Since I am in a very small minority of a minority on the opinion I’m about to sling out there, I’m trying to figure out how to put this delicately. Oh, that’s right, I don’t care about putting it delicately. I did not like The Amazing Spider-Man. It was an incoherent mess of plot ideas and villains strung together in a fashion that made me question the theory of monkeys being able to write the collective works of Shakespeare given enough time. It was an extremely forgettable film that came entirely too soon after a fairly successful franchise that only faltered slightly with it’s third and final installment. In fact it is my understanding that the primary reason the film was made is that Sony would have lost the rights to the franchise if they didn’t make another film soon. Same Raimi and Toby Maguire were not interested in going for a fourth installment and so a reboot was in order. It felt very much like a cash grab coming way too soon on the heels of the previous films. It felt cheap and imitative in very bad ways. And it was another origin story when we already got the film version of Spidey’s origin.
I tell you this so that you know where I approach this new Spider-Man series from upfront — I’m bitter about it, let me tell you. Okay, maybe not bitter, but very disappointed.
A Better Film
I am pleased to say that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a much better film than its immediate predecessor. I had a lot more fun in the theater, I was far more invested in the characters and plot, the acting was better, and while not without its issues, the structure and pacing of the film felt like it was in a far better place.
The opening sequence is a great bit of filmmaking that promises great things for the movie to follow. And we got great performances from Sally Field, Emma Stone, and Dane DeHaan. I can even say that Andrew Garfield’s performance was better than the first film and certainly acceptable even if I am so far not too impressed with the guy.
While I have often said in the past that it has been proven over and over again that the only way comic books and comic book villains work on the big screen is if they are serious and taken seriously (think Joker from The Dark Knight or at least some degree thereof), I nevertheless enjoyed the approach to the guy who would turn into a villain — at least at first. The music during his early screen time reminded me of the bumbling music John Williams wrote for Otis and Lex Luthor in Superman: The Movie in a good way.
I also have to say that, while the film does ultimately suffer from some pacing problems, where it slows down and takes some time to properly pace itself, it is a delight. The easy chemistry between Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy and Andrew Garfield’s Peter Park works wonderfully. And I’m just going to say it, I didn’t hate Kirsten Dunst’s performance as M.J. in Sam Raimi’s take on the franchsie, but she never really had the chemistry with Peter Parker we might have hoped for and she was always a little more whiney than we wanted. Emma Stone manages to pull off Gwen Stacy’s breakup with Peter Parker in a way that makes us empathize with her and not feel like she’s just a whiney cry-baby. The drama of the relationship is certainly very real and works well.
Unfortunately, this is where my praise for the film ends.
About That Opening Sequence
I mentioned that the opening sequence promised great things of the film to come. But the film never really lives up to that expectation. The connection with what was going on in that opening sequence — which was a flash-back to Peter Parker’s mom and dad, was weak at best. The whole premise makes the whole film feel way too self important. The idea is that the reason the radioactive spider didn’t kill Peter when it bit him, and why it would not work on anyway else, is that daddy Parker encoded his own DNA into the spider’s. It gives Spider-Man a whole element of destiny that feels forced.
And I wanted that opening sequence to tie in more to the plot. Instead, it turns out its just a foil for Peter Parker’s character development. An important thing, to be sure, but not very fulfilling.
Here a Villain, There a Villain, Everywhere a Villain, Villain
You should be aware that in talking about the villains it will be necessary to talk about spoilers. You have been warned.
If I have a complaint about Spider-Man 3 (Sam Raimi directed, Toby Maquire staring Spider-Man 3 — yeah I know it’s hard to keep it all straight with the reboot stuff now), it’s that there were too many villains and it all felt unfocused. And I was certainly not the only one with this complaint. So I have to ask, did we learn nothing from that film and its mistakes? This film follows suite in a way that makes me cringe. Just who is the bad guy in this film anyway? Electro? Rhino? Oscorp? Harry Osborn?
In addition, the whole Electro plot really runs off the rails. I didn’t buy the transformation into a bad guy. He practically worshiped the very ground Spidey walked on. Then all at once, he decided he hated Spider-Man’s guts and wants nothing more than to kill him.
By the same token, Harry Osborn’s transformation to villain is very abrupt and feels jarring. He goes from sensible and likable to petulant and whiney in .6 seconds flat. And how exactly does spider venom give him pointy ears, a wildly different hair style, a hover board thing, pumpkin bombs, and a sinister sounding voice? I just didn’t buy any of it. These villains were card board cutouts with almost no character development.
And the biggest strangeness of all? Harry Osborn is brought home to see his dying father, Norman Osborn. Norman reveals to his son that the disease he is dying from is genetic and that Harry has it. He will die a miserable old man some day. So naturally, upon hearing this news, Harry Osborn begins to die and show signs of physical deterioration even though there had previously been no signs of the illness and he was still quite young. He just began dying because reasons.
And I haven’t even mentioned the clichéd german scientists yet.
The One Redeeming Quality is Now Gone
This is the biggest spoiler of all!
I think the one consistently good thing about both the previous Spider-Man film, and this film is Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy. She has truly been a delight in this series as I have already mentioned.
I did go into this movie realizing that, in the comics, Gwen Stacy doesn’t make it. And I knew some of the worry and rumors going around about her character. But then she made that speech about death, and there was so much heavy-handed foreshadowing of a possible death that I thought, well, there’s no way they can actually go through with this. They’ve tipped their hand way too much and the surprise will be that she doesn’t actually die.
I was wrong.
And yet, even in the midst of my irritation — as much as I feel as though the movie didn’t work to deserve this heavy scene — I have to admit that the scene, even taken by itself and feeling a bit out of place was extraordinarily moving. The entire sequence leading up to her death in fact felt like the best bit of filmmaking in the entire film. And as Peter holds Gwen in his arms sobbing and calling her to come back, I thought I wasn’t going to be able to hold it together. The incredibly great filmmaking kept me wondering, hoping, that Gwen’s eyes would flutter open, that she wasn’t really gone. For this one both shining, and bitter moment, this film broke through and I felt something for it.
But then it did quickly move past it and went on to set up Sinister Six and made sure to get Spider-Man back on his feet too. There’s not too much time for morning when there’s a franchise to be built.
Could be Better, Could Be Worse
There’s not a whole lot more I can say about this film. It’s better than the first one, but it’s not what I want out of a Spider-Man film. Despite some missteps with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, even that film was a better film than this. For me, there is probably never going to be a Spider-Man incarnation that will best the Raimi series, but I could have hoped that whatever came after would get closer than this.
With that said, this film has made me slightly more interested in this incarnation of the franchise. And while I’m not anticipating the next Spider-Man film with great relish, I don’t hate the idea of going to see it quite so much anymore.