Here Comes A Spider-man: An (Also) Amazing Mess

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With Amazing Spider-man 2 coming out this week, I thought I might reflect back on the wall-crawler’s history in film and how this franchise as much as any other reflects the highs and lows of superhero blockbusters. You can find the previous posts through HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE.

Guys, guys, guys! Come on! You had everything in place. You got a great cast, top-notch modern special effects, the dumb retelling of the origin is out of the way, and you have Spider-man 3 to look back on as a warning. And what did you do? You made Spider-man 3.5, with some Batman Forever spliced in for good measure. That’s the most eye-catching way to describe Amazing Spider-man 2, though another way to put it is that it’s the culmination of the entire franchise so far, and not in the best possible way. Many spoilers dwell after the jump.

If you wanna know what works about Amazing Spider-man 2, just watch the cold open, where Spidey faces off with pre-Rhino (Paul Giamatti). That sequence is just gorgeous, popping with color and exciting action, while Andrew Garfield really captures the Spider-man everyone wants to see onscreen; his physicality, his humor, everything is perfect. After that though, everything gets buried in a ten-car pileup of subplots, characters and the occasionally good Spidey-sequence. It still inherits the stupid and unnecessary “Parker family secrets” subplot from its predecessor, one that (among many other things) adds a useless action sequence with Peter’s father on a plane to the beginning of the movie before the aforementioned Spidey sequence. It’s also reintroduced in a really random way, with Peter constantly avoiding his father’s briefcase until one day he just wakes up and decides to really find out what happened to his father. It’s a completely unmotivated action, which makes that subplot all the more annoying.

But worse, it also carries the multiple unrelated villains and contrived relationship issues that plagued Spider-man 3, and this is where the film really falls apart. Despite being so prominent in the marketing, Jamie Foxx’s Electro is completely useless in the plot, and only serves to A) mimic Jim Carrey’s Riddler arc and B) serve as a pawn in Harry Osborn’s plans. And as for the Green Goblin himself, I liked Dane DeHaan fine, and the final fight between him and Spider-man was suitably intense, but he’s not given enough screentime to feel as consequential as he should. Meanwhile, while Garfield and Emma Stone still have great chemistry together, none of their scenes has direction or purpose in a larger narrative whatsoever. They’re together, then suddenly they break up. They get back together, suddenly Gwen’s going to Oxford. Peter decides to go with Gwen to England, then she dies. Moment to moment, problems arise just for the sake of problems arising, as if there wasn’t enough going on already. (And yes, obviously the death of Gwen is a little less contrived and random, but with all the whiplash-inducing shifts throughout the movie it still feels like some of the impact was lost.)

But that’s not all! There’s also the fact that, while he nails being Spider-man and has that great chemistry with Emma Stone, Andrew Garfield is just too damn cool as Peter Parker. It feels like someone should’ve told him to stop shooting for James Dean, because he’s just too laid back and confident… unless of course he’s brooding. Then there’s the fact that Marc Webb’s indie roots show only in the soundtrack, which is full of what I suppose are meant to be “hip” musicians in a way that will make the whole movie feel dated in a few years. And when Webb isn’t clogging the background with alt-rock (or whatever you’d like to label it) there’s the Electro theme, which has the whispering choir thing going on, and they are basically SPEAKING ELECTRO’S INTERNAL MONOLOGUE OUT LOUD.

So despite an engaging cast and some terrific set-pieces, Amazing Spider-man 2 is another top-heavy, sprawling mess. It once again eschews the simplicity that makes the first two Raimi movies so solid and everything in the movie suffers as the result of it. Normally I try to avoid writing negative pieces- in my mind if it doesn’t have a positive influence on me as a moviegoer or a storyteller than why dwell on it- but in this case I think it’s worthwhile. Sometimes acknowledging what failed about a movie can result in better movies down the line, while helping us appreciate what DID work about the movie. And in the case of Amazing Spider-man 2, it’s those moments of Spidey swinging through the city, dispatching bad guys and tossing around one-liners. If nothing else, those moments are gorgeous, and should be the one thing taken away from this film for future installments. The rest of it we can leave on the curb for garbage pickup.

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