*This article contains spoilers*
The Amazing Spider-Man 1 was a quick hash of a reboot that seemed to exist solely for the sake of existing. Sony needing a one-hundred million dollar hit, rebooted the only franchise they owned that was guaranteed to make the quota. Unfortunately in their haste they forgot to give the new Spider-Man reboot a focus. As a result we had a film that tried to build the framework of a franchise but forgot to make a decent foundation to lay it on.
It wanted Peter Parker to both be a socially inept geek fans could relate to and an awesomely funny skater dude fans could aspire to be; confusing the character and making him feel hollow. The plot had several different strands that were in equal measure unnecessary and distracting from the main story line. It didn’t help the fact that the film itself couldn’t decide what the main strand was; in act one it was the relationship between Parker and Stacy, in act two it was the bigger trilogy mystery and in act three it was the conflict with The Lizard. But by then you didn’t care about the The Lizard because the film barely spent any time building him up. So two years later we finally get to see if Sony have learned from their mistakes and created a Spider-Man film with a firm grasp on plot and character.
Short answer? Nope.
This time around Peter is seeing the ghost of his girlfriend’s dead father (the third father figure in the franchise for him to feel abandoned by/responsible for) leading him to break up with Gwen through the force of sheer guilt, a feeling that doesn’t seem to mean much to him for the rest of the film. It serves as a way of giving the plot some higher stakes and allows it to recycle the “will they/won’t they?” nonsense from the first instalment. But the outcome of this romantic conflict is so predictable the film doesn’t even attempt to take their break up seriously. For a split up couple their lips sure do seem inseparable.
Elsewhere Jamie Foxx is an office drone bullied by anyone who notices him and stepped on by anyone who doesn’t. He becomes obsessed with Spider-Man after Spider-Man saves his life, becoming both men in hilariously ludicrous one person conversations that are supposed to illustrate his fragile state of mind. All it illustrates is that Foxx should stick to drama. His fall into madness makes Jim Carry’s Riddler look like Hamlet. It demonstrates the fact that none of the characters have any convincing motivations driving their actions. None of the characters bar Gwen Stacy have moods consistant with those shown in the previous scenes. They are hostages to the whims of the script, a script which is propelled by coincidence and chance. Its supposed to feel like the characters have a destiny propelling them forward but it just feels like the screenwriter is pushing them around a board like pawns.
Case in point? Peter Parker refuses to save Harry Osbourne’s life from a terminal illness. Based on no evidence to back up his theories, Parker refuses to give Harry a potentially life-saving blood transfusion because it might kill him quicker than the disease currently tearing him apart. Why would Parker want to save his friend though? There must be some reason that he never mentioned him once in the previous film, despite the fact that he was his best friend for ten years, the one friend he had when his parents left him. Or perhaps the screen writers weren’t planning as far ahead for this franchise as the accountants were.
Where were we? Ah yes Jamie Foxx. So Jamie Foxx is currently obsessed with Spider-Man, and then he gets to share a bath with some eels. This for some reason turns him into Electro. Look I know all superhero science is gobbledygook, but at least try to give this stuff some credibility. You’re not being clever or refreshing by saying “Fuck it, we’ll put eels in there. They’ll get the idea.” Part of me thinks that’s what the problem is. They think they’re being cutting edge by bucking so many Superhero Movie trends, but in doing so they’re dismantling the DNA of what makes them so appealing. It’s part of the larger problem the film has in that it’s trying so desperately hard to remain trendy and relevant. The amount of social media gadgetry the film displays becomes nauseating; especially when you realise it’s all Sony’s.
Ok back to the plot. Electro is now big, badass and blue. Where once he was socially inept, akward and a babbling buffoon, the power of electricity has made him stoic, serious and focused. But he’s still obsessed with Spider-Man because Spider-Man forgot his name and this has upset him. So yeah that’s the filmmaker’s dedication to character consistency and compelling motives shining through. So Electro’s pissed at Spidey, Osbourne’s pissed at Parker and that sets the stage for a big showdown in some nondescript area of New York.
Oh, by the way, the thing all us comic book geeks thought would happen at this showdown, totally happens. I did say spoilers. But they lay on the foreshadowing so thick that by the end you are genuinely expecting them not to kill Gwen Stacy off at all, because by that point it would have been more of a shock to let her live. I do think that this was a fairly interesting angle though. Everyone knows she has to die by the laws of Spider-Man mythology, so if there’s no keeping it a secret, milk the impending doom for all its worth.
Unfortunately her death is marred by one of the stupidest pieces of heroic athletics I’ve ever seen in a movie. Earlier Spider-Man shows that when he combines his Spidey-sense, his web shooters and super human athleticism, he is able to outrun electrical current – which travels at 300,000 kilometers per second. And when he uses all three powers to save Gwen Stacy from plummeting down a tall Fnutshbuilding – a moment filmed in the exact same way – he fails, despite her being a far slower target. The fact that these two scenes parallel each other so much its impossible not to compare them. And the comparison doesn’t make Spider-Man’s failure more shocking, it just makes it look more stupid. It exposes the complete lack of forethought plaguing every moment of the movie.
There’s another scene like it where in one shot Harry Osbourne is moments away from death, crawling around a laboratory floor, the next he’s managed to operate a vastly complicated piece of high tech machinery. No connection between the two shots, the director just put them far enough apart to hope the viewer wouldn’t notice. Two competent, decent shots slapped together with nothing to connect them. That’s Spider-Man 2 in a nutshell. A series of cool moments and acceptable scenes that bear no relation to the moments that came before them. Characters that never seem to have any memory of the person they were five minutes ago. A plot that has no focus, no clear goal and the barest bones of a story that seem to be nothing more to the filmmakers than a mild inconvenience.
It’s a shame too, because every now and again there is the semblance of a decent movie in there. A lone voice that might just know how to make a good Spider-Man film, one that seems to be shouted down again and again in the favour of fickle world building and grandiose sceptical. There are certain moments that nail it, that get the tone of Peter Parker just right or that really get what Spider-Man represents – there’s a scene where Harry and Peter meet for the first time in years and for a few fragile seconds they seem to have a genuine connection; or when Spider-Man walks a bullied child to school. But these moments are fleeting.
The only member of the team that never manages to put a foot wrong is Emma Stone. As Gwen Stacy she is charming, funny and – unlike her predecessor – refuses to be reduced to a damsel. Perhaps the script was as inconsistent with her character as it was with everyone else’s and it was nothing but her acting ability that managed keep her character reined in to something resembling a real person.
I’ve not even mentioned the clunky script – responsible for some real howlers, the uninspired costumes and make up, the vulgar and confusing CGI or the traces of a comic book tone that would have been better severed in another film, one that would have the confidence not to dilute it. So as you can see The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is anything but. An overblown film with too much going on and not enough time to make any of it count, a film more concerned with its squeals than itself, a film missing a singular artistic vision. A film trying desperately hard to build a universe that can compete with its rivals but it can’t even create a decent stand alone film, never mind a whole series of them.
It’s a shame to think that the only thing of note in this entire production is that the post credit sequence is for another franchise, owned by another company. Yes, X-Men: Days of Future Past – a 20th Century Fox property – is being advertised by rival Sony. It doesn’t give me confidence that the film will be any good. It seems that instead of trying to compete with the quality of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Fox and Sony are content to gang up on them. I don’t see it putting a dent in Marvel.
Oh and if you were interested in the film because of the presence of Paul Giamatti, do yourself a favour. Get a Blu-Ray of The Incredibles (a good Superhero movie) and watch that. He’s essentially The Underminer. Seriously.