Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
A couple of years ago, when Sony announced that it would be making a Spider-man 4 and 5 back to back, I was excited. There were so many possibilities as to where the story could go. Would Curt Connors finally become the Lizard? Maybe Carnage was on the horizon, since Connors still had a specimen of the Venom symbiote. I couldn’t wait to find out.
Then Sony announced that they had scrapped the idea of continuing the series with Raimi and Maguire in favour of a reboot. I was not pleased. A reboot seemed so unnecessary. By the time The Amazing Spider-Man was released, I’d lost all interest in the franchise. However, I ended up being pleasantly surprised by Spidey’s new incarnation. Andrew Garfield breathed new life into Peter Parker and made the role his own. Emma Stone’s performance as Gwen Stacey was just as refreshing. The reboot might not have covered much new ground, but I enjoyed it.
So I was more than ready to embrace the sequel. Unfortunately what I got was a bloated summer blockbuster with an extremely disjointed plot. While there were some positives to The Amazing Spider-Man 2, it attempted to rush through far too many plot points for a single movie. Suddenly Spider-man 3 doesn’t look so convoluted!
Given Sony’s announcement of two more Spider-man movies, as well as spin-offs for the Sinister Six and Venom, it’s baffling that they decided they had to cram so much into what is seemingly only the second installment of a six part franchise. But let’s take one thing at a time and look at both the positives and the negatives of Spidey’s latest big screen outing.
The proceedings get off to a promising start, expanding on the opening sequence of the last movie. We are given more insight into Richard and Mary Parker and the reason why they abandoned their son with his aunt and uncle as a child. The entire prologue is quite exciting and mysterious, managing to create a nice sense of anticipation for what’s to come.
This segues into our first action sequence with the titular hero swinging through Manhattan’s concrete jungle in pursuit of a seemingly random criminal whose identity will ring a bell with the more informed Spider-Man fans in the audience. It’s a visually stunning set piece but there’s something very goofy and cartoon-ish about the execution and the dialogue.
That is a problem that persists throughout the entire film; it’s a movie that’s very visually impressive but is mired by silly one liners and unnecessary slapstick humour. The seriousness and realism that defined the first Amazing Spider-Man are largely absent. So much so that when emotional and dramatic moments do occur, they feel extremely out of place and not in line with the light hearted tone present throughout the story. It makes the darker moments feel uncomfortable and not in a good, natural to the plot kind of way.
Returning to the subject of action set pieces, there aren’t as many as one might expect from a superhero movie that clocks in at 142 minutes. The most impressive sequence is one that takes place in Times Square in the first third of the movie. It’s well crafted and contains genuine dramatic tension, along with an interesting musical score. After that, the remaining major set pieces feel sudden and rushed.
For a movie that’s over two hours long, it may seem odd to say anything seems rushed but I think that’s down to the film makers attempting to cram too much in. Electro, the supposed main villain, doesn’t receive as much screen time as you might expect, for example. The result of this is that when the final act of the film arrives, it feels like it reaches its climax far too quickly and abruptly.
Another issue is that there is an attempt to create suspense and tension by putting characters that we aren’t familiar with in jeopardy. Without giving too much away, there’s a sequence involving airline passengers that’s obviously supposed to have us on the edge of our seats. However, there’s not a single passenger that’s even remotely related to any of the main characters, nor is Spider-Man directly aware of the peril they’re in so we have no real emotional investment in their fate and the whole thing just ends up falling flat.
The main strengths of the movie lie in the performances of Garfield, Stone and Sally Field as May Parker.
Despite my criticism of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 as a movie, I do still think that Andrew Garfield is well cast as the web-slinging superhero. While Tobey Maguire played a Peter Parker who was more of a down on his luck, nerdy teenage sterotype, Garfield portrays a Parker who – while still possessing all of the intelligence – is more of a normal, every day average guy. He may not be one of the popular kids but he also doesn’t come across as a loner misfit. He just seems like a typical teenage guy. And I prefer that. I’m not in any way putting down or criticising Tobey Maguire’s performance, I just think Garfield’s version is easier to relate to.
Unfortunately, Garfield is forced to deliver some lines and quips that are cringe worthy and add an unwelcome serving of cheese to the table. Having said that, when the time comes to step up for the big emotional moments, Garfield gives it his all and plays them well. Although while there’s a lot of emotion and character defining events for Spider-Man in the script, they don’t always have the impact they should, due to the movie’s inconsistent tone.
The movie’s main saving grace is the relationship between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey, thanks to the great onscreen chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. When it comes to female love interests in superhero movies, Stone’s Gwen Stacey is a welcome departure from the norm. In the Raimi trilogy, it became tiresome watching Kirsten Dunst do nothing but scream and play the damsel in distress as MJ. Thankfully, that’s not the case with Gwen.
As in the first film, Gwen plays an actual part in fighting the villains. Her scientific background is essential to the plot and means that her role is not simply that of Peter’s love interest, rather she’s a hero in and of herself. Emma Stone is great in the part and a highlight in an otherwise overblown film.
The other performance that stands out is that of Sally Field. Aunt May doesn’t receive an abundance of screen time but when she does, Field plays her very well. This iteration of the character feels far more real than that of the Raimi trilogy. Field manages to make the rebooted version of Aunt May seem like a genuine mother figure and a real person, whereas the Raimi version felt like more of a throwaway character. May is given a very minor subplot about working as a nurse which ties vaguely into the movie’s climax. Like the airline issue, it’s obviously meant to create suspense but again, it ends up falling extremely flat because May herself is not in any immediate danger. It really felt like a missed opportunity and is yet another casualty of trying to service too much in one movie.
Unfortunately those are the only performances that I can give much praise to.
Jamie Foxx’s Max “Electro” Dillon is perhaps the greatest disappointment of the entire movie. The character is set up in such a way that we are clearly meant to sympathise with him. I get what they were trying to do and I get why. However, they did not meet with much success. Any sympathy we feel for the character is mired by the way he’s portrayed onscreen. Foxx’s performance is more slapstick and silliness than it is dark and menacing. Electro comes across as clown like and foolish. More often than not I felt like I was watching a cartoon character rather than a live action villain. And the fact that he doesn’t receive as much screen time as you might expect means that by the time his arc is over, it feels far too underdeveloped.
The only positive I can say about Electro as a villain is that the nature of his character allows for some great looking scenes. It’s only a shame that those visuals aren’t met with much depth or sense of threat.
Dane DeHaan’s Harry Osborn goes through a character arc that needed at least two or three films. He is entirely underdeveloped as a character and his friendship with Peter carries absolutely no weight whatsoever. The problem is that we are told that they are old friends and are supposed to just accept the fact. We’re not shown or made to believe that there’s any great sense of friendship between these two young men the way that we were with Maguire’s and Franco’s Peter and Harry.
Harry’s villainous motivations are also entirely unbelievable. Or perhaps the problem is that we don’t know if they’re believable or not because we aren’t given any time to get to know him before he becomes a murderous, vengeful psychopath with no apparent rationale for the scale of his villainous actions. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 should have just served as an introduction to Harry Osborn. The jarringly fast evolution of his character arc means that the whole movie suffers for it. His villainous role also needlessly steals the thunder from that of Electro, without earning the right to do so.
The other two big villainous names from Spider-Man lore who make appearances – at least in antagonistic forms – are Norman Osborn and Aleksei Sytsevich, portrayed by Chris Cooper and Paul Giamatti respectively. There’s really not too much to be said about either one as both roles are relatively minor.
All I can say about Cooper is that he seemed to have potential but wasn’t given a lot to work with. His voice and attitude seemed appropriate at least.
Giamatti’s Russian accent left a lot to be desired for but the extent of his role was appropriate to how it was supposed to function within the plot.
Also – and this isn’t a criticism, just an FYI – there is no post credits scene other than a contractually obligated promo for X-Men: Days of Future Past that has nothing to do with Spider-Man. I’d heard there was an important scene in the credits and stayed until the very end but was surprised to find nothing.
So to sum up, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is an oversized convolution of a movie. It tries to cover far too many plot arcs at once, resulting in underdeveloped characters and dissatisfying resolutions. It is watchable and does have some redeeming qualities – namely Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and the visual effects – but on the whole it fails to be the epic chapter in the Spider-Man movie saga that it should have been.
Rating: 5/10…6 at a stretch.
The high standard set for superhero movies this year by Captain America: The Winter Soldier remains unbeaten. Next up to challenge it, X-Men: Days of Future Past. Check back here for my review.
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