The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Directed by Marc Webb
Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHann and Sally Field
From Sony Pictures
More of the same in Spidey 2
by Michael Clawson of Terminal Volume
The problem with every Spider-Man movie is always Peter Parker and the awe-shucks science nerd they get to play him. In Sam Raimi’s films, we were given Tobey Maguire, whose doughy face and dead eyes seemed to punctuate the actor’s limited range and depth. Some audiences discovered his shallow presence in the first Spider-Man, while others only realized it after Spider-Man 3, the lowest of the low in Marvel’s web-slinging comic franchise.
Now here we are again with Andrew Garfield, tall and lanky with a punky poof for a hairdo — the fourth Beastie Boy. He’s hipper and more likeable than Maguire, but so is a bluefin tuna. In the first movie, Garfield tripped over every line. Here in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, it’s more like every third line, which is a noticeable and commendable improvement.
But like the first Amazing Spider-Man, this one is a wreck of a story, filled with false leads, dead ends and sequel baiting. And, like all of Marvel’s franchises, the movie is simply a piece of a larger puzzle to be consumed “next summer” every summer. Characters are introduced and filed away, plotlines are unearthed and promptly reburied, and new villains are crafted from the ash of the old ones. It’s a vicious cycle of capitalist calamity that won’t end until we demand better stories, not more.
When we pick back up with freelance photographer Peter Parker (Garfield), he is still fighting crime as Spider-Man, though the police and public are still skeptical of his motives. In early scenes, police aren’t sure if they should shoot or deputize him. In the first action sequence, a plutonium theft in an armored car, he web slings to the side of the truck to make wisecracks to the crooks. The jokes are so bad that the production company could make an insurance claim on their delivery. The scene ends with the de-pantsing of the villain, who’s left standing in the street wearing these comically baggy boxer shorts with some kind of cartoon print on them. Jerry Lewis had subtler gags.
Parker is as strong and agile as ever, but trouble is brewing on the homefront: the mysterious death of his parents is eating at him, his relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) is on the fritz, and a troublesome friendship with Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) is slowly lurching forward even as warning signs are hammered to his face — so much for Spidey Senses. Harry will eventually become Green Goblin to the surprise of no one. DeHaan, who could use clips from this movie to audition for a young Adolf Hitler (thank the haircut), is an afterthought to much of the plot as he mopes around his billionaire bachelor pad because Spider-Man won’t share his blood. Boohoo!
It’s a weak justification for a villain, but not the weakest; that honor goes to Electro, a bio-science worker (Jamie Foxx) turned human sparkplug after he falls into a tank of electric eels, which makes me wonder what happens when workers fall in tanks of peanut butter at the peanut butter factory — Marvel franchises have been started with less.
Electro, his skin is a fluorescent blue glow, is a Spider-Man fanboy. So when Spider-Man shows up to stop Electro’s spontaneous zapping of the electrical grid, he does what any fanboy does — he geeks out. And Spider-Man doesn’t want hugs from creepy fanboys, which makes Electro rage-quit into villainy. The message of this development is clear to me, but not to the film: fanboys ruin everything.
The movie does have a renewed urgency to its special effects, which were just kind of meh in the last picture. The action is peppier, more precise and better choreographed. It’s also lightning fast, which just feels oh-so-right as Spidey goes swinging down Fifth Avenue, hurling manhole covers in webby slings and catapulting over roofs and down alleyways. Remember in some of the later Christopher Reeve Superman movies, when it was obvious that Superman was dangling from wires in front of a rear-projected picture. There was no speed, no momentum, no rush. This film embraces rush in a way I was not expecting. It only slows down for the occasional slow-motion sequence, including that spectacular final scene that will have everyone talking.
Other parts of the movie aren’t so refined. For starters, the movie is scored like a Disney made-for-TV movie, with lots of instrumentation to punctuate visual markers: jokes get hammy string plucks, action scenes get overly energetic “action music,” and scenes of reflection are scored to schmaltzy numbers. All of the music too loud, as if to drown out the sound effects and dialogue. And later, when a dubstep mix gets thrown into a Times Square attack, I was sure the music department had been replaced by middle schoolers. The movie also has too many plots and characters, each of them given screen time that takes us away from the film’s emotional core: Peter Parker is incapable of falling in love without hurting those close to him. That plotline is one that will resonate with audiences, and yet it’s given second billing to everything else.
Mark Webb’s sophomore attempt at a Spider-Man movie is better than his first, but he’s not showing as much growth as should be expected from a guy who’s done two of these things. He still has larger-than-necessary plots, bloated casts and Marvel’s franchise meddling. It doesn’t help that his Spider-Man, the perpetually boring Garfield, could be ridden like a surfboard. Webb has perfected the look and feel of Spider-Man’s movement, which is a big deal that won’t go unnoticed within the franchise. Aside from the Spidey’s physics, though, the next strongest piece might be Emma Stone, who is the film’s secret weapon — she’s just lovely in every scene.
It’s just frustrating that with so much going on, there still so little to like. Perhaps in the next reboot they’ll get it right.