Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

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Spidey-diving: Columbia Pictures/Avi Arad Productions

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 opens with a thrilling, emotional action sequence. Peter Parker’s (Andrew Garfield) parents, who left him on the doorstep of his aunt and uncle when he was a child before vanishing without a trace, attempt to flee the country by air and upload incriminating evidence to a secure storage facility. Whilst onboard the pilot is assassinated and their jet plummets to the ground, and Richard and Mary Parker (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) who know their fates are sealed, try in their dying breaths to secure their young son’s future. The scene is tense, heartfelt and quite beautiful in its way. If only the same could be said for the rest of the movie.

Peter Parker is having a blast being Spider-Man. He wakes up, pulls on his tights and beats up the bad guys before returning victorious to the arms of his highschool sweetheart Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone). But trouble is on the horizon for our web-slinging hero. Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) a lonely electrical engineer has an unfortunate accident at work (he of course works for Oscorb) which transforms him into an ego-driven luminous living electrical conductor who dubs himself Electro. Meanwhile, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) has returned to New York to inherit his dying father’s empire, along with all the morally dubious genetic experiments that went with it. Spidey is up against it – he’s conflicted about continuing his relationship in case Gwen is put in harm’s way, and the villains are lining up for a piece of him and his city.

The relationship between Peter and Gwen, easily the best and most compelling film about the first AMAZING SPIDER-MAN starts to grate alarmingly quickly. Not only are their scenes clunky and syrupy and too knowingly kooky, but you want to scream at the screen for the amount of times Gwen forgives Peter for being a tool. I know they’re supposed to love each other unconditionally, but you can only give someone so many chances, even someone you’re deeply fond of, before you have to throw in the towel and accept that it will never work. Spidey’s wisecracks coming from Garfield get really irritating after a while too, and suggest that if he does indeed have any kind of natural comic talent, then it’s more geared towards the physical (Peter tinkering explosively with his web-shooters in a shed) than the verbal.

The unfunniness of the verbal gags is largely down to the film’s atrocious scripting (how do Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci keep getting work?), but I don’t get the sense director Marc Webb was able to get the best out of his actors either. When the screenplay isn’t smashing together disparate plot elements and trying to force a good fit, it’s putting simpering, woolly proclamations of affection or lazy, clichéd theses about destiny and duty in the mouths of the quietly suffering cast. I’m still not convinced Andrew Garfield is the next big thing, but Emma Stone and Dane DeHaan are good actors, and both look lost here. Paul Giamatti of course has the well-deserved reputation for being good in everything he’s in, but even his almighty talent can’t make “I AM DA RHINO!” anything other than laughable. At least Sally Field seems to be coming from a warm, genuine place as Aunt May, and as already mentioned Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz are very strong in the film’s first, and only, good scene.

Did Sony learn nothing from the SPIDER-MAN 3 debacle? If your movie is starting to drag, chucking in another villain or two never helps. Electro is the main antagonist, but isn’t remotely interesting, and Warner Bros and/or Zack Snyder should definitely consider legal action against the blatant plagiarism of a scene where Electro reconstructs his body cell-by-cell in mid-air in exactly the same way, down to the shot’s framing, that Doctor Manhattan did in WATCHMEN. I found myself audibly sighing when Harry, as the latest incarnation of the Green Goblin (here with bad teeth and extreme green acne) turns up for a scrap once the story (such as it is) exhausts the limited potential of Electro. That’s not to mention Chris Cooper as daddy Osborn, whose one and only scene has him detail Harry in their family’s fascinating hereditary disease, and Paul Giamatti who gamely screams his head off in two scenes that bookend the film as a Russian thug who become the hulking Rhino. The film ends up having more endings than RETURN OF THE KING, and Marc Webb and his screenwriters are still laying groundwork for Sony’s foolhardy SINISTER SIX project rather than giving the current story on any real closure (beyond an event that anyone even remotely familiar with the comics knows is coming up).

I didn’t even like the way the film looked. You can see the mountain of money up on the screen, but everything is too clean, too glossy. There’s not a single rough edge or imperfection in anything – it looks more like a high-concept Sony product advertisement (which it is, in a sense) than a superhero blockbuster. This is pretty fitting with the company’s disgusting over-advertising of their latest cash cow. Anyone who has turned on the TV or visited Youtube over the last few months has seen a good chunk of the film already, and the whole campaign smacks of the financier’s lack of faith in the finished product.

I hated this film. The reboot from two years ago was flawed, but it didn’t offend me. It looked like there was potential for something a little different in the latest telling of Peter Parker’s story. The unresolved plot threads annoyed me, but now they’ve been more-or-less tied up, they really make me angry. The revelations are moronic and are neither worth the wait, nor do they justify the extent this deliberate withholding of information has gotten in the way of good storytelling. The whole enterprise is a glorified marketing exercise, which would have been fine if the final product was good or even decent. But with lurching plotting, embarrassing scripting, the waste of good acting talent and the torture of making us spend so much time with characters who are either irritating or dull, this superhero sequel is far from satisfactory. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a massive letdown, and it makes me dread what these particular holders of rights to Marvel characters have planned next. Come back disco dancing emo Toby Maguire, all is forgiven! SSP

About Sam Sewell-Peterson

I'm not paid to write about film - I do it because I love it. Favourites include Sam Mendes, Guillermo del Toro, Bong Joon-ho, Steven Spielberg, Danny Boyle, Edgar Wright, Taika Waititi and the Coen Brothers. All reviews and articles are original works owned by me. They represent one man's opinion, and I'm more than happy to engage in civilised debate if you disagree.
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9 Responses to Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

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