“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (2014): The Slingy, The Sticky, & The Arachnophobia (Review)
It’s no secret that I hated The Amazing Spider-Man. I herald it as one of the worst superhero movies ever made and a singular black mark upon the legacy of Spider-Man. It’s also well known that I was more than a little wounded and appalled (embarrassed even) at how a superhero genre-film that I maintain is objectively worse than Spider-Man 3 performed so well at the box office and was greeted warmly by the critics.
It takes a lot to make me “hate” a movie. For most bad movies, you suffer through them, laugh about it with your friends, argue with the ones who liked it, and then forget about it. For me, that’s almost always the case as well, even if I pan it in a review. Most bad movies just aren’t really a big deal. I reserve abject hatred for bad films whose horrid stench is significant in some way, either to the business of filmmaking, the genre it’s a part of, or if it’s just something close to heart. The Amazing Spider-Man was a letdown in all three of those for me. On the business side, it demonstrated how gullible audiences and even critics are to narrative shorthand if it comes with flashy action. On the genre side – The Amazing Spider-Man is exactly the kind of boring, bland, unoriginal, uninteresting, non-compelling, and shallow filmmaking that the elderly and old-guard critics broadly and incorrectly attribute to the entire superhero genre. How do I defend and stand up for a genre that churns out movies as bad as The Amazing Spider-Man? Besides that, I love Spider-Man. Spider-Man 2 is (conventionally-speaking) the greatest and most perfect superhero film of all time. The Amazing Spider-Man was a character desecration of monumental proportion.
I’ve taken up a lot of space writing this because it is a disclaimer I would be dishonest not to make. I am a critic. I am opinionated. I have bias, and it’s only fair that you know the full extent of them before you read something I write.
Now, since an official spoiler-free review of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was already written by my friend Sverrir, this one’s coming in a different format. And it’s packed to the brim with spoilers. You’ve been warned.
THE SLINGY (Good)
The First Action Scene
Most of the best swinging and slinging you saw in the trailer is featured in Spider-Man’s opening debut to this film, featuring a daytime chase through the streets with Paul Giamatti – a thug stealing plutonium from Oscorp. While it’s a little heavy on the CGI (as is the whole movie), as a scene, it’s as “pure-Spider-Man” as any action scene featuring him can be, effectively dramatized, well-choreographed, colorful, refreshingly cartoonish, and varied enough to be fun. Spider-Man rides a police car, takes down a truck, saves and gives a pep talk to a pedestrian, has a phone conversation with Gwen Stacy (who is about to give the valedictorian speech for graduation), dodges bullets, and takes down a guy with a machine gun all in one big action scene. It’s magnificent.
The Web Swinging
Without a doubt, they’re the best they’ve ever been, far outmatching even the first film, which also did well in that regard. You see where the webs land and how he moves, just as last time, but with a lot more variation. The cinematography and the physics at play are more aggressively kinetic and freewheeling. Whatever may be wrong with this film, no one can take that away from it.
I didn’t care for the verbal diarrhea in The Amazing Spider-Man even though it’s something that he’s known for doing in the comics. Spider-Man continuously wise-cracks when he’s fighting and he never shuts up. But in the first film, it was forced, clichéd, and unmemorable. Here, they’ve greatly improved upon it. Andrew Garfield is funny, jovial, and light-hearted. It’s a clear sign of how much fun he has being Spider-Man. It’s more confident, and it was even used effectively as a narrative device for the first action scene with Electro.
Most of “the good” is on the cartoonish and sillier aspects of the film, featuring Spider-Man, during which the film transcends itself. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the costume is also the best it’s ever been. It’s brighter, more childish in a good way, and they got rid of the black eyes.
The Electro Dub-Step Action
Most people I heard from hated this. The second action scene with Electro, near the end, is conducted over the power grid. Electro bounces himself off of the pillars, making for a big dub step theme – his own personal battle drums and fog horn to summon Spider-Man for a fight. If it was just a regular song on your phone, it’d be just as terrible and insufferable as all dub-step usually is. But in that particular scene, it was perfect. It did more to give Electro a personality than anything he himself did in the film.
THE STICKY (Bad)
Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborn/The Green Goblin
Harry’s first scene is a bed-side chat with his dying father. They growl at each other for a bit and then Norman dies, the only thing you learn is that Harry is showing early symptoms of the same crippling disease that killed his father. Harry takes over Oscorp and then gets a visit from Peter, whom, as it is revealed, is his best friend. You’d think that would have come up in the first film.
Harry wants Spider-Man’s blood, which he believes can cure him. Spider-Man says no, because he fears it would kill him. Harry goes into a rage.
Meanwhile, other people at Oscorp have been doing shady things behind Harry’s back. Harry finds out, but before he can do anything, he’s kicked out of Oscorp and framed for everything. So he finds Electro and beseeches him for help with the promise that he’ll let him into the grid where he can get back at Spider-Man. Then, he injects himself with a vial of venom from the hybrid spiders (one of which had bitten Peter) that Norman and Richard (Parker) had created together and goes crazy.
He has a few better moments when he’s just casually playing a swaggering rich kid catching up with Peter Parker or when he’s talking with Felicia (Hardy – a.k.a. future Black Cat), but when it comes time for him to emote and do something story-related, DeHaan is awful. He doesn’t look like Harry, and as Goblin, he looks absurd. The conflicts that you’d think would be so natural in this would-be interesting or compelling character aren’t fleshed out in any way. They’re rushed, and then the film just jumps away into something else.
Maxwell Dillon (Electro)
Some credit is due to Jamie Foxx for doing what he could to play a character, even though he’s barely written as one. As Maxwell Dillon, he’s Jim Carrey as Edward Nigma in Batman Forever. As Electro, which he turns into after falling into a tank full of electric eels and getting bitten, (I wish I was kidding), he’s a cross between an Extremis victim in Iron Man 3 and Dr. Manhattan. He has absolutely nothing to do with anything else in the story and exists to be in two out of the three action scenes. He isn’t characterized in any meaningful way, just a really unlucky bastard no one previously cared about who acquires the powers and hunger of a god. He’s creepy, quick to anger, and that’s it.
Terrible Information Delivery
A lot of information given in the film is spontaneous for that particular scene. And sometimes it isn’t given at all. The ghost of Captain Stacy appears in front of Peter a few times in the beginning, making him obsess over death. Then it doesn’t come up till much later in a ridiculous piece of foreshadowing of the ending (we’ll get to that). Peter gets a cold at one point while he’s Spider-Man and then that just goes away. Did they just have that there to show what happens when Spidey gets a cold? Also, after the first fight with Electro, Peter is watching TV and a reporter literally asks a fanboy how he thinks Spider-Man resisted Electro’s shots, to which the speaker theorizes that the suit is partially rubberized. In what possible scenario is that ever a way to explain something? After Harry and Electro break into Oscorp and Electro dives into the grid, Harry and his nameless usurper get into an elevator. It isn’t clear where they’re going or why; they just go to a tech basement or something where Harry will turn into the Green Goblin. None of that is ever explained. At the end of the film, Harry is in his own asylum where the mystery man from the first film’s Easter Egg approaches him and tells him that they’re ready (apparently he’s back running Oscorp from prison), alluding to the Sinister Six plan for future films.
THE ARACHNOPHOBIA (Ugly)
A Disjointed Story
This movie is one big colossal mess.
There is no singular narrative stream driving this story and pulling everything forward. Time passes arbitrarily and nothing keeps the pacing up. There are five different plot arcs in the film, and none of them are character arcs. Every scene is just a scene in itself, working its own mini-arc but not building to anything larger.
- Peter Parker is still investigating what happened to his father.
- Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy are on, off, and then on again while Gwen is trying to get into Oxford (with the possibility of her leaving).
- Maxwell Dillon becomes Electro. Then he teams up with the Green Goblin against Spider-Man.
- Harry Osborn wants Spider-Man’s blood. Then he becomes the Green Goblin.
- There are some people on Oscorp’s Board who want Harry out of the picture.
None of these story arcs are building from each other in any meaningful ways. They’re each their own separate movie and each with a complete tonal contrast. The film is about Peter & Gwen, then Max, then Harry, then Peter again, and then it’s over. There’s no flow, no stakes, no connective tissue that makes for a wholesome story, and no meaningful changes in character. When characters do something, there’s oftentimes no apparent reason for them to do it aside from – because the script demands it.
More Reductive “Destiny” Character Desecration
Destiny is a story trope that’s used a lot, sometimes to good effects, but a lot of times as a cheap cop out because the idea of it might be cool in the coincidental sense. When everything is so tightly connected like that, it just makes the world smaller and more about itself than about the greater themes, ideas, and stories a character should exist to explore.
While working together, Richard Parker found out that Norman Osborn was planning on weaponizing their biogenetic products. When he left, Oscorp framed him as a traitor to his country and sent them on the run.
In other words, he’s Howard Stark in Iron Man 2 if his fate with Anton Vanko was reversed.
The twist is that the human DNA implanted in those hybrid spiders came from Richard himself. The implication is that only someone of Parker’s blood could actually become a superhuman – i.e. Richard Parker unwittingly gave his son the powers of Spider-Man.
To say these two films have missed the point would be an understatement. The powers that a superhero has are always the least interesting thing about them. They’re cool in their potential to be used in a lot of fun different ways, but what matters about a superhero is their heart – their fears, weaknesses, ambitions, motivations, relationships, etc.
The idea of destiny makes for a story that’s all about the origin of Peter’s powers, and it has no care for who Peter is as a person. The actual story of Spider-Man is about what he decides to do with those powers, because with great power comes great responsibility. Neither The Amazing Spider-Man 2 nor its predecessor included that famous quote from Uncle Ben or any lesson even resembling it in any way. Instead they dredge up a scenario in which Peter acquiring his powers was a moment of kismet based on the circumstances behind the creation of the spider that bit him. It’s a film that’s looking backwards, not forwards.
Director Marc Webb operates in montages a lot to pass the time, and sometimes it’s difficult to tell when exactly he’s doing it. When it comes to romantic scenes, he often lets his scenes sit for a bit longer than they need to for a humanizing effect. So while all the cute Peter/Gwen stuff is dragged out, everything else is rushed – the result being a painstakingly slow film despite there being so many threads. And given how empty the information itself and character-void substance often is, the film doesn’t engage at all.
There are three action scenes in the entire film. Three…that’s it. Two of them have Electro. The first two are in the beginning and then the third and fourth acts, which stretch for over an hour, have nothing. The final act has a big action scene with Electro immediately followed up Osborn’s Goblin who shows up right after (for no reason), looks at Spider-Man and Gwen Stacy, realizes he’s Peter, and then attacks.
You can’t even count the final scene as action because it’s just the first big swing attack against the Rhino that cuts to the credits upon impact.
A Stupid Ending
Gwen Stacy dies, the same way she died in the famous Spider-Man comic, sans the bridge. It’s a laughably transparent scene, one that was clearly meant to be a shocking moment, but really just repeats the ending of the first film. It’s a predictable moment that does nothing new for him. And then when he gets over it a year later and resumes being Spider-Man, just in time to save a kid and fight the Rhino, there’s once again no real reason for it.
Even worse is the tease of the Sinister Six. They literally do it twice but it has nothing to do with anything else in the story. The reason is because there is no story. This film presents a two-and-a-half-hour teaser for the next two movies in the franchise. It doesn’t change or mold the character, and doesn’t give any depth to the world he exists in. It’s just a boring tiresome piece of shorthand masquerading as a superhero movie.
Earlier, I mentioned the older cynical critics – sneering antiquated relics who cry about how stupid superhero movies are. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a film that embodies just about every complaint they’ve ever given. And that’s just a travesty.