Spider-Man 2: Surpasses predessecor with more rom-com than action
Making a movie solely for the sake of not losing the rights to a rival studio will usually yield a poor product. Such was the case with 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, the reboot of the friendly neighborhood arachnid superhero directed by Marc Webb and starring Andrew Garfield. It came only a decade after the same story had first been told by director Sam Raimi with Tobey Maguire, and the newer iteration was expectedly awful.
But it’s now two years later, and Garfield has grown into the role. The problem was never his ability, nor that of his co-star Emma Stone (whom he shares some charming, real-life chemistry with), but rather the movie around them. Not much is different in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but it’s at least an improvement upon its predecessor in this rebooted franchise, though that isn’t saying a whole lot.
There’s only so much you can do with this story. Peter Parker will always be a hapless geek taking pictures to make ends meet, he will always be bitten by a radioactive spider, and he will always lose his uncle and become a better hero for it. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 starts as a Tim Burton Batman film before devolving into one of Joel Schumacher’s creations. It embraces its campiness, but perhaps a bit too much. Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) is a caricature of introversion, the embodiment of a comic book character. He becomes Electro, a villain as blue as Mr. Freeze, complete with corny one-liners. His motives seem unclear, or at least unbelievable. He lives alone and only wants others to notice him, as he’ll mention in every other scene. He’s tired of being ignored so, for some reason, he decides to take it out on those capable of caring about him.
None of the villains here are all that great (there’s three in total: Paul Giamatti’s Rhino appears sporadically, along with the emergence of Harry Osborn’s Green Goblin (Dane DaHaan) toward the end), and they’re without logical motives. Harry contracts a hideous genetic disease, showing symptoms almost instantly after his father first told him about it, and his immediate course of action is to harvest Spider-Man’s blood, convinced it’s his only cure. The film is a living, breathing comic book with villains as thin as the paper they were originally conceived upon.
Watching The Amazing Spider-Man 2 as a romantic comedy between a nebbish photographer and his scientist-in-training girlfriend would surely produce a better movie. Prior to his Spider-Man interpretation, director Marc Webb was known for his breakthrough hit, (500) Days of Summer, and he calls upon the tropes featured in that film to improve his newfound blockbuster situation. With great performances from the two leads, the quieter, more human moments between two people in love make for some of the better parts of the film. This is all a nice change of pace, with none of it feeling forced, and something rarely seen in summer blockbusters.
Even a throwaway scene — one where Spider-Man is momentarily deafened by a police officer’s bullhorn and he asks if he’s talking louder than normal, which Gwen confirms in a deadpan manner — is humorous. It’s played for laughs and succeeds when it should be forgotten. It’s a true testament to the capabilities of the actors in question.
Stone especially relishes in the humor, proving once again to be one the better comedic actresses around. She gives him flack after he complains about her choice of a hiding spot, or calls him while he’s in the midst of a midtown skirmish. He’s a hero to New York City, but to her, he’s just Peter. The film is at its best during these moments, and it’s where Webb flourishes. He’s used to films of this nature, but every other aspect is a noticeable step-down.
The action is not all that bad — aside from scenes when debris flies at the screen in slow-motion, a detail used for 3D showings where it is surely impressive, though is nothing more than a nuisance elsewhere. Starting the movie in media res as Spider-Man takes on plutonium-stealing Russian gangsters sets the table quite well. Immersing audiences with the web-slinger immediately as he swings through the concrete jungle of New York is great, and something its forerunner couldn’t do, at least not at the start. Origin stories handicap narratives, forcing them to tell a story we saw only a few years ago.
Superhero movies have unfortunately become replacements for action films of the 80s, but that shouldn’t be the case. Their source material is rich with characterization, much of which is thrown out the window. While some of the mythos is even too farfetched for film, chances should be taken. Most of these movies have now become good versus evil with good always triumphing. Complexity is passé, and character development, or simple biographical details first penned in comic books, is now seen as unnecessary for audiences only interested in extravagant action.
The worst part of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is better than the entirety of The Amazing Spider-Man. In this modern age of the blockbuster, it is hard to compare the two films, or even differentiate between those featuring other heroes. An identical formula is applied to most, leading them to feel like little more than a two hour commercial for its inevitable sequel. Webb balances the humor and emotion and comic book aesthetics well, but a supercut of Garfield and Stone’s banter would be preferable to this compilation of what has mostly been done before.