Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I haven't yet had a chance to read any other review of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but having talked with a few of the editors we all seem to be on similar footing in our mixed feelings on the film. So, forgive me if I end up echoing stuff said by others because I'm coming to the party a bit late.
I think it's safe to say that I liked the first Amazing Spider-Man more than most of my peers. The villain story is a bit disjointed, but I can forgive a lot of that because Marc Webb actually put Spider-Man on screen for the first time. I don't mean the costume. I know Raimi beat him to it a decade ago and even he was beat by cheesy versions of the character in the '70s and '80s.
I'm talking about the actual character of Spider-Man. I adore many elements of Sam Raimi's series, but there are only glimpses of the Spider-Man I wanted to see since I was a kid. Spider-Man is what drew me to comics in the first place, so he holds a little special place in my heart.
Most of the time Raimi's Spider-Man was just low key Peter Parker in a mask, not the wise-cracking, having-a-ball webslinger I've loved since childhood. That's fine. It's a choice they made, but not my favorite take on the character.
Webb might have made his Spider-Man look like a special edition Nike, but goddamnit he felt like my Spider-Man. He was a joker. He was the unrestrained id of a pent up nerd given freedom by anonymity and some crazy powers. He cared for people, but he did his job while whistling and having a blast.
I'm a huge fan of Andrew Garfield in the role. As much as he's knocked for his portrayal of Peter Parker, I personally love how he's awkward yet wears his heart on his sleeve. Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker is sincere above all else. He's confused about life, love and the weight of responsibility put on his shoulders, but there's a purity to him that speaks to me more than the goofier yet somehow moodier Peter Parker that Toby Maguire brought to the screen.
In almost all areas I think Webb's casting was stronger than what had come before, especially with Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy. She looks like she stepped off the comic page and her chemistry with Garfield is real deal stuff.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is no different. I still love Garfield and Stone in their roles and relish the time they're together. Then the rest of the movie unfolds.
For all the faults of the first movie at least it was focused. Sure, there was the mystery of Peter's missing parents, but the main conflict made sense. The dots connected from A to B to C. Here there's an everything and the kitchen sink scattershot approach that plagued the worst Sam Raimi film (Spider-Man 3, of course). So many different threads and needless mudding of the narrative. By the time we get to the end everything feels both way too long and way too rushed at the same time.
How is that possible? Well, the Green Goblin's arc could have sustained its own movie. The Electro arc could have sustained its own movie. Both feel truncated and rushed while crammed into a film that is already dividing its focus between Peter's desperation to solve the mystery of his childhood abandonment and the guilt he's feeling for lying to the dying Dennis Leary by promising not to make out with his daughter anymore.
Both of those threads could have been addressed if they were more smart about it, but instead they just seem to bog down the first act with multiple scenes that are just repeating what came before. “I love you Gwen, but I'm breaking up with you. Because I love you.” “I love you, Peter, but I'm breaking up with you because you're breaking up with me.” “Okay, I miss you.” “I miss you, too.” “Are we back together?” “No. Maybe. Okay.” “Well, I'm scared you're in danger.” “Great, here we go again.” That happens a few times when I think it would have been more suited for the characters to stay in a relationship while wrestling with these issues and not just repeat the semi-courtship of the first movie.
Thinking back on it, I think it would have been fantastic if they had merged the two random storylines (Gwen and Peter breaking up, but not, and Peter searching for answers about his parents). That way you could have more time with Peter and Gwen being awesome and full of chemistry dealing with the dark cloud of danger looming over them while at the same time working together to solve the riddle of Ma and Pa Parker's death.
Right now neither subplot goes anywhere fulfilling and serves to take focus away from building a two dimensional villain.
There's a lot of interesting ideas surrounding Max Dillon. Jamie Foxx plays him as socially awkward to the point of comedy... that line is actually crossed a lot and he's not helped by his theme, but I'll get to the score in a minute.
I love the fact that Spider-Man saves Max Dillon and while cracking wise about Max being his eyes and ears on the streets he actually gives this poor man some recognition. Max Dillon is a dude who is ignored, who doesn't have the courage to stop people from walking all over him or the backbone to make sure he gets the credit for his work. For him, Spider-Man is all that is good and right. He's an idea to aspire to.
It's a fantastic starting point, but the turn from Spider-Man fanboy to “I hate him forever!” is so abrupt that it feels unearned. In a weird way it reminded of the horrible “You're more famous then me, so I don't like you anymore” Mary Jane storyline from the Raimi era.
I don't mind that the motivation for Electro's turn is petty, I just have a problem that it's so quick. I think they mishandled it and then afterwards they make the grave mistake of just putting the bad guy away for 30 minutes while they set up yet another bad guy.
Dane DeHaan is a great young actor and I worry that his Schumacherian portrayal of Harry Osborn is going to follow him around like toilet paper stuck to the bottom of a shoe. He goes so over the top so quickly I thought I missed something.
Harry Osborn is fumbled big time. He starts out as a dick, stays a dick and then just becomes a cackling dick on a glider. I like the concept of him inheriting a deadly genetic disease from his father and believing some of Spider-Man's blood could cure him. I don't like that Harry was shipped off to boarding school at the age of 11. When adult Peter Parker comes by to visit adult Harry Osborn and they start catching up the friendship feels stilted and unearned. There's an offhand mention of them seeing each other (or at least talking) once or twice in the intervening years, but they really haven't spoken much since they were kids, yet now they get a walk-and-talk scene about how great buds they are?
It's a classic case of being told something, not shown. Peter says Harry is his best bud, but there's no real feeling of that being true. The only time Harry is nice to Peter he wants something from him. So the tragedy of Harry transforming into the Goblin is hobbled right off the bat.
Add on to that DeHaan's decision to play Harry to the extreme from the beginning and there's no room for him to grow as he comes closer and closer to the glider.
Strangely enough, the villain done the most justice is Rhino. Paul Giamatti's crazy over the top performance fits that character and we only get him in small doses, which also helps. Plus all the Giamatti scenes also come with the best Spider-Man moments.
If you could take the obvious care Raimi has for his villains (specifically Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2) and merge it with the central performances in the Webb Spidey flicks you'd have the perfect Spider-Man movie. Webb's newest film is so focused on setting up spin-offs and sequels that it sacrifices the story it actually needed to tell.
The tone of the flick flips between goofy and fun a few times, but stays mostly in the goofy realm, sadly. Hans Zimmer, alongside Johnny Marr and Pharrell Williams, is a big part of that. I hate to knock Zimmer for going for a big score because I'm sick and tired of background music in movies, especially superhero movies. Gone are the glory days of the big, thematic score. Studios seem scared of them for some reason.
So, I hate to shit on Zimmer's tone-def bombastic score but it's a big reason why much of the movie doesn't work. Instead of accentuating the exciting parts of the movie and raising some of the goofy stuff above the Spanish Soap Opera melodrama it only highlights what doesn't work.
Max Dillon has a straight up Otis Theme. You know, from Superman. It's clown music. The fucked up part is that theme carries over to his early appearance as Electro, so when he should be sympathetic ala Frankenstein's monster, he is instead a sideshow attraction. It's a horrible miscalculation and a giant missed opportunity.
The flick isn't all a missed opportunity, but a great deal of it is, which makes me more sad than angry. They have so many good ingredients that they could have made a great film. Instead what we're left with a grab bag of ideas and decisions that feel selected by committee and not the singular vision of a creative mind. Story is sacrificed for franchise. The irony is that the best way to serve the franchise is to tell a great story, so they're only limiting themselves by rushing to all these spin-offs. I wouldn't be surprised if Sony burns out this new iteration of Spider-Man in its greed to chase the success of Marvel Films.