THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 Review: A Tangled Web
As a reformed comic book collector (casually as a kid in the ’70s and then seriously in my teens and young adulthood in the ’80s and ’90s), there will forever be a small part of me that wants any cinematic adaptation of a comic book (or its characters and/or story lines) to remain as loyal as possible to the source material. But I recognize that this isn’t just a challenge, it’s a labor of Hercules.
Consider Spider-Man. According to ComicVine.com, since his first appearance on August 15, 1962, the web-slinger has appeared in … wait for it … 10,309 different comic book issues! That’s almost 200 appearances per year over the last 52 years. To try to consider every nuance of a character with that much history – a character that is still making history – is impossible, so a filmmaker’s job becomes striking the right balance between capturing the greater spirit of the character while remaining true to key moments in the character’s history (and sprinkling in some obscure references for the the fanboys). Oh, I almost forgot – the filmmaker has to make a good film in the process.
With The Amazing Spider-Man 2, director Marc Webb gets the spirit of the character right and the history of the character right, and he even manages some nice, nerdy references , too. And yet.
I guess three outta four ain’t bad.
As the film opens, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) – aka Spider-Man – is living la vida arachnid, swinging around New York City and saving the day, this time from plutonium thief Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti). In the process, Spidey saves the life of Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), an OsCorp engineer. During the rescue, Spidey is his chatty, friendly self with Max, which the mentally unstable man reads as a sign of friendship with the superhero; Max becomes obsessed with Spider-Man. An accident at OsCorp turns the engineer into living electricity (he gives himself the moniker “Electro”), and during his attempt to connect with Spider-Man, police action taken against him sends him into a seething rage.
Meanwhile, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) learns from his dying father Norman (an uncredited Chris Cooper) that he has a hereditary affliction that will turn him into some sort of crazed monster. Harry hopes that a transfusion of Spider-Man’s blood – an arachnid/human blend that helps Spidey heal quickly – will heal him as well, and the new head of OsCorp asks his old pal Peter for help reaching out to Spider-Man.
Meanwhile, young Peter and his young love, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), are having relationship issues brought on by Peter’s guilt. He is having visions of Gwen’s dad’s ghost (Denis Leary, also uncredited), to whom Peter promised he would stay away from Gwen so as not to jeopardize her life with his crime-fighting ways.
Meanwhile, meanwhile, meanwhile. This is what plagues The Amazing Spider-Man 2: there is more going on than the director and four (count ’em!) screenwriters have the deftness to manage amidst the usual superhero action – really, more going on than needs to be in this type of film. With that, you can’t tell the players without a program:
The Criminal Element:
Sytsevich: The criminal first appears to be nothing more than the opening gambit foil to set the film’s tone and throw a little red meat to the audience. He winds up being more than that by the end of the film. While the open is sensational, and while Sytsevich’s later appearance makes sense in terms of what the future holds for the franchise, his final showdown scene with Spider-Man is preposterous, even within the context of a superhero film – not for what he does but for what he doesn’t do.
Electro: He is the primary villain and should be. But Foxx is unchallenged as the bumbling, deluded Max, a two-dimensional crazed geeky fanboy that has that 1960s comic villain feel in a 21st century setting – a feeling that is entirely out of place. Once Foxx-as-Max makes the conversion to Electro, he might just as well be 100% computer animation, with enough CGI to make him almost unrecognizable and voice distortion applied because, you know, he’s electricity.
Harry/Hobgoblin: Unlike Sytsevich’s set-piece set-up or Electro’s fully-contained arc, Harry Osborn’s development is gradual but uneven. When his father dies he becomes boy-king of the OsCorp empire, although high ranking executive Donald Menken (Colm Feore) has other plans. His illness soon takes over and a poor decision only makes matters worse, but then he disappears from the film for what feels like forever. He shows up near the end to battle Spider-Man.
The Personal Strife:
Aunt May and Uncle Ben (deceased): Peter is still coping with the loss of his Uncle Ben, although that coping takes a back seat to him having to manage Aunt May (Sally Field) a little more closely now that she is a widower trying to make ends meet. And of course, because he lives with her and leads a double life, he has a lot to lie to her about, too. The film also revisits the day Peter went to live with them.
Richard Parker (deceased) and Mary Parker (deceased): These are Peter’s parents. The film delves into their mysterious disappearance and ties it to the modern-day story. Peter still obsesses over the seemingly innocuous contents of the briefcase his father left behind, and struggles with not knowing why they left him so abruptly. So he investigates, which includes building on his wall one of those maps with pictures and sticky notes and such, and with lines connecting them all. This is set to some current Top 40 hit, and it is a dreadful montage.
Captain Stacy (deceased): This is Gwen’s later father, who made Peter promise to stay away from Gwen because his existence as Spider-Man puts Gwen in constant danger. Peter has broken this promise as he has been in a relationship with Gwen since her father’s passing, but now he is seeing images of the Captain’s ghost. Very disapproving images. Very random, disapproving images. Director Webb, with his attention split on so many things already, has opted against a deeper psychological study of Peter in exchange for stunts.
Gwen Stacy: Of course Peter’s relationship is in trouble too, because Gwen is so, you know, fabulous. Because of his hand-wringing over that unkept promise (exacerbated by those shortcut images), Peter has been the driving force behind their on-again/off-again romance. (That goes off and on – maybe twice – during the film.) And because fighting three villains and managing six relationships (four of whom are dead and not including Harry Osborn) isn’t enough, Peter has to deal with Gwen’s plans to study abroad. Again, so many other things are happening, teen angst is being treated as pathos, and they simply aren’t comparable.
The Public: Once again there is the whole “He’s a menace!/He’s a hero!” debate, thrown in mostly as talk radio voiceovers and newspaper front pages. And be sure to look for the obligatory Stan Lee cameo, which mercifully happens early. Like a child star hitting puberty, this bit has outgrown its cuteness.
Visuals: The inner-city web-slinging is the best on film to date. There are some stunt-y approaches to please the 3D crowd, although it plays very well in the 2 dimensions I saw it in. Swinging in more open spaces isn’t as thrilling, of course, but the way Spidey turns on a dime to hit a cross-street is breathtaking.
Chemistry: As they did in the first film, Garfield and Stone have amazing chemistry together that really fills the screen. I could watch an entire film about their relationship, how easily it can be jeopardized by a violent and singular threat, and how they cope with it as a “mixed” (superhero and citizen) couple.
Homage: Webb is aware of and respectful towards the past and its fans. Be sure to pay close attention to the tune that Peter whistles from time to time, and note that Harry’s personal assistant is named Felicia (as in Hardy, as in the future Black Cat, a character from the comics).
Future: The end of the film does more then leave the door open for a sequel; it also announces a spinoff. I think the scene would have played much better as a post-credits stinger, but I was glad for its inclusion.
And there is your program for The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Peter has so much baggage – and it is baggage that drags – I don’t know how he has time to do his homework, let alone fight crime, yet he does. And when I read the whopping 142-minute runtime in advance of the film, I thought that was a little bloated, but it turns out to be not enough for everything Webb wants to achieve. I’m not suggesting the film should have been longer, I’m suggesting Webb should have tried to do more with less instead of trying to do too much at all.