Did you know that both Spider-man and Godzilla make an appearance in the original version of the Mega Drive classic The Revenge of Shinobi? No? You didn’t care? oh… sorry. Was just trying to tie this review into Godzilla Season. I mean, this film has just kind of appeared right in the middle of my efforts to review as many Godzilla films as I can. Kind of a dick move Sony. Anyway, I just got back from seeing Amazing Spider-man 2 and after the link is my thoughts. The review will discuss spoilers but I’ll keep the most important of them at the bottom of the post and clearly signpost the, first. There is various small plot details littered throughout though. Click the link below for the full review!
Amazing Spider-man 2 kicks off exactly how the film as a whole intends to proceed. By not knowing what to do next. The first scene features Peter Parker’s parents Richard and Mary (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) leaving him with his Aunt and uncle and making a getaway in a big expensive private jet that comes equipped with a Sony Vaio laptop, as does every other place in this film’s universe. Seriously, I lost count of how many times I saw the Sony logo. Anyway, as the film opens we see just what happened on their doomed flight that led to Peter becoming an orphan. Why? I have no idea. We already had enough hints of why they ran in the last film. All that matters is that they were gone. Peter later finds a secret hideout belonging to his father, as seen in the trailers, and all we would have needed to know is conveyed right there. The film continues this trend of reiterating information over the course of it’s nearly 2 and a half hour runtime.
The thing that is really strange about this opening scene is that the scene that follows is a far better opener. We see Spidey (Andrew Garfield) doing what he does, people cheering him on. He saves people, including pre-super powered Max Dillon/Electro (Jamie Foxx) and makes it to his graduation just in time to give Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) a big old romantic kiss in front of the whole class. That scene establishes where Spider-man is in his life, how people adore him, what he is capable of powers wise and his relationship to Gwen along with his age. That is the sort of scene you open a film with. You deliver the audience information about the characters and scenarios in a short space of time and then get on with it. It’s not anywhere near as efficient as the opening scene of Captain America 2, but it does what it needs to. If we really did need to see Richard and Mary Parker’s death it could have been done later in a more delicate fashion as a flashback formed as Peter finds out what his parents fate was.
The plotting and script really does suffer from a lack of direction the whole way through, which is partly exasperated by the ending of the previous film. At the end of Amazing Spider-man Gwen Stacy’s father tells Peter that he is to stay away from Gwen, which he promptly ignores because the best secrets are worth breaking. I always got the feeling this was to avoid a parallel with the ending of the first Tobey Maguire Spider-man. The problem it raises though is that the story is intent on having the main romantic element be about whether Peter will get back with Gwen despite the risks, but because they start the film together we now get a rushed series of scenes where Peter has to break up with her first. This only leads to more scenes of them figuring out if they should be together or not. We could have skipped a lot of that if the last film hadn’t wimped out on that element and still had them eventually rekindle their romance. On top of that we only need 1, maybe 2 scenes of the characters discussing where they’re going in their lives. Amazing Spider-man 2 delivers us these scenes almost every 10 minutes or so.
A lot of this melodrama comes at the expense of time spent with the film’s two villains. No, Rhino is not a main villain… at all. Whilst a Dane DeHaan’s Harry Osborn has a decent enough character arc that parallels Peter’s, both have abandonment issues and a desire to solve a family mystery, his eventual shift into the Green Goblin falls a little flat. It reminds me a little of Venom in Spider-man 3 to be honest. There’s really not enough time to see what he can do as Goblin and he really only has one scene to do it all in. That said, I think people will be a lot more satisfied with this depiction of Green Goblin that the oft labelled Power Ranger Goblin from the Sam Raimi films. I prefer how Goblin was done in the Raimi film, just not the look. Here, the look is just as silly, for different reasons, but there’s been a solid arc building his character and there is clearly more planned for the character.
The film’s second villain, Electro suffers the inverse problem. His appearance and powers are depicted very well but as a character he is terrible/embarrassing. Before gaining his powers he depicted in the same way as every nerd character through the 80s and 90s, comedy tooth gap and everything. Hell, he comes close to Edward Nygma in Batman Forever at times. His motivation is almost entirely based around how he feels like he was ignored all the time when he was just a guy working at Oscorp. There’s a nice moment where he realises that everyone sees him now and looks like he may step down without causing trouble, but then the TV cameras switch back to Spider-man and he goes off the deep end. Despite his lack of true character development he is responsible for many of the film’s highlights. These are mostly action beats but he does also get a brief moment to be a genuinely threatening bad guy when accompanying Harry in some evil doings. For some reason Marc Webb did feel the need to almost exactly copy a moment from Watchmen in a scene where Electro discovers he can turn into electricity and re-materialise. I can’t believe that scene wasn’t done without full knowledge of the deja vu it would elicit.
I’ve been pretty hard on the film but it really is the story and characters that drag the film down. Now, that is exactly the worst thing a film can mess up but it would be wrong of me to not address what Amazing Spider-man 2 does well. I toyed with just going to the next paragraph there. That would have been rude. Pretty much every aspect of the film’s production is spot on. Effects are generally very well done, barring a couple of virtual character animations. Locations are varied. Camerawork is solid. Action scenes are well staged and very clear. I was worried about a load of shaky cam in that pointless opening scene but that was literally the only moment that that insipid camera “technique” was used. The film’s score by Hans Zimmer features a strong Spider-man theme but the highlight is the rumbling drive of Electro’s theme. It feels like the film picks you up and drags you into the correct mood anytime it plays. The track is called My Enemy and features a collaboration with Pharrell and Johnny Marr… which is a sentence I never expected to write. Some of the film’s humour falls a little flat for me, but there was a few chuckles throughout the theatre. Never felt that Andrew Garfield really knew what to do with comedy when just being Peter. The Spidey quips are fine, but they would have all been recorded in ADR and so they could have rattled out many different takes quickly to find the right tone. There’s also a lot of incidental characters that help round out the Spider-man universe in relation to the comics, such as BJ Novak as Alistair Smythe.
Overall Amazing Spider-man 2’s main issue is with it’s sloppy writing which, in turn, led to far too much time being wasted. The film could have easily been reworked to either be shorter, or to improve the pacing whilst adding more sequences for the villains. I do wonder if the film’s many romance plot moments will lead to a few bored children. There really is a few lengthy gaps between super heroic action scenes, which is really what the kids have come for. In the end you have a film that is enjoyable and fun but makes the flawed mistake many films, not just those of the comic book variety, make these days. They’re focused on emulating the long term story telling of TV series rather than being their own complete films. This means you leave hanging plot threads and possibly unsatisfying conclusions. It’s the filmic equivalent of asking for large fries but when you receive them the side of the carton is missing with a tab saying “rest of carton coming summer 2016”. I prefer this to the last film, if only because it doesn’t feel like a waste of time, but there’s a lot that could, and should, have been done to tighten this sequel up. Now, the next paragraph deals with huge spoilers, so don’t read it unless you’ve seen the film or wish to be spoiled.
A lot of talk has been going around on whether or not Marc Webb would be doing a certain famous storyline moment from the Spider-man comics, that being the death of Gwen Stacy. Before I continue I’ll explain how this goes down in the comics. Norman Osborn, as Green Goblin, throws Gwen from a bridge and Spider-man catches her with his web. When he pulls her up he realises she is dead and the question of whether she was killed by the sudden stop caused by his web or was already dead before being thrown becomes a major issue for Peter Parker for years to come. This was one of those defining character changing moments in the comics so you’d expect it to be handled differently here. So yes, Gwen Stacy dies in this film. But it is how she dies that is a problem. Firstly, her death is telegraphed so much and so heavily that I honestly expected Webb to not actually do it. He clearly anticipated that though and, in one of the film’s other highlights, is playing with your expectation that she wouldn’t die for the entire sequence of scenes. That is OK. The real problem is that there is no question how Gwen dies. She falls, Spider-man fires his web to catch her which includes a nice little moment as the ends of the web appear to form a reaching hand, it attaches to her stomach and she stops suddenly inches from the ground. The force of the sudden stop kills her. No question. This leaves us with a Peter Parker that will know blame himself for the death of Stacy way beyond what he did in the comics, because he knows he wasn’t quite fast enough.
Now this would leave you with a raw nerve of a plot thread for any following films, except that in the last ten minutes of the film Peter spends months looking at her grave, retires as Spider-man, hears a recording of her graduation speech and comes out of retirement. That is a whole film’s character arc run through in barely ten minutes. I can see both good and bad aspects to this. On the one hand we’ve had a potential story arc taken out of the question. On the other we can get on with Peter resisting being with Mary-Jane, which will be next for sure, due to his fear of her being hurt. But then we’re back into the same story plot points we’ve gone over in this film with Gwen. Anyway, spoilers over. Well, apart from me telling you that there is a mud credits scene that has nothing to do with future Spider-man films that will come as a huge surprise to pretty much anyone aware of how the Marvel film universes are currently split up. Now the spoilers are over. Comment below, or something.