Release: Friday, May 2, 2014
His greatest battle begins, and so does mine. . .
The web-slinging hero is back on the big screen in 2014 but it is much to many viewers’ dismay that the final product doesn’t deliver the goods. . .at least, not in terms of doing it the way recent superhero packages have handled things. And while people up and declare the latest chapter in Steve Rogers’ saga as being a bold break from convention within the genre (I am inclined to agree), they ought to give consideration to this non-Marvel film property as well.
My spidey senses are tingling, and they sense a filmmaker desiring to go a different direction as far as the story’s presentation is concerned. Busy with multiple villains offering multiple story arcs that impact on Peter Parker’s double-life in a multitude of ways, the plot to The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is considerably less focused than that of it’s predecessor, as it appears more interested in presenting conflicts and developments episodically rather than condensing information into a taut and dramatic narrative.
As you make these choices, Mr. Webb, keep in mind: with great power comes great responsibility.
It’s another (read: fantastic) day in the life of Spider-Man as he slingshots his way through tight corridors lined with looming edifices and over the heads of captivated (and conveniently placed) on-lookers — plucking children, police officers, even a desperately lonely and low-level OsCorp engineer named Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) out of harm’s way as an out-of-control tanker truck carrying plutonium samples and driven by a crazed Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti) smashes through the city. The chase is pretty convenient for Spidey as he kicks crime’s ass on his way to his high school graduation, where his non-web-spinning girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) is preparing to deliver her valedictorian speech.
At a life crossroads, Peter and Gwen discuss what the future holds. For Gwen, it’s looking like an opportunity to study at Oxford University on a prestigious scholarship; for Peter, it’s likely more tangoing with the criminal underworld. It’s this very reality that drives a wedge in their otherwise idyllic relationship; Gwen says Spider-Man is great and all, but she needs Peter more. And clearly that part of Peter is unwilling to up and drop his duties to the city. Undoubtedly it is this conundrum, this tug-of-war between two souls that drives the film’s drama, rather than the hero’s relationship(s) with the villain(s). Odd that a romance should take precedence over the fantastical concerns of the titular superhero that we were led to believe would comprise his ‘greatest battle,’ but fans of the franchise should take what they can get. After all I’m trying to stay positive here.
The strength of chemistry between leads Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield is a big positive. While their relationship was certainly on solid footing in the previous film, TASM-2 really allows it to blossom. It’s too bad the rest of the film’s backdrop isn’t as compelling. The emergence of foes like Electro — whose chuckle-inducing radiance is the result of an unfortunate (and somewhat predictable) accident involving Max and a tank of electric eels — the Green Goblin, and the Rhino seem less like threats than elements that get shoehorned in to give Spider-Man something to do while contemplating permanently breaking away from Gwen.
In the context of this story, each of these characters come and go in a flash, acting as brief chapters in a much bigger story that will likely encompass this movie and the next. And so, they feel like nothing more than afterthoughts. It’s a tactic that, in addition to making these threats feel a tad wasted, leaves a lot of dead space in between action sequences, a fact that really hampers the film’s pacing and flow. We also aren’t ever afforded the opportunity to really dig into the motives of any of the villains. Even Electro is considerably underdeveloped for being the film’s most immediate threat. Oh. . .right, he wants attention. Whoop-dee-doo. So do I. . . . which is why I developed a movie blog! 😀
Awkward pacing and lots of narrative drift are problems that any general moviegoer is likely to pick up on, though the above is hardly an exhaustive list for those who flat-out reject this franchise as a legitimate entity. It probably doesn’t need to be said that if the first film didn’t do much for you, this one will do much, much less.
While cheesy dialogue is built into the formula of not only this franchise but the one preceding it, levels appear to be left unchecked this time around. It was as if Marc Webb set the dial on ‘Silly’ and left it there. In a variety of contexts, dialogue ranges from eye-rollingly to face-palmingly bad. At times the script can’t possibly seem to be in final draft form. Paul Giamatti’s over-the-top Rhino is exemplary. One hopes he gets more to do in future installments. . .and that his character actually gets to materialize as well. Same applies to Dane DeHaan’s Harry Osborne, a.k.a. the Green Goblin, whose descent into madness is at once very difficult to empathize with, and categorically cliché. Beginning with the obligatory deathbed scene he shares with his rapidly deteriorating father, and culminating in a thoroughly disappointing final fight scene, the Goblin’s story arc feels contrived.
At the end of the day, the film aims at displaying the second chapter in the new Spider-Man canon by casting a web of multiple threats and thematic elements, but it ultimately fails to focus on any one thing. Reiterating, The Amazing Spider-Man has good reason to exist; the Webb-era has ushered in a more emotional and slightly more personal world surrounding Spider-Man and his origins are better accounted for here. But the current story needs to be more than just how well Garfield and Stone get along, even if their dating in real life actually seems to positively influence the film rather than distract from it.
Now let’s just hope they stay together, for I fear if the two split up that that’s exactly how we get Spiderman 3: The Marc Webb Edition. I’m pretty sure I would not be able to handle Andrew Garfield turning into an emo Spider-Man.
Recommendation: Though it falls pretty far short of being a superior version that expands upon its predecessor’s ambition, this follow-up still offers a lot of the emotional release that the first one did, and the visuals in this film are pretty spectacular. In fact, they are amazing and truly deserving of that description. Less so is the script, which may turn away even a fair amount of fans. Not being the most devout reader of the comic, but a supporter of the re-boot all the same, I really and truly believe Marc Webb could have done better. This isn’t a bad film but it certainly is guilty of underachieving.
Running Time: 142 mins.
Quoted: “Hey, lick that. You are not a nobody, you are a somebody. You’re my eyes and ears out here.”
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