Dr Doom Reviews: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2
WARNING! SPOILERS GALORE!
The most infamous detractor of The Amazing Spider-Man franchise on CBM.com, DrDoom, has seen the sequel. The moment of truth is at hand: what does this lifetime Spider-Man fan think of the sequel to one of his most hated films of all time? Read on for the final verdict!
His greatest battle begins, indeed.
I want to preface this review with some discussion about myself. Like many of you, I am a Spider-Man fan until the day I die. He is my favourite superhero, edging out even Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers, who many know I have unimaginable affection for. From the time I was a small child, Spider-Man as a franchise spoke to me in ways rarely rivaled in fiction, perhaps only by Star Wars, Shadow of the Colossus and Mass Effect.
As someone with Asperger's Syndrome, I grew up constantly at odds with myself. I was frequently told I was brilliant by teachers and school psychologists, but I had incredible trouble socializing. I didn't know how to speak to others, and felt ostracized because of that. One of my only solaces was fiction, and the character I most identified with was Peter Parker: an intelligent but outcasted youth who was randomly gifted with amazing powers.
Through his adventures, he learned how to become a symbol of hope in a universe that frequently needed one, and although he struggled through countless tribulations, hardships and supervillains, he never lost sight of who he was: a good person, who always strived to be the best he could be. In many ways, Spider-Man helped me through the hardships of my own life. Reading the comics that told his stories gave me both emotional validation and hope that one day, I too could become a better and more well-rounded person.
When The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) was released, I was ready for a reboot. Spider-Man 3 had done much to tarnish the Spider-Man film franchise, which I'll admit wasn't exactly what I was looking for. Raimi's films had many good things, but also many faults. I was hoping that a new take on the franchise was finally going to deliver the true Spider-Man experience that I always wanted. While many fans left the theater thinking that they got the Spider-Man they wanted, I, unfortunately, did not.
Webb and Garfield's Spider-Man is an emotionally abusive jerk who refuses to accept responsibility for his actions. He didn't learn anything over the course of the first movie, and while watching, I not only didn't identify with him; I felt betrayed. I wanted to see Spider-Man, but the character I was seeing was anything but in my eyes. I feel that the fault is both on the writers and Garfield, but either way, as a fan, I felt lost. How could I, such a Spider-Man fan, absolutely despise a Spider-Man movie that much? Worse still, many fans really liked it, so of course, I was again filled with doubt: did I have Spider-Man wrong all this time? Did I truly misunderstand the character, or was everyone else wrong? How could I be wrong? I spent my whole life devoted to this character, and now I wasn't even sure if I knew who Peter Parker was.
It shattered my world. The hope that Spider-Man used to give me was gone.
Now, the sequel has been produced, and I've seen it. I went into this movie knowing that many of the same people were working on it, so my anticipation was non-existent. Still, it's a Spider-Man movie, and I have an obligation to watch it. So what did I think? Let's find out . . . .
The film opens with Richard and Mary Parker leaving Peter alone, much the way the first film did. In fact, it even reuses some of the same footage from the first movie, leaving me to wonder exactly why they needed to open the films the same way. Regardless, more detail is shown into how they were murdered by Oscorp, which, while appreciated, should have been in the first film, given that it was the mystery that was sidetracked.
The movie then returns to the present day, with Spider-Man at the height of popularity with the people of New York, aside from a handful of detractors. The film spends ample time delving into the relationship between Peter and Gwen, but unfortunately a lot of it is wasted on cringe worthy scenes that either reneg on things they learned in the first movie, or just being overly affectionate in ways that are more sickening than endearing (the 'distract the guards' elevator scene being of the same awful vein as the 'Peter beats up a bunch of civilians on a subway' scene from the first film, and the talk at the Oxford building also being rife with terrible dialogue and delivery). Once again, Peter decides to push Gwen away, this time due to being haunted by visions of George Stacy.
Why are the writers doing this? Seriously? Peter comes off as a bipolar jerk. First he wants Gwen, then he pushes her away when she needed him most (her father's death, which is an awful thing to do to someone you claim to care for), then spits on her father's grave by immediately giving up on his promise. Now, he's with Gwen, and pushes her away again (only to go back and decide he wants to go with her to England near the end of the film). Peter doesn't learn anything from his experiences in the first movie, and comes off not only as indecisive, but as selfish and emotionally unavailable. The fact that Gwen puts up with all of it should be considered a superpower within itself.
Andrew Garfield delivers another flat performance for me. In some scenes he does try and show some depth, but unlike a lot of fans, he doesn't convey Peter Parker at all to me. The stuttering and the way he delivers his lines don't match up to the character I know. Emma Stone is better as Gwen Stacy, and tries to make a lot of the poor writing and dialogue work, so she at least needs to be commended for that.
Peter does experience something of an arc in this film, but it's lost amidst all the chaos of the plot, and boy, is there a lot of plot to cover. Looking at the film, there are essentially four major plots:
1) Peter and Gwen
2) Peter Seeks the Truth About His Past
3) The Rise of Electro
4) The Fall of Harry Osborn
Usually, in a film, you can juggle two or three major plots. This movie has four, and it's simply too much, even for a film of this runtime. I've already spoken about Peter and Gwen, so let's talk about the other major plots in the order I've listed them.
Peter Seeks the Truth About His Past
This was a major issue with the first film for me in that it set up this dangling plot thread that didn't go anywhere. Now, much more detail is revealed about the backstory of Peter Parker and his family, and the results are mixed. Peter goes back to the Richard Parker briefcase and continues to resume his search for answers. The fact that nothing that wasn't introduced in this film brought him on this quest (the briefcase and all of its contents existed in the first movie) even further proves to me that this should have been used in the first movie, and was probably pushed back just to give the franchise more legs than it needed.
Peter creates a literal 'web' on his wall, mapping out all of the details and evidence that he can find relating to the Oscorp mystery. I like that Peter actually is proactive about finding out the truth about his parents. It gives him drive and resolve, and makes him more interesting than he has been in the past. Probably the best scene in the movie involves him talking to Aunt May, begging to know the truth. Sally Field, who has majorly improved this time around in the role (seriously, she deserves praise just for this scene), truly conveys the emotional pain of both the weight that Peter's parents left on her, and the fact that Peter is the only person she has now that Uncle Ben is gone.
This, however, isn't what gives Peter the answers he's looking for. Instead of Aunt May knowing anything of importance, Peter's 'plot coupon' that gets him the answers is randomly throwing a calculator at a wall and finding a bunch of coins inside. Really? A completely contrived and coincidental way of finding useful information is used when a perfectly legitimate and understandable method was right in front of them: what if Aunt May actually did know something about the 'hidden Roosevelt train that nobody ever found because of reasons'?
Anyway, Peter goes to the train and finds Richard's secret lab, and the logistical questions surrounding this are astounding. Is it a secret lab? Wasn't he trying to upload the information 'to the world'? Why did it go to this secret train? How did he build it without Oscorp knowing? Why hasn't anybody demolished it all this time? Why not post it online rather than send it to some laptop no one should have ever found? Why were the coins in the calculator? How does the coin mechanism work?
All these unanswered questions make this entire sequence not only difficult to understand, but also difficult to invest in. This is the culmination of the mystery that Peter (should) have been seeking his whole life, and I'm too busy asking about the implausibility of it all to care. So Peter finds a recording of his father's where he admits to creating the genetically engineered spiders, and that he 'used his own DNA in their creation so that Oscorp could never replicate the process'.
Oscorp is full of genetic researchers who, given time, should have been able to replicate any kind of experimental research (however, given that Curtis Connors in the first movie couldn't figure out the Decay Rate Algorithm after FIFTEEN YEARS, perhaps Oscorp's research division really is filled with airheads). Not only that, but it of course insinuates that because Peter was bitten by one of the spiders, and because he carries Richard's genetic code, only he could have become Spider-Man.
Am I the only person who sees a problem with this? The point of Spider-Man is that he literally is an everyman: anyone could have been bitten by that radioactive spider. That's what makes the whole 'with great power comes great responsibility' message so poignant; ANYONE who is granted great power, via any means, must look within themselves to decide whether they are going to use that power with responsibility or not. By making it so that only Peter could have possibly become Spider-Man, it introduces a whole new coincidental contrivance: NOT ONLY did it just so happen that Peter was the only person who stumbled into the 'spider sweat shop', as I like to call it, but he also happened to BE THE ONLY person who could've been bitten by those spiders and received powers. It's simply far too much of a logic leap to swallow that all of this would have ever happened, and I don't buy the underlying message that 'fate' caused Peter Parker to become Spider-Man.
The Rise of Electro
The main villain for most of the movie is Jaime Foxx's Electro, and once again, this is a mixed bag. Visually, the effects on Electro are truly spectacular. His look is phenomenal, and when he uses his abilities, you really do feel the power behind them. Unfortunately, his backstory and characterization are flawed.
Electro is introduced as Max Dillon, an Oscorp engineer without a backbone or any kind of social skills. As someone who has struggled a lot with social interaction, I want to tell you something: Max, as he is written here, is an insulting caricature of people with social inhibitions. He is completely unsympathetic and is frankly quite embarassing. None of the early scenes establishing who he is in any way show him as a realistic human being; it's all overdone and takes away from the seriousness of the situation. He comes across as a new version of Michelle Pfeiffer's Selina Kyle, who was also quite embarassing during her pre-transformation scenes.
Luckily for Max, he receives quite the upgrade (literally) once he transforms into Electro. While he is still portrayed as sympathetic, it's more believable, especially during the scene in Times Square. Foxx has to be credited for a large part of this, as his facial gestures below all the CGI show the emotions he's going through. As Spidey is talking to him, you do feel like there is a chance that he might follow a less dark path, and that it was all dashed away by a trigger-happy sniper. The fight scene here is quite exhilirating, except for the slow motion, which is both gratuitous and grating.
Electro is then locked in Ravencroft, where he is held by another horrible caricature, Dr. Kafka. His obviously fake and overdone accent and childish dialogue steal away from the transition of Electro from misunderstood soul to full-blown supervillain. When he is released by Harry, Electro is in full revenge mode, and his dialogue to Spidey before the final confrontation is quite good. The final battle between Spidey and Electro is phenomenal visually, and shows off the acrobatics I expect from the web slinger quite nicely.
Not as nice is the fact that Peter, a supposedly gifted scientific mind, was unable to figure out how to make his webs resistant to electricity. I understand that they were trying to give Gwen more to do in the final confrontation, but the fact that she runs Electro over and then resets the power grid is more than enough. Making Peter look like an idiot (which is the exact opposite of what he's supposed to be) diminishes his character and takes something away from his victory over Electro. If Spidey figured it out on his own and was able to defeat the villain using his own mind, it would have made the victory even more impactful.
Overall, Foxx turns in a good performance, but he is limited by the writing that the role gives him. Electro isn't given enough depth or enough to do character wise (especially before he transforms) to really allow Foxx to shine. For what it's worth, Foxx still does the best he can with the material.
The Fall of Harry Osborn
Harry Osborn, played by Dane DeHaan, is probably one character too many for this movie. The tragic thing is that he didn't need to be; because of the fact that Harry is only introduced in this movie, Harry's arc has to be rushed by default. He has to meet Peter, establish that they used to be friends, build on that relationship, say goodbye to his father, own the company, lose the company, find a reason to hate Spider-Man, transform into the Green Goblin and finally battle Spider-Man all in the same movie, which already has three other major plots going on.
It should be fairly obvious that this is far too much for one movie to handle. If Harry had been introduced in the first film, or if his transformation was saved for the third film, some of this narrative weight could have been lifted. As it stands, Green Goblin comes across as a blatant rush job to try and set up Sony's eventual Sinister Six spin-off as fast as possible. Spidey needs a recurring nemesis for the franchise, but the rivalry between the two characters is never given enough time to gestate.
Another issue is the logistics of the 'heriditary' disease that apparently runs in the Osborn family. When Harry is introduced, he meets Norman Osborn on his death bed. Norman lists off the name of some disease, which I'm not sure whether or not is real, but given that Norman looks like he has lizard hands, I'm going to assume that it's not. Norman then says that the disease is genetic, and that Harry is the age when it firsts starts to manifest. Norman dies the next day (and his head is stuffed in a jar), and Harry begins to see the effects of the disease.
The problems with this should be fairly obvious: Norman has been alive for presumably over sixty years, so the disease has been in his body for almost half a century without killing him. However, Harry seems adamant that the disease is killing him right now, and that he doesn't have much time before he dies. Given that Norman knew exactly when the disease would manifest, it doesn't make any sense for Harry to be this worried; he has decades before it kills him. This makes his rush to anger at Spider-Man refusing the transfusion ring false; why doesn't Harry try to find another way to cure himself?
Of course, the company board steals Oscorp from Harry by falsifying evidence that he covered up the Electro situation, so that at least gives Harry a more believable reason to be on the clock; he no longer has a company of scientists at his disposal (on second thought, maybe he was so worried because he knew that all the Oscorp scientists were airheads?). So, naturally, Harry breaks into Ravencroft, shows some fighting skills by taking down two guards (that wasn't foreshadowed at all), and breaks Electro out so that they can have a 'supervillain team-up'.
While this makes sense from the point of view of the two characters, the fact that they don't interact at all during the final battle doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Electro takes up Harry's offer because he believes that he's found a new 'friend' to replace Spider-Man after his perceived betrayal. However, Harry isn't there to help Electro take down Spider-Man, and only arrives after Electro is defeated. Given that Harry finds the (oh so convenient) Goblin armour and glider before the confrontation, it raises the question: where was he? Why wasn't he there to help? Certainly he would believe that his chances at defeating Spider-Man would've been greater if he had to fight two supervillains at once?
Also, it betrays Harry's objective: Harry wants Spider-Man's blood because he believes that it will cure his condition. Why would he entrust Electro to take down Spider-Man on his own? Electro wants Spider-Man DEAD; certainly a dead Spider-Man is no use to Harry. If Harry was alongside Electro during the battle, perhaps he could give Electro the condition that he wants Spider-Man alive long enough to take the blood, and then Electro could kill him, but this is not the case in the movie. The fact that Harry never once tries to take the blood when he does attack Peter also makes me wonder where his objective went. I'm sorry, but Harry telling Electro that Spider-Man needs 'to bleed' is not enough for me.
This of course gives way to the apex of the movie: the death of Gwen Stacy. Overall, I would say that this is arguably one of the few things in the movie that actually works (it's also the only point where the slow-mo isn't useless). Peter does everything he can to save Gwen given that Harry is constantly attacking him, and his reaction to Gwen's death is believable and emotionally impacting. While it was fairly obvious that it was going to happen, I do feel obliged to commend the team making the film to create a death scene that was both its own interpretation, but also maintained the spirit of the classic comic story.
There are other comments to be made about the film, and I'll list them here:
1) The cameos don't work. They are rarely given context, and feel like cheap imitations of the MCU's style of universe building. Alistaire Smythe and Felicia Hardy contribute nothing to the story in any way.
2) The score by Hans Zimmer is a total let down. Aside from the song that plays during Gwen's death, the score is made of half-assed tracks that attempt (and fail) to emulate better scores. I'm pretty sure Zimmer just took a check on this one.
3) The 'Man in Shadows' is a piss-off in how convenient a plot device he is. He is just randomly an ally of Harry's? Who is he? What does he want? Why does he help Harry? This isn't mystery or suspense; it's lazy writing.
4) Paul Giamatti's Rhino is another caricature, and his accent is horrendous. Now, Rhino isn't really a character that requires a lot of depth, but at least he could have been given a bit more dignity.
5) The Spidey suit looks fantastic. I said it before and I'll say it again: it looks like it leaped right off the comic book page.
6) The licensed music is once again, awful and misplaced. It pretty much ruins any scene it's used in.
7) Some classic Spider-Man humour is used here to much better effect than the first film. The opening chase in particular elicited some actual laughs from me, which is something the first movie never did.
8) Am I the only one who noticed that Gwen's speech is completely different at the beginning and end of the movie?
9) If Max really did design the power grid that powers the whole city, don't you think someone would have known who he was?
Overall, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is pretty much exactly the movie I feared it would be; another step in the wrong direction for the Spider-Man franchise. I take no pleasure in being disappointed, and it pains me deeply to feel negative about a movie featuring my favourite superhero. However, I just can't like this movie. Like the first, it's a film that has some great ideas and moments, but they're few and far between, and buried under a myriad of poor writing and mediocre filmmaking.
I give this film the same rating I gave the first.
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