'The Amazing Spider-Man 2'
In an age when so many Marvel Comics characters are treated to excellent movie adaptations, it’s a real shame that Stan Lee’s poster boy Spider-Man is stuck in such a mediocre franchise. Sadly, as long as the rights remain with Sony and director Marc Webb is captaining the ship, your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man won’t get any movies worthy of his legacy.
There was once a golden age for ‘Spider-Man’ movies. Let’s call it 2002-2004, back when superhero movies weren’t guaranteed hits and Sam Raimi was in charge of the wall-crawler’s cinematic shenanigans. Raimi’s bright and colorful aesthetic, goofy sense of humor, and reverence for his 1960s source material finally pulled superheroes out of the shadow of Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’ and introduced smilin’ Stan Lee’s buoyant storytelling and neurotic superheroes to the masses. (Sure, the ‘Blade’ and ‘X-Men’ movies were the first Marvel hits, but they remained in the dark and brooding style of 1990s superhero blockbusters.) Unfortunately, Raimi was a victim of his own success. After the movies made about $800 million apiece worldwide, the folks at Sony got a bit too interested in their new cash cow. ‘Spider-Man 3’ was a disaster that reeked of a rushed production schedule and studio interference. Then Raimi got fired outright and the studio rushed together a new ‘Spider-Man’ franchise to avoid losing the Spidey rights to Marvel Studios. Now Marc Webb is in charge, a director who’s on record saying he doesn’t particularly care about the character, and it shows. His first movie was weak, but spend $250 million on any movie with “Spider-Man” in the title and you’ll have a worldwide hit regardless of quality. Now we have a sequel, for better or worse.
‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ is just as bland and impersonal a production as the last movie. It feels like a Spider-Man movie made by people who vaguely remember the character from childhood and don’t care much about him. If you’re a viewer entering the theater with the same moderate interest in Spider-Man, you might not mind. Webb’s film is passable with a handful of decent moments. However, given that we live in an age when a ‘Captain America’ sequel turns out as well as ‘The Winter Soldier’, a mediocre ‘Spider-Man’ movie shouldn’t even be an option.
The strangest thing about Webb’s movie is that it suffers from all the superhero blockbuster problems that were banished from most comic book flicks around the turn of the millennium. It has too many villains, the movie star stunt-casting is distracting, the plot is convoluted to the point of being nonsensical, the screenwriters ditch decades of brilliant comic book stories in favor of a hastily compiled mess, and sequel-baiting outweighs world-building.
The hodgepodge plot has Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) battling Paul Giamatti’s Russian mobster early on before ditching that character until the final scene. Jamie Foxx is introduced as a nerd obsessed with Spider-Man (played in the broad strokes of Foxx’s ‘In Living Color’ days) to endear us somewhat to the character, only to essentially drop that element in favor of transforming his Electo into an electric version of Dr. Manhattan from ‘Watchmen’ for no apparent reason.
Peter is once again obsessed with uncovering the reason why his parents died, only for it to all be hastily revealed in the most irritating throwaway plot device of the 2000s: a forgotten video diary. Peter and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) still have a hot/cold love affair marred by Parker’s concern about his superhero exploits getting in the way. Then Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan) shows up claiming to be a vastly important friend in Peter’s life even though he wasn’t mentioned at all in the last movie. That return seems like it’ll be a bright spot for Peter, but only for people who haven’t read the comics, seen the cartoon, watched Raimi’s ‘Spider-Man’ movies, or noticed DeHaan’s clearly evil haircut. So there’s another villain of the green and goblinish variety. Oh, and Sally Field cries in a few scenes as Aunt May out of contractual obligation.
Whew! That’s a whole lotta plot for one theoretically breezy summer movie to contain. Yet even with a tedious 2.5 hour running time, none of the storylines or characters feel properly explored.
It took a team of four credited writers to crank out ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’, and it feels very much like a film stitched together by committee without anyone keeping track of how it would play as a whole. It’s a messy, awkward movie that never builds enough character development for a proper emotional payoff or delivers enough action to justify all of the villains competing for screen time. Marc Webb’s dark and brooding tone also feels completely out of place with the sweet and goofy nature of the character.
That said, the movie isn’t a complete disaster. Andrew Garfield remains an ideal choice for the lead and delivers all of the neurosis, humor, heart, romanticism and subtle toughness of the character even when the script drops the ball. He also shares wonderful chemistry with Emma Stone. Their scenes together have real spark even though Stone’s role is woefully underwritten.
So, you’ve got two strong leads and a few genuinely thrilling web-slinging sequences thanks to a near limitless visual effects budget. The sequel definitely has some high points, but that only makes the dull and awkward mess of a movie surrounding them so much more frustrating to suffer through. This Spider-Man franchise still has a strong core that has promise, but until Sony gives writers enough time to develop a proper screenplay or hires a director who cares about the source material, this is going to be the lame duck of Marvel superhero franchises. ‘Spider-Man’ should be a flagship series at the heart of the Marvel movie universe. Instead, it’s an also-ran pretending to be better.
Ah well, at least Stan Lee got to see two excellent ‘Spider-Man’ movies in his lifetime. Hopefully, some day the prodigal son will return to Marvel Studios. Until then, the geeks will have to stick to their comic book collections and old (non-“Amazing”) ‘Spider-Man 2’ Blu-rays.