Following only five years after the conclusion of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films, the first Amazing Spider-Man struggled to justify its own existence. Amazing Spider-Man 2 suffers from a different proximity effect garnering early comparisons to the similarly overstuffed and tonally inconsistent Spider-Man 3. Are those comparisons fair? You can bet we have thoughts on that. Welcome to the Chat Cave.
Drew: Contrary to the dire reviews and my own expectations, I actually enjoyed this movie quite a bit. The vast majority of the emotional moments landed solidly, and I actually couldn’t get enough of Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone’s onscreen chemistry — they’re maybe too cute and clever to be believable 18-year-olds, but it’s certainly fun to see them bounce off one another. Moreover, much of the Spidey action was a lot of fun — the armored car heist at the beginning of the film may be the single best distillation of Spider-Man any film has managed to capture. Where the movie breaks down is in its villains, which is a shame, given how many of them there are.
It’s obvious how hard this movie is straining to be The Dark Knight returns, right down to the lumpy surprise friend-turned-foe coda that prolongs the third act. Only, the movie never decides if it’s aiming for those operatic emotions or pure off-the-wall camp, delivering a product that often feels like two totally different movies smashed together. The most obvious example is Jamie Foxx’s performance as Electro — you can feel him attempting to channel Heath Ledger’s very serious (and Academy Award-winning) turn as the Joker, but no amount of acting could rescue a character introduced as a middle-aged Steve Urkel.
Contrary to that self-seriousness, the movie’s biggest problem is that it actually doesn’t take its highfalutin’ aspirations seriously enough. It pays lip-service to making its antagonists tragic figures, but never quite explains why they would become supervillains; it allows Peter to learn about his Parents, but offers no real emotional closure; it delivers one of the defining tragedies of Peter’s life, but fails to illustrate how it changes him at all. It’s an unfortunate pileup of missed opportunities.
Spencer: The contrast between this movie and its predecessor is fascinating to me; while I enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man almost solely because of Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, the rehash of Spider-Man’s iconic, almost universally known origin — coming only ten years after the first Raimi film at that — always felt slow and unnecessary. This film, meanwhile, actually seems to take our understanding of the character’s stories — especially Harry’s — for granted and blazes through them at remarkable speeds. As a comic reader who is already intimately familiar with those stories — and already saw Harry’s downfall unfold painfully slow over the course of three movies — I actually quite prefer the brevity, but it does make for a disjointed, more shallow film.
My feelings towards this movie are similar to Drew’s: I like it more than most people, but I can’t deny that it’s flawed in many ways. I would’ve needed a notepad with me in the theater to catch all the little inconsistencies in the story, but in particular pretty much everything about Richard Parker’s lab — somehow hidden in the subway and somehow still functional over a decade later — is completely nonsensical. Character-wise, Electro suffers the worst; pre-transformation Max is distractingly silly and burdened with a childish, overbearing theme tune, and as Electro his motivations and dialogue are almost entirely cliches.
Jamie Foxx does his best to save the character, though, and if this film shines anywhere, it’s with the cast. Emma Stone is absolutely charming as the doomed Gwen Stacy, and as Drew mentioned, she and Garfield have such palpable chemistry that I just want to see them in a romantic comedy of any sort, no superheroing necessary. Dane DeHaan — who is quite possibly my favorite actor, actually — is beginning to become stereotyped as the sympathetic-but-unhinged weirdo, but he keeps knocking those roles out of the park, and his work does almost all the heavy lifting with Harry’s character, shading in his background and his descent into madness far more effectively than the script itself.
Meanwhile, Andrew Garfield is, well, amazing (sorry). I still enjoy his take on Peter — more of an aloof weirdo than the pathetic nerd of the comics — but I’ve grown to love his take on Spidey so much. His Spider-Man is consistently funny, and I love how he pitches his voice higher as Spidey instead of becoming gruff like Batman; it makes Peter a more approachable hero, one whose first priority always seems to be saving people, helping people, cheering people up, a hero who goes out of his way to cheer up Max or that windmill kid. The crux of his whole movie is about whether Spider-Man instills hope or takes it away, and fortunately, the narrative itself goes out of its way to show how Spider-Man instills hope, and I’m so into that. Actually, after complaining about some of the more adult themes in ASM 1 or Futures End 0, I’m thrilled that this is a superhero movie I’d feel comfortable taking my little cousin to. The movie is flawed in many ways, but I still had fun with it.
Patrick: Oh, man you guys, I did not like this movie at all. I had joked with my friends that I didn’t see the first Amazing Spider-Man movie, so I wasn’t sure I’d be able to follow the second. Spencer points out how gingerly the film introduces the Osborn family, so I had taken for granted that the film universe had established some kind of relationship between these character before that ridiculous reunion sequence. Nope! Turns out that Marc Webb and the writing staff were banking on the audience’s familiarity with these characters from other (better) movies, comics, TV shows, cartoons, video games, whatever. This is actually true of many of the other features Drew and Spencer cite as things the film does well: such as Spider-Man’s momentum as he slings through the streets of New York, or nailing Spidey’s funny quips. And while I too was taken with those things, I don’t think the movie itself does anything to enhance my enjoyment of those aspects of Spider-Man, rather than simply putting them on screen and reminding me that these are things I have affinity for.
The reason I have my doubts there is that the rest of the film making is simply dreadful. I’ve read a lot of reviews that liken this movie to a trailer for future movies in this universe — what with all the villain teases (including a bizarrely deployed Paul Giamatti) — but I’d argue that the movie plays like a trailer for itself. No single scene in the movie has any direction or weight, and events flow from one to the next as though the audience is dreaming it. Do you remember why Peter spontaneously started investigating his parents’ death? That’s because he just started doing it, entirely unprompted by internal or external forces. Not sure why Electro would have a vendetta against the city? Fuck you – he’s made of electricity (or… something – don’t think too hard about the question of “what Electro is” because it doesn’t make sense). And all of this is strung together with an unquietable score. I’m not even talking about the shitty dubstep that accompanies Electro’s appearances, but all of these embarrassingly earnest orchestral music cues give the actors no space to be real. It’s like watching a 142 minute montage.
I’ve also got a lot of gripes with the story in this thing, most of which has been ably eviscerated elsewhere. But the thing that bothers me the most is the role Gwen Stacy plays in this movie. Her relationship with Peter only experiences one hiccup during the film, and it’s a totally pretend reason: Gwen will be in danger if she’s Spider-Man’s girl. Nothing we see in this movie (until the very end) suggests that this is true. Rather than risk it and put is girl in danger again and again, Peter just pretends not to date her (while still totally dating her) and then we all know how it ends. There’s no drama in the relationship and no drama in how it ends.
I don’t begrudge Sony having their own superhero franchise, but if the tenor and pace of this movie are any indication of what we can expect in the future, then this is one series I will happily opt out of.