I make a habit of not reading any reviews on a movie until I’ve seen it first. I feel that doing so taints any perception I might have going into it. After sitting through it and mulling it over, I decide to see what other people thought of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. My my! People are pretty split on this one. Some are tearing this movie up and saying that it’s the biggest piece of superhero garbage they’ve ever seen. Others are gleaming with excitement over how wonderful every aspect of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. As for me, I’m kind of somewhere in the middle. I can see why people are loving this movie because there is an awful lot to like. On the other hand, I noticed a lot of problems with it as well, and while I don’t think there’s anything that damages it beyond enjoyment, the warts do show and can distract from the good parts. I’ll try to not make this review too long and do my best to weigh the positives and negatives as fairly as I can.
Seeing how this is a sequel to a rebooted film franchise, I suppose I should give a brief summary of what I thought of all the others. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man: I found it enjoyable, if not painfully corny at certain moments. The camp wasn’t as bad as Batman & Robin…
…but David Koepp’s screenplay gave it a run for its money. Spider-Man 2: it’s my favorite Spider-Man to date. I thought the story was better, the dialogue less cringe-worthy, and the moments of levity felt more genuine. Spider-Man3: while I do own this one on DVD and don’t think it’s as bad as everyone says it is, I will agree that it is definitely the weakest Spider-Man movie so far. Still, there are some moments that make it worthwhile. If you don’t believe me, watch the origin scene of the Sandman. It’s only a brief scene in the movie, but it is beautifully done and used the visual medium of film brilliantly. The Amazing Spider-Man: although I thought the reboot was too soon, I thought the movie was alright. As much as I like Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, I think Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have much better screen chemistry and was elated that Gwen wasn’t a damsel that Peter needed to save. She actually contributes to saving the day, and that doesn’t seem to happen enough in superhero films. The story’s plot was kind of flimsy and didn’t feel all that important. The focus was on the characters, and that got a slight pass from me since the characters were way more interesting than what was going on around them. I also wasn’t sure how to feel when the film was clearly trying to take a darker and more realistic approach and then has Spider-Man fighting a giant cartoon lizard man. Those scenes almost felt like they were from another film and did not gel with the more stripped-down scenes.
Now that I’ve gotten my take on the previous films out of the way, let’s dive into The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
As is par for the course with me, we’ll start off with what was good. As I already mentioned, I think Andrew and Emma work better than Tobey and Kirsten, and while I do think all four of these guys are good actors, Andrew and Emma are just better. Their dialogue is much more believable, and they talk to each other the way couples do. I never really got that from Raimi’s films. It was campy and fun, but everything was so presentational. Maybe it was the script or the director, but the original Spider-Man movies’ dialogue sounded like they were being recited more like a play than a movie.
Sally Field is also wonderful, as she always is. She’s not a stereotypical maternal caricature who always knows the right thing to say; she feels like a real person and talks to her nephew the way loving family members do. All the other actors do a fine job with what they’re given–more on that later. All in all, it was a solid performance by the cast.
The production value was better than before. CGI doesn’t really dazzle audiences the way it used to, so it may not seem that special anymore, but unlike the last film, the CGI is integrated into the film much better. The effects on Electro have been blended into the shot in a way that makes it look like he’s really there, and when he fights Spider-Man, it looks like a real fight. Hats off to the production crew!
And the most important factor in any movie comes in strongly for this one: entertainment. Even if the acting was terrible and the special effects subpar, this was a fun one to watch. Albeit some action scenes feel a bit superfluous, the opening shot of Spider-Man falling with his suit fluttering against the wind was pretty exciting. That was one of the few times in a Spider-Man movie that I actually felt like I was flying around New York City like Spider-Man as opposed to feeling like I was just watching him swing around. The way they portrayed the Spidey sense was also handled pretty nicely. Time would come to a halt, and they’d take a single shot–or an edited group of shots arranged to look like one–to show how Spider-Man was going to pull off his next trick. I know that sounds kind of lame since you are shown the trick before it’s performed, but when time speeds back up to normal and you get to see how fast and precise it was, it looked pretty cool. Maybe Marc Webb borrowed/stole that idea from Guy Ritchie.
And we’re at the point where I stop praising and start hazing.
Marc Webb’s only film prior to taking the helm on the new Spider-Man movies was (500) Days of Summer, and while I thought that was a good movie, it highlights his skills at directing romance…it’s too bad he also made that the focus of his Spider-Man movies. I’m not saying that the relation between Peter and Gwen isn’t important to do well–which he does–but it seems like that was the only part of the movie he was really interested in doing well. Most of the rest of the movie’s scenes feel half-assed from a directorial perspective. The introductions of our new characters was rushed and most of them were not developed very well. Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan and Paul Giamatti each do their best, but Webb didn’t treat their scenes with the same reverence and attention to detail as the scenes with Garfield and Stone. I’m guessing that Electro was meant to be a tragic and sympathetic character, but they failed to establish that. Harry was meant to be Peter’s best friend whose turn to madness is understood due to his feelings of betrayal, but they failed to establish that too. Rhino…well, he was just kind of tacked on and did nothing of great consequence to the story, so you could have just written him out. I wasn’t timing it, but I’d be surprised if he was on screen for more than five minutes…and he’s on the damn poster!
But it’s not all Webb’s fault. The script might have had better dialogue, but the plot was a cluttered mess with way more going on than needed to be. That was one of the main issues with Spider-Man 3, and they managed to jumble up the story to such a degree by the first sequel. Not to go off on too big of a tangent, but Hollywood’s screenwriters need to understand that if you want your action/sci-fi/fantasy/adventure/superhero movie to do well, keep it simple! Keeping it simple does not mean that you need to dumb it down; it just means that you need to focus on who and what is most important to telling a story and give us a reason to get invested in what’s going on with these people. Lord of the Rings is a great example. The plot is very basic, but within that simple premise, the possibilities are endless. You’re free to enjoy the moments of danger, sadness, triumph, determination and joy because you’re able to follow what’s happening and why. (Now if only The Hobbit’s
films could keep it more focused.)
Here’s the easiest way the story could’ve been fixed: just pick one villain and run with it. I couldn’t get invested in the plight of either villain because they were both competing for screen time in an already long movie. The lesson to learn from this: bigger is not necessarily better.
The final verdict: while I think some of the critics are being too harsh on The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and not recognizing and appreciating the good aspects–which I believe outweigh the bad–they do have a point, and even I, as someone who enjoyed the movie, feel like it brought the experience down a few notches. If you’re in the mood for some really fun action with some clever moments of humor, you’ll probably really like this movie. If you’re the kind of person who watches movies to get invested in a gripping story that takes you by surprise, you’ll probably be one of the people grumbling for two and a half hours.