– Summary –
Director : Marc Webb
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Paul Giamatti, Dane DeHaan, Colm Feore, Felicity Jones, Sally Field, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Marton Csokas, Chris Cooper.
Approx Running Time : 142 Minutes
Synopsis: Spider-Man faces off against the powerful Electro, a former friend in the shape of the Green Goblin, and balances his romance with girlfriend Gwen Stacy.
What we think : An increase in character numbers, a surfeit of action, and plenty of Peter/Gwen angst makes for a jam-packed movie, a movie so jam-packed it cannot sustain itself outside of a couple of well made action set-pieces. Logic goes out the window, the film often disregards its own internal common sense at times, and much of the character development falls flatter than a squashed insect, making this Spider-Man adventure relatively hollow at the end of the day. Superficially exciting and most assuredly the definition of a “blockbuster”, a more detailed look into the film’s workings uncover a raft of problems that make it merely another brightly colored turkey.
Too much, too often, with too little.
As one of the increasingly fewer people who actually enjoyed the reboot Spider-Man entry by Marc Webb, I was anticipating this film well before its release; the massive promotional campaign indicated a larger amount of action, more villains, and more of Peter Parker’s search for why his parents up and left when he was a kid. Admittedly, I could care less about that latter thing, but the increase in action and a new set of villains, in Electro, Rhino, and the Green Goblin, promised much. Would the film deliver? Perhaps at Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 level? Or would it be a miasma much like the now-reviled Spider-Man 3?
Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is still Spider-Man, the resident hero of New York City, saving the day whenever he can and creating a divided populace, many of whom believe the Daily Bugle’s claim that the web-slinger is actually a public menace, and an out-of-control vigilante. Parker is dating Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and both of them are graduating High School, with Gwen being given an opportunity to study at Oxford University in England. Peter, still worried that he will not be able to protect Gwen if his enemies come for him, breaks up with her; his guilt that Gwen’s late father, Captain Stacy (Denis Leary) made him swear to stay out of her life, and he has reneged on that vow, causes him to have visions of the dead man wherever he goes. Meanwhile, Peter’s long-time friend Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan), heir to the Oscorp empire, returns with his father, Norman (Chris Cooper), on his death-bed. When Norman dies, Harry searches for a way to cure the apparently genetic mutation his family carries, and learns that Spider-Man’s blood could possibly lead to a cure for his condition. Oscorp employee Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), a put-down and somewhat introverted individual, is caught in an industrial accident which gives him the power to control electricity, and he turns his love of Spider-Man into outright hatred as the villain Electro.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a film that promises much and lies about it. In some markets (including here in Australia) the film was subtitled Rise Of Electro, Electro being one of the central villains of this film, essayed by Jamie Foxx. Amazing 2 didn’t deserve such a subtitle anywhere, for not only does Electro never “rise” as such, but as a villain he is utterly limp in terms of impact and development. The film actually weaves its narrative through two-and-a-half key villains – Electro, the Green Goblin (previously portrayed by both Willem Dafoe and James Frano in the Raimi Spider-Man films) and a thunderously brutal creature known as The Rhino – a small and insane role for the normally wonderful Paul Giamatti. Amazing 2 mishandles them all. Much like Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, director Marc Webb was given the mandate to begin his franchise/world building for Sony’s attempt to emulate Marvel’s Avengers-centric cinematic universe, and thus we have a film burdened by not one or two, but three villains for our intrepid web-slinging hero to battle.
As much as we might hate to admit it, the only films which have succeeded in adequately having more than two main villains are Fox’s X-Men franchise, where an ensemble is not only required, but expected. Even Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, which is one hell of a stylish film, came unstuck a little by having a few too many villains, all of whom vastly overshadowed the “star” of the movie, Batman himself. So it’s not like there’s a precedent for an ensemble, but Amazing 2 isn’t the equal of Raimi’s first two forays into the franchise. I guess the allure of having more than one key villain is to really drive up the stakes for the hero, but typically excess of characters means a shallowness of character and a dearth of development for everyone.
While Jamie Foxx’s Electro is probably the most visually dominant villain of the piece, and commands the screen when he’s all electric-y, Dane DeHaan’s pivotal Harry Osborne is a character I just couldn’t get into; he arrives in the film with an attitude that suggests he’s just spent a year in a concentration camp somewhere, and has a fractious relationship with his father, Norman (Chris Cooper in a small but effective cameo); he spends the rest of the film looking like he’s has shit wiped across his top lip. I’m all for angry young teens with a hate for society, but the character has to earn that, and Harry doesn’t. He’s just pissed off at everything, with barley any explanation as to why. There’s some nonsense about him being consigned to due in the same manner as his poor father, thanks to a genetic problem he’s inherited, but it’s not clear exactly how, why and why not. Electro, meanwhile, fares little better, with the classic disillusioned loser-loner latching onto the hero, only to turn and hate said hero via a miscommunication, being ripped right out of Batman Forever’s Riddler character. Having Hans Zimmer’s score approximate clown music for Max’s theme doesn’t help either, turning a potentially tragic figure into something approximating a children’s show villain. And let’s forget about Paul Giamatti’s Rhino character, because it appears the screenwriters did for most of the movie – the Rhino appears at the opening and close of the film, a blink-n-miss-it appearance that Giamatti must surely be ruing.
On the flip side, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone provide a lot of the dramatic heft for this sill movie, and they certainly have the screen chemistry needed to bring these iconic characters to life. Garfield is Spider-Man, personifying the cheeky teenage impish character from the comics and translating that into an on-screen deftness that is truly iconic. It’s a shame he’s let down by such an ordinary story; when Peter’s doing his “search for his parents” story, the film drags considerably, but when Spidey is in action, the film leaps into top gear and is as fun and fantastic as the title might suggest. Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy, a tragic figure in Spidey-lore, is magnetic and modern, not once taking the “damsel in distress” role and instead giving the character more depth and development in a single look than most actresses could barely manage in an entire career. Peter’s Aunt May, portrayed again by Sally Field, is a far cry from Rosemary Harris’ elderly states-lady from the Raimi films, and is given a nice bit of monologing mid-way through which spurs Peter on to not only find his parents but save the day (in a sense). Field turns a small role into a fairly magnetic force on the screen.
One of the more aggravating story-lines Amazing 2 has was its continuation of Peter’s parents narrative, here given a larger and more prominent placing within the context of the overall film. Problematically, the story of whatever happened to Peter’s parents, and the reason for their abandonment of him, doesn’t have the payoff it deserved or needed. Instead, it merely provides a catalyst for Harry and Peter’s eventual conflict – because Peter’s dad was working for Normal Osborne, so you just know it’s all gonna come full circle in the end. Frankly, had they excised this story element completely, I doubt anyone would have missed it.
If I have to give Marc Webb props for anything, it’s at least trying to make an entertaining movie. The action sequences are well filmed and thoroughly exciting, and feature some of the best CG money can buy. The production value on the film, shot entirely in New York state and delivering plenty of love for New York City (Spidey’s primary residence!), is enormous, and although tinged with an off-balance sense of emotional wrangling and tonal depression, whenever Spider-Man himself is on the screen, the film comes together to work so very very well. Crucially, Webb is obviously trying to set up the Spidey franchise for further installments, with plenty of loose plot threads no doubt coming up again in the eventual Amazing 3. Perhaps, however, instead of spending so much time trying to maneuver all the pieces of the puzzle into position for sequels (and spin-offs; apparently there’s Venom and Sinister Six films on the way) and concentrating on telling the story at hand, we might have had a slimmer, more coherent and infinitely more emotionally resonant film in this instance.
Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a bit of a mess, with chasms of mediocrity hiding just below its slick, polished surface. While much of what transpires has no depth to it, and often it doesn’t make a lot of logical sense, the undercurrent of fun provided through the performances of Garfield and Stone alleviates much of what I didn’t enjoy. Sure, Spidey fans will probably hate it (and they have) but for a summer tentpole film designed to elicit some enjoyment out of going to the cinema, at least Amazing 2 tries to elevate itself beyond the pedestrian slop surrounding it. With plenty to like as much as detest, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 remains a mixed bag of ideas and execution that never quite paves the way like its predecessor.
© 2014, Rodney Twelftree. All rights reserved.