular hero personally responsible for the aforementioned death. And because of this, two of the major recurring motifs of these stories are guilt and responsibility. And this movie drills that into the characters and the audience even more than any of the previous entries in the Spider-Man franchise. This movie focuses on Peter’s anxiety over the deaths he feels responsible for, and his fear at causing the death of loved ones again in the future. Despite this rather dark thematic element, the movie manages to maintain a fairly upbeat and uplifting tone, a feat not always so easily accomplished.
The acting this time around is fairly standard for what you’ve come to expect from the returning cast. Andrew Garfield knocks it out of the park as the tortured yet affable and witty Spider-Man. Emma Stone makes it impossible not to love her as the emotionally vulnerable yet strong-willed Gwen Stacy. Veterans like Sally Field and Chris Cooper do what they do best, which is bring out the best performances possible with what little screen time they’re given.
The rest of the characters, primarily all of the villainous roles, are handled with such a disinterest that it’s painful. Our two main villains are written as such clichéd cookie-cutter characters that it’s nearly impossible to be invested in them. And neither of these actors really try to go above and beyond the lackluster material they’re given. Even more notable actors like Jamie Foxx and Paul Giamatti just provide middling, uninspired, boring performances. If the writers and actors can’t be motivated to care, your audience sure as hell isn’t.
This leads me to another major gripe with this film: the villains’ story-arcs. Almost no time is spent with their descent into villainy. The film’s main villain Max (aka Electro) goes from being a socially awkward misfit who can barely put a sentence together, to a stereotypical pun-spouting megalomaniac in a matter of minutes. Harry Osborn (aka Green Goblin) goes from likable charmer with daddy issues to homicidal psychopath with little to no set up whatsoever. The other minor villains are generic cardboard Saturday matinee fair like Dr. Kafka the German mad scientist, or Aleksi (aka Rhino) the hyper-violent Russian gangster.
Further reason for annoyance at these portrayals, one that won’t bother most critics or casual movie-goers, is how unlike their comic book counterparts these portrayals are. For example, in the comics Dr. Kafka isn’t even a villain. She’s one of the good characters, devoting her life to trying to cure the criminally insane villains of Spider-Man’s world. And for all of his faults, Rhino is a loveable character unlike the irredeemable jerk totally fine with killing a kid that we see in the movie.
One would be remiss not to point out a seeming flaw in the dynamic between Spider-Man and his Aunt May presented. In The Amazing Spider-Man, it seemed rather clear that by the end of the film Aunt May knew that her nephew Peter was Spider-Man, and although not in keeping with the comics it was a welcome change of pace for this critic. It seems far more plausible that she would know and makes for a better character. In this sequel, the characters are presented in such a way that asserts Aunt May has no clue about her nephew’s secret identity.
Another area wherein this film stumbles is the musical score. James Horner and his rather spectacular score for the first film has been replaced by a generic, boring, forgettable score brought to us this time by Hans Zimmer. But wait, there’s more! Teaming up with Zimmer is Pharrell Williams (the guy responsible for the song “Happy” from Despicable Me 2). This movie does something with the music that I can’t recall ever experiencing in another movie before, and hopefully I’ll never experience again. There’s a bit of the musical score, a track called “My Enemy”, where a weird dub-step/electronica piece of music featuring a chorus actually chants the thoughts of the character on screen. During the scene when Electro decides to become a supervillain the movie force-feeds his paranoid delusions to the audience via song. It’s an atrocious bit of laziness that fills me with more anger than any other thing I have to complain about in this entire film.
The moments where this movie truly shines, though, usually do enough to keep me from hating this film. All of the scenes dealing with Spider-Man’s strained relationship with his girlfriend Gwen are superbly naturalistic and thoroughly enjoyable. Spending the remainder of this review gushing about the amazing ending would be impossible to do without spoilers, but suffice it to say that fans of the comics and fans of good movies in general will absolutely adore the sincerity with which the film’s climax is handled. Movie-goers familiar with the story of Gwen Stacy can rest assured that this film doesn’t hold back or pull its punches in any way, and they do justice to the famous story line.
The suit is more like the comic book in this outing, which is good news for fans that didn’t appreciate the previous films costume. Though this critic wishes they had kept the in-seam stitched webbing look from the last suit and not brought back the raised webbing look from the Raimi trilogy. Another area where this film shines is the way it reminds viewers that Peter Parker uses his brains, giving us a cute little sequence where Spidey does some DIY science experiments in the garage.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 gets a lot of things very right, but it gets far too many things all wrong. Featuring an over-stuffed plot, brimming with too many characters and story threads, and rushed or completely non-existent character arcs, the movie just feels incomplete. Overall, as an adaptation of the Spider-Man comic series, and as a film on its own merits, I’d give this film a rating of 6.5 out of 10.