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Tuesday, 2 December 2014

REVIEW - THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014)

Directed by: Marc Webb
Written by: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinker
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx
Music by: "The Magnificent Six"
Release date: April 10th, 2014


Tired of Spider-Man movies yet? Well, hopefully not because the latest instalment in this bloated franchise is here, and if the various set-ups and dangling threads in this movie mean anything at all, there's going to be quite a few more on the way. If this review turns out to be all over place, it's because The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is all over the place. This is hands down, one of the messiest movies I have ever seen.

Events picks up shortly after the first movie, but by the time we see him here the webhead (Andrew Garfield) is loved by all of New York and has honed his skills as Spider-Man. He's cockier and more confident than before and has the girl of his dreams (Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy) to boot. But his skills will be put to the test after the arrival of new villain Electro (Jamie Foxx) and old friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), who may turn out to have more sinister agendas.


He might be just a bit too "cool" for Peter Parker, but Andrew Garfield absolutely nails Spider-Man. He completely captures the character's essence while in costume, he just about makes a few poorly-written jokes work due to his line delivery, and he has terrific chemistry with Stone, obviously partly due to them being a real-life couple. The relationship between these two characters is possibly the most believable relationship in a comicbook movie to date, and unlike most of the time, it doesn't feel like it's there just because it needs to be.

Max Dillon - as Electro is known before his transformation into a slightly overgrown glow-in-the-dark smurf - is someone who idolises Spider-Man and is trampled on and ignored by everyone around him. But his character feels like a direct rip-off of Edward Nygma from 1995's Batman Forever, and doesn't really make much sense. He looks fairly over-the-top with the nerdy glasses, combover and tooth gap, and is played mainly for laughs while he's - supposedly - meant to be a sympathetic character. All of New York avoids him at all costs and seems to have something against him, yet we're never given a reason why. Things improve slightly when he makes the full conversion to Electro: the character becomes more intimidating, and post-transformation the sympathetic angle is generally easier to grasp, particularly during his showdown with Spider-Man in Times Square. However, his motives as a villain are questionable. He uses his newfound power "to be seen", and seems to just hate Spider-Man for forgetting his name. It never feels plausible, largely because Max Dillon seemed like a pretty harmless, if slightly unbalanced guy at first. We're never shown just how truly unstable or dangerous he could potentially be, and so his descent into darkness feels forced (and even by comicbook standards, the incident that causes him to be come Electro is just silly). Foxx isn't the problem here and Electro does have his moments, but the character is generally just not written well.

Dane DeHaan is turning out to be a real up-and-comer and is one of the best things about this movie. His compelling performance as Harry Osborn manages to be unusually appealing and also slightly sympathetic despite its genuine villainy. His metamorphosis to the Green Goblin is also more credible compared to Electro's, since we get a bit of backstory for him that actually (somewhat) makes sense, and the transformation scene itself is quite unsettling in all its seizure-inducing glory, perhaps alarmingly so for some younger viewers. It's a shame then, that the Goblin's design is bafflingly awful and looks like a Super Saiyan meth head, and he's dealt with in the climax quicker than Venom was in Spider-Man 3. Fans of the comics will also be unhappy to know that the character is Green Goblin in name only (he's barely even green, for starters). 


Since he was plastered over quite a bit of promotional material it's probably necessary to also mention Paul Giamatti as the Rhino, but all he has here are two glorified cameos. He, along with Max Dillon, feels like a cartoon character while Giamatti cranks it up to 11 on the ham-o-meter making himself borderline embarrassing to watch, not to mention largely inaudible.

But we've barely scratched the surface here. The Amazing Spider-Man 2's problems are legion. The entire thing is just a gargantuan mess - a narrative disaster that's shown you too much in the trailers yet it doesn't give you enough, as a few vital scenes have been cut from the final product (again). The multiple villains are not the problem here, it's the sloppy script from its three writers. There are pacing issues, there are too many complicated subplots that never come to fruition, there's some extremely obvious foreshadowing that practically gives away the climax of the movie, some of the dialogue is horrendous, and many of the themes are empty and unexplored (saying the word "time" during a few sentences does not make it a theme). Oh, and if you were expecting a satisfying resolution to the "untold story" involving Peter's parents that was unnecessarily dragged out across two movies - which you probably weren't because it was never interesting in the first place - then know that you're probably going to forget what it was all about by the time the director's name appears at the beginning of the credits, or before. This entire subplot has been completely pointless.

But between all the universe-building and blatant product placement, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 also feels much more like Sony's product than director Marc Webb's, who only seems like he was hired because he was inexperienced and easier to control than Sam Raimi was. On one hand you have Webb's story: the relationship between Peter and Gwen, and on the other you have Sony trying to get some of that Avengers moolah, while a bunch of villains bide their time for the upcoming Sinister Six team-up movie. 

It's hard to believe that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is even set in the same universe as its predecessor, as the gritter, more urban tone of the first movie - influenced by Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy - is now completely gone. This movie favours the more vibrant and colourful tone that Marvel Studios have adopted. Or at least, it does for most of the first half, then the Green Goblin comes into play during a transformation scene that's practically straight out of a horror movie, and it all escalates from there, making things feel a bit tonally awkward. This franchise has just been running around aimlessly the entire time and emulating any trend that comes along. There's a very clear lack of faith demonstrated here.


The most astonishing thing about all this is that studio interference was what caused this movie's existence in the first place. Spider-Man 3 (2007) became infamous for its excessive number of underdeveloped villains, particularly the mishandling of fan-favourite character Venom, who was shoe-horned into the movie by producer Avi Arad (he also produced this movie, and now 90% of the Spider-Man fanbase wants his head on a stick). But apparently nobody has learnt their lesson, because here these tactless business practices are duplicated and amplified.

Yet, for all it's huge, huge sins, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn't all bad. There's still nothing that holds a candle to the train sequence in Raimi's Spider-Man 2 (2004), but there are some great action scenes that provide genuine tension and spectacle and are easily the high points of the movie, such as the aforementioned clash between Spider-Man and Electro in Times Square (although there is one line of dialogue during this scene that awakens severely unwanted memories of a certain franchise-killing mid-nineties superhero film that we definitely could've done without).

For those of you who don't know, this movie adapts one of the most influential and somewhat notorious storylines in the history of comics. Stating the name of it here would be a huge spoiler, but the climactic scene pertaining to this storyline is, for the most part, exceptionally well-done. On a personal note, I'm thoroughly annoyed that the two Spider-Man storylines I've wanted to see adapted for the big screen were done in Spider-Man 3 and this movie, but nevertheless if you're watching this scene and you know what's coming, there's a lingering air of peril throughout the whole thing and it is absolutely nail-biting. Frustratingly, it would have been even more effective if the film's themes and narrative were up to par. But even for those unfamiliar with the source material, by the time everything is over, you are going to be feeling something.

The musical score for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is composed by "The Magnificent Six", a supergroup composed of Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr and others. Most of it is primarily Zimmer, but his main theme for the movie is a fairly big departure from most of his work and a far cry from his usual brilliance, being surprisingly dull and sounding like a poor man's Superman. With the exception of that, the score is fantastic. It often contributes to what makes the aforementioned action scenes so great, such as in the Times Square sequence where the characters are silent for a bit and the lyrics serve as an inner monologue for Electro. It's actually quite creative, and I've never seen something like that attempted before. There was some understandable concern regarding the score before release as certain tracks can only be described as "orchestral dubstep", but thankfully it doesn't come off as too trendy and actually works in the movie's favour, fitting with the tone and the youthful aspect of Spider-Man's character and giving the movie a fresh, unique feel at times.


But unfortunately, overall The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is the definition of an unfocused mess that takes the franchise in a direction that it should be staying far away from, and is an undeniable representation of the fact that the Hollywood of today is much more focused on building franchises rather than telling stories. Despite its immense amount of problems, its positives are a lot simpler than its negatives and just about save it from being a complete trainwreck - Garfield's performance as Spider-Man, the action scenes and Peter and Gwen's story are the closest things to saving graces that this movie has. But now this movie's reception has made the future of the franchise uncertain, the fanboys are still clamouring for Spider-Man's rights to be given back to Marvel and of course, there were the very public "Guardians of Peace" leaks. Sony have a lot on their plate right now. Whatever they do, here's hoping that when it comes to this franchise, they'll actually pull their fingers out and stop expecting whatever they throw at the wall to stick. The competition is only getting stronger - in 2016 the comicbook movie boom is going to explode into astronomical proportions - and if our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man doesn't want to be sent to the naughty corner while various other superheroes soak up all the glory, the creative minds behind this series need to step up their game.