Truth be told I never read many Spider-Man comics growing up as a kid. But my general understanding of the character and his mythos I can see why he has been so admired since his debut fifty-plus years ago in the fifteenth issue of Amazing Fantasy. His problems are relatable to many readers. The social awkwardness, the feeling of loneliness, rejection. He’s also a blue-collar guy. Unlike Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark, Peter Parker has to work for a living when he isn’t fighting crime as Spider-Man.
While it was X-Men that led the way to this age of big comic book movies at the cinema, it was the release of 2002’s Spider-Man that showed how truly profitable superheroes could be as a replacement for the stale action heroes of the 1980s and 1990s. Twelve years after the release of Sam Raimi’s incarnation of the famed webslinger we now arrive at the fifth Spider-Man film and the second in a new series of big screen comic book adventures with Andrew Garfield assuming the reins that Tobey Maguire once held.
It seems no matter who has been the man to occupy the director’s chair we’ve yet to see that “great” Spider-Man movie. Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 has come the closest, mainly on account of Alfred Molina’s strong portrayal as Dr. Octopus and the amount of time spent on the development of his character. It also didn’t hurt that Michael Chabon, the Pulitzer Prize author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, contributed to the screenplay. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn’t as fortunate. Instead, we have Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci as the “undynamic” duo handling most of the writing this time around. This pair has been the co-conspirators behind a lot of big-budget movies with varying degrees of quality. If a comparison were to be made they would be a more sedate version of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (of Crank fame and Ghost Rider: Spirits of Vengeance infamy).
When The Amazing Spider-Man arrived two years ago I wasn’t completely sold. It was adequately made, but not amazing as the title suggested. First, it was unnecessary to reboot the origins of Spider-Man. We saw this ten years prior with the very first Spider-Man. How difficult is it to just cast a new Peter Parker and move on? But producer Avi Arad was looking to create a moodier Peter Parker as a result of the reception Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy received. So the reboot was initiated and what’s done is done.
The good news is that Andrew Garfield is so much better than Tobey Maguire in the role. The original pairing of Maguire and Kirsten Dunst was painful to watch at times. And don’t get me started on that emo experience in Spider-Man 3. Garfield and Emma Stone were a much better pairing as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy when the franchise rebooted. With their genuine chemistry it’s easier to value their relationship. For director Marc Webb, whose previous foray with movie making was the unconventional romance (500) Days of Summer, he was able to convey the frivolity of teenage love. He continues that with the sequel, allowing it to flourish, though it does drag down the proceedings somewhat. But that’s the least of the problems facing a sequel that follows the studio blueprint to a tee in what a sequel needs to be.
It’s The Amazing Spider-Man only super-sized.
We continue with Parker’s origins with a flashback sequence involving the last days of Peter’s parents, then are brought forward in time to some undisclosed date where the webslinger is in a race against time, where he’s chasing down a Russian thief (Paul Giamatti) but also needs to make his high school graduation. The sequence is quite elaborate with some breathtaking visuals of Spider-Man swinging between buildings as he makes his way through the Big Apple on his way to intervene. In the process the sequence introduces us to Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), a tread-upon engineer at Oscorp and a Spider-Man fan to the fullest. Max would later be the victim of a work accident that gives him electrical powers and sees him turn to villainy as “Electro.”
Foxx plays his Max Dillon role similar to Jim Carrey as Edward Nygma before he made his transformation to The Riddler in Batman Forever. Yet whereas The Riddler is a famous member of Batman’s rogue’s gallery, the same can’t be said for Electro. We get enough background on Dillon to understand why he would want to use his newfound powers for revenge. That doesn’t discount Electro becoming a megalomaniac at the drop of a hat. There’s a logical gap in this transformation process. Also not helping his case is that his look in the film is visually similar to Watchmen‘s Dr. Manhattan.
As silly and ancillary as Electro’s character is, at least his motivations at getting revenge at Spider-Man has some reasoning, unlike Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan). Osborn, of course, is a major character in Spider-Man’s history, yet his appearance in this sequel feels like an afterthought in the scheme of things. This is because the film is too concerned with populating the world of Spider-Man and planning for sequels and already conceived spin-offs. With a tagline that reads “His Greatest Battle Begins” it implies that there’s no proper ending so to speak. Even if a superhero movie is going to be part of a franchise it should at least be able to stand on its own and not need to concern itself with world building, using part of the film’s narrative to set up the next installment (save that for the end credits as a but-wait-there’s-more moment).
Much of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 tends to rely on coincidence to spur the narrative along. Like when news breaks of Harry’s father’s passing, Peter arrives to the Osborn homestead to meet with Harry who had just returned from boarding school. Or you have head-scratching logic with Gwen Stacy working for Oscorp. Especially seeing how much clearance she has for only being an intern.
While there’s much to enjoy in seeing the chemistry between Garfield and Stone, the same can’t be said for Garfield and DeHaan. This was disappointing as both young actors have star potential but it was like watching two guys moping around each other before Harry has his transformation into the Green Goblin in the final act. It is during this scene where a major arc occurs that ultimately affects where the franchise goes next. The question, though, is if it was necessary. Considering that it was a core element of the story, it will be interesting to see the direction the next sequel will go.
For all the things it gets right in terms of look, Peter Parker’s and Gwen Stacy’s relationship, and Spider-Man’s smart-alecky demeanor, the sequel tries much too hard to be like the first but up the ante in terms of size. There are moments of fun, but it feels overlong and overindulgent with its two hour and twenty minute run time. Seriously, there is some egregious stuff here (the reassessment of Spider-Man’s everyman status, for starters).
You almost feel bad for Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. They are the best parts of both of these films so far that it’s depressing to see their relationship wedged in between scenes that don’t work. And to get the nitpicking out of the way, I expected more from Marc Webb and the soundtrack this time around. The Hans Zimmer/Pharrell Williams/Johnny Marr experiment didn’t work, and out of all the pop songs Webb could have incorporated he goes with a Phillip Phillips record?
Leave it to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man to have a quote that adequately describes this sequel to 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man.
You do too much. You’re not Superman, you know.
That’s this film. It tries to do too much and succumbs to mediocrity.
Director: Marc Webb Writer(s): Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci & Jeff Pinkner Notable Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Colm Feore, Paul Giamatti, Sally Field, Embeth Davidtz, Campbell Scott
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!