This Spider-Man 2 Not As Good As The Last Spider-Man 2
DIRECTED BY MARC WEBB/2014
JIM TUDOR: “The Amazing Spider-Man” used to cost 12 cents. Now it costs $200,000,000. Back in 1963, when the character debuted in Marvel comics, he was a fresh and vibrant creation, sprung from the minds of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Peter Parker was a flawed but highly relatable social recluse with unending money problems. He stood out from DC’s established stable of self-assured icons for those very reasons. And by now we all know what Peter learned and learned again: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Today, Spider-Man is an established movie star, shouldering the great responsibility of keeping Sony Pictures afloat. This is not only the fifth Spider-Man film in twelve years, it’s the second of a rebooted franchise, complete with a new cast, a new re-occurring director (Marc Webb, still wet behind the ears and in over his head) and in keeping with the rapidly inflating comic book blockbuster times, a new raison d’être.
Much has been written about how the very survival of the major film studios rests upon the shoulders of these enormous behemoth films to the point that if one or two were to fail terribly, it could mean the end for that entire studio. Hence, Sony has placed all their Spider-eggs in one basket, and have delivered a sequel to 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man (a film that ultimately came off as little more than Sony’s desperate, ticking clock attempt to keep the franchise rights from reverting to Marvel proper) that really just feels like unending money being spent. This is Sony raising the property up the pop culture flagpole and officially declaring Spider-Man their lifeblood. And from the multiplex seat of this lifelong Spidey comics fan, it seems they’ve gone and cultivated the tremendous and difficult dichotomy of detailing the story of a guy with chronic cash problems via a production whose expense is screaming attention to itself all around him.
But perhaps more to the point, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2″ has too many balls in the air. In that tried and true comic book way, a lot of the movie is set-up for next time. But in this case, the continuous set-up comes at the expense of the movie we’re seeing right now.
There are three villains in the film, some of whom matter more to the overall scheme than others, but they’re all meant to fit into this supposedly streamlined Spidey-world, in which the corrupt corporation Oscorp is the center of all things that plague our hero. (Much like how Lexcorp was ground zero for so much of Clark’s trouble on Smallville. And even then it was said, “Gee guys – a big evil corporation is behind it all, huh? How original…”) (And you gotta love Oscorp’s row of ominously lit display freezers, showing off the mechanical accouterments of the future Sinister Six… And that’s not a spoiler – it’s in the trailer!) The story also aims to deal with dangling threads from last time, and also integrate some of the comic book’s more well known elements. And make Peter more resonant this time. But still have fun. But still dire stakes. But still have more fun.
It can’t do it all, and the result is a film that’s downright fragmentary. It’s tonally all over the place, as though it can’t truly decide what it wants to leave audiences with. Some of the fragments are okay, a handful are terrific, but for the most part, the majority are simply okay at best.
ERIK YATES: I agree that this film is a mess. It’s as if Spider-Man got caught in his own web. There is way too much development for a second film, and yet it still feels as if all three of the bad guys here (Electro, The Green Goblin, and The Rhino) have very rushed story lines. After the first film, we should be firmly in the web-slinger’s universe, but it seems we are still building it. I agree that Marc Webb has proven inept at really developing this “Spidey-verse” despite this film being a big set up for future installments, and with so much of a focus on the future, he missed developing this story for now. What is maddening is that all of this seems like a giant contradiction, since I’m saying he’s developing and then saying that he’s rushing things, but its all true and at a 2 ½ hour run time, it really is a snooze fest for much of the film.
There are some nice moments, but they’re lost against the backdrop of Boringsville. And having a character like Electro (Jamie Foxx), you’d think it would provide a much bigger spark! (rim-shot).
Captain America 2 being one of the best, if not THE best Marvel films does The Amazing Spider-Man 2no favors as it truly reveals how lost this Sony owned Marvel property is compared to the Disney owned Marvel properties. Sony has said that they are looking to release a Spider-Man film or spin-off every year, but it seems like audiences would suffer major fatigue if that were true, and after a film like this, they may have already put the audience to sleep.
JIM: And the kind of sad thing is, everyone involved is just trying SO HARD to make this, well, amazing. But I’m sorry – and again, this is coming from a big fan of Spider-Man comics – there’s no way this version of the character can sustain a Marvel Studios model. I don’t want that, and I don’t know anyone else who does.
But going back to Electro – the most publicized villain of the piece… The realization of this classic antagonist ranks as the latest in what’s proven to be a long string of unnecessary Hollywood comic book villain overkills. By that I mean, they’ve taken a pretty straight forward established character, and mucked him up with an hours-long makeup job and grotesquery. Electro, for the most part, has always been a guy in a lightning bolt suit who shoots electricity. That’s the version from the comic book, where the visual effects and makeup budget could be limitless. But instead of keeping Electro Electro, the filmmakers have fallen into the familiar trap of, for whatever show-offy reason, having to heighten him in their re-interpretation. It’s uncalled for and ridiculous, but it’s not new. This sort of thing goes back as far as 1992, with Danny DeVito playing a mutated ghoulish Penguin in Batman Returns. A decade later, there was Bryan Singer’s icky bodypaint-and-scales version of Mystique in X-Men – a character who in the comics simply wore a white dress, and had featureless blue skin.
Jamie Foxx’s Electro not only serves no real narrative purpose, the character’s whole existence is utterly distracting in every way. With his blue lightning blasts and hoodie, I was first reminded of Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars. But then, when he took the hood down revealing his bald head, Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen came to mind. But later, as Electro’s skin glowed under the florescent lamps of Harry Osbourne’s (Dane Dehaan, delivering whatever goods he can) torture chamber, it hit me: Electro looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze in Batman & Robin. Then it clicked: This Spider-Man film series, with its over the top nature and hyper expense showing at every turn, is to Sam Raimi’s preceding Spider-Man trilogy what Joel Schumacher’s later Batman films are to the Tim Burton originals. (Not in the hated “dark gay carnival” aesthetic of Schumacher’s Bat-films, but rather in terms of their disjointedness and overblown, over-tinkered nature.) There’s a gaudy largeness about them even as they want so very much to be hip.
ERIK: And this is the problem. The Amazing Spider-Man of 2012 should never have been made. Spider-Man 3, for all of its issues, was financially the most successful of the Sam Raimi trilogy and a fourth one was going to be a success. The Lizard was set to be the next baddie having seen Peter’s professor making cameos in 2 of the films to lay the foundation for his emergence as the next villain. Tobey Maguire was loved as Peter Parker, aside from the weird “emo” transition in Spider-Man 3. But in an effort to be hip and get Peter back to the youthful demographic, Sony revamped it all to take us back to an un-needed Spider-Man origin story, while introducing us to the Lizard (which they were going to do anyway), and substituting out Mary Jane (Kirstin Dunst) for a beloved comic book love interest of Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone), which actually was one of the moves that really worked for both of these newer incarnations.
The problems begin with the script and director, but for me they also extend to web-slinger himself. Tobey Maguire embodied the “nerd” who is given a shot at great responsibility. An unlikely hero, we could relate to his awkward transition to superhero. With Andrew Garfield, I never got the sense that he was an outcast, other than when he defended a “nerd”. And this has made his transition unbelievable in many regards, which is evident as they try to get cheap laughs throughout the film by making him seem “nerdy” through weirdly timed jokes that don’t land, or gags such as wearing a fireman hat over his Spidey costume while assisting the NYFD. The transitions that you mentioned of going back to him being in dire straits again is disjointed at best. And this pacing is maybe what I see as being rushed in the way they handle Electro and Harry Osborne, etc. First Jamie Foxx presents the character as sympathetic, then weird, then as a would-be stalker, then random anger with no real motivation other than he has to be angry in order to have a villain for Spider-Man to fight. Solutions are given that high school science students or MacGruber could come up with, and it weakens the overall impact of the perilous situation Spider-Man should find himself in.
JIM: You bring up this current apparent need to portray Peter Parker as a cool geek rather than a classic science nerd, and man am I with you on that point! Look no further than the background set dressing. Having served in various film and video Set Decoration departments over the years, I can safely declare that the walls of Peter Parker’s bedroom might be just a hair overdressed [/sarcasm], with stuff that’s traditionally out of character for him. He’s got posters of the Ramones, classic Bowie, a Dogtown & Z-Boys one sheet, vinyl records, and (for Pete’s sake!) even a poster for Antonioni’s Blowup, complete with a random Polaroid taped to where Vanesa Redgrave’s cleavage would be, just for good measure. (Because that’s what any teenage boy would do.) Rather than visually reading as “reclusive science nerd”, the place screams, “Dude, he’s with it! He’s analog! He’s got the superior tastes of a professional Set Decorator with a tidy licensing budget and the time to over think it. Man, this Parker kid is one cool cat!!”
Suffice to say, the “Puny Parker” of Spidey lore is all but gone along with the essential Daily Bugle staff, so indispensable in terms of real life grounding in the source material. This film gets as far as acknowledging that the newspaper exists, and JJ Jameson even texts Peter at one point. But it’s a distracting fan service moment, and nothing more. Clearly, in this world so concerned with franchise set-up, there’s no room for any characters that won’t go on to become toyetic villains or heroes in future installments. (And yes, virtually every newly introduced name character in Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a masked operative of some sort in the comic book.)
Switching gears to the all-important question of kid appropriateness… We won’t go into spoilers, but I will say that like the first film, this movie has some uncharacteristically heavy aspects that may not sit well with younger viewers. For me, as a superhero loving young tyke, this film wouldn’t have sat well at all; maybe to the point of not wanting to see any more of the series.
Lastly I’ll reiterate that the very lavish Amazing Spider-Man 2 does have a few very worthwhile moments. But the whole of the thing feels held together haphazardly by only the thinnest of Spidey’s web-line, which incidentally dissolves in about an hour. Unfortunately, this movie is nearly two and half hours long, meaning the film spends more time in free-fall than not.
ERIK: Having attended this screening with my 12 year old nephew and heard his reaction, I think that your statement about not wanting to see any more of the series is a real danger the studio runs with that younger age group. I’ve given this series two movies to get their act together, and I still feel like they are in the story development phase and not on the cusp of completing a trilogy with the next entry. And with the possibility of multiple bad buys appearing in the future installments, as we saw with Raimi’s series, there is no room for actually existing in the Peter Parker/Spider-Man universe with the familiar characters such as Jameson and the staff at the Daily Bugle. We are condemned to enduring hours more of set up to move the yardstick an inch. And while there are some great moments that could be used to build this franchise truly, it seems that this Spider-Man 2 isn’t as good as the last Spider-Man 2. It seems that the film, like the web-crawler himself, may be stuck in its own web.