I finally saw Amazing Spider-Man 2! (Thanks to all that recent air travel that I’ve done).
I wish I could say it was a great movie, but I can’t.
Of course, I almost always wish the movie I am watching is great (I mean, who wants to see a bad movie?), but in this case, it’s a particular shame because parts of the movie were great.
Not just good…they were great. They were outstanding!
I’m thinking mostly of stuff to do with Andrew Garfield actually playing Spider-Man. You know, climbing walls, hopping around, making wise-cracks, spinning webs and catching crooks, just like flies. That sort of thing.
And saving people. Spider-Man really goes out of his way to use his powers to save people, which is probably one of my non-negotiables for a good superhero character / movie (Man of Steel could have learned a thing or two here).
All those scenes are well directed and beautifully choreographed, smartly written, and just a boatload of fun. Better, probably, than it’s been in any Spider-Man movie up to this point. Really, I could almost just watch two hours of this stuff.
But then the parts of the movie that don’t work begin to creep in. A little part…called the story.
Ooo, pesky story!
Or should we say stories? Because really there are four distinct and competing plotlines running through Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro, which only occasionally intersect and only sometimes play well together. Perhaps it should have been called Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro, the Descent of Harry Osborn, the Mystery of Peter’s Parents, and the On-Again, Off-Again Love Life with Gwen Stacy. Because they are almost all given equal weight and screen time.
By far, the worst one is the whole titular Electro thing. All of scenes featuring pre-Electro Max Dillon are tedious, repetitive, and derivative of Jim Carrey’s early bits in Batman Forever, which honestly is not something you should be using as source material. Max Dillon is another disgruntled employee who becomes unhinged, and also has a ridiculous accident falling into a vat of killer electric eels (I only wish I was making this up) and emerges having been changed into Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen. He becomes a dangerous threat who is obsessed with destroying Spider-Man because, uh…well, just because he’s crazy, I guess.
Later, he is joined by Harry Osborn, Peter Parker’s ex-best friend who has foolishly injected himself with a secret formula and has turned into a dangerous threat who is also obsessed with destroying Spider-Man because, well, he’s also crazy.
That’s it. No other reason.
(Oh, you know, there’s an excuse given – “I’m mad at you because you wouldn’t give me your blood to cure my disease, so I went and found another way to do it, and yes, it did terrible things just like you warned me it might, but now I hate you because you tried to stop me from turning into a monster, you selfish jerk,” – but it doesn’t make any sense, except for the “he’s crazy” part).
Why in the world does everyone have to be obsessed with Spider-Man? Why can’t there be any villains who just want to rob banks?
Some people complain that one of the problems with the Superhero movie is the obsession with telling origin stories. That was a big comment when the first Amazing Spider-Man came out. But I tell you, as repetitive as those heroic origins can be, there’s nothing more boring than watching a half-hearted super-villain origin. I hope I never ever ever again have to watch a movie where some crazy guy injects himself with some strength-giving formula only to have it turn out to drive him nuts instead.
On top of all of this, you’ve got this detached subplot about Peter’s parents, which if you remember was the opening hook of the first movie. It takes up a fair amount of time here as well, and while it’s not boring to watch, it basically goes nowhere, and is absolutely irrelevant to everything else going on. I heard from someone that there was going to be post-credits “stinger” which would have kept that thread alive, but thankfully they left it off, and so hopefully if and when the third movie is made, it will completely ignore that snore-fest of a plotline and allow us to focus more on Spidey being Spidey.
And finally there’s the thing with Peter Parker and his improbably brilliant girlfriend Gwen Stacy, which in spite of the tedious story survives almost completely on the strength of the very good chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. They are really nice to watch together, and so (Spoilers ahead, if that’s still a thing) her death is pretty sad, even though we all expected it.
When I say we expected it, I mean we fans familiar with the comic books, where Gwen Stacy’s death back in the 1970’s was one of the most shocking and deeply impacting comic book non-origin-related demises ever, all the more meaningful as it has never really been undone (unlike, say, Bucky, Jason Todd, Barry Allen, etc.) So we knew going into this movie that there was a very good chance that Gwen Stacy was not going to make it out alive, once we heard that there were Osborn’s flying around.
But I wonder how that moment plays for the non-comic audience. Surprising, I suppose, just because it’s so not the norm for mainstream Hollywood. But maybe just a little abrupt? A little random? A little meaningless? Her death doesn’t really serve anything in the story itself – it just sort of happens. There are no real implications to it in the movie, except that it necessitates a brief story beat around Peter finding some hope again, months later. We, the comic book reader, know that it makes a huge difference in Peter’s life, and maybe that will somehow come in up in the presumed sequel, but in this film itself, it’s quite lightly glossed over, and almost comes across as a production necessity (as if the actress had quit or something) rather than something intrinsic to the story.
On the plus side, it allowed room for a fantastic little piece of direction where we see Peter standing over Gwen’s grave in a series of dissolve shots that take us through the year.
See? There is so much good film-making here. It’s really unfortunate that that couldn’t pick up the material and make it into a good film.