Review: Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Spoilers)

mayo 5, 2014 at 8:47 pm (Film, Hollywood's Privilege-driven -isms) (, , , , , , , , )

From the very beginning, the most important question this latest iteration of the Spider-Man story had to answer was: why? With the Sam Raimi films still fresh in people’s minds, why did we need another version of the origin, and the Green Goblin, and Peter Parker’s romantic woes? The producers’ argument, as seen in the Amazing Spider-Man, is that this new version would allow us to see things we had not seen before: Gwen Stacy as the primary female character; George Stacy, who in the original books had been a rather prominent character for years; mechanical web-shooters, which many consider important for reasons I’ve never found entirely convincing; rogues not seen on the big screen before; an emphasis on Peter’s father; and some new actors who were just as good if not better than the ones we’d left behind.

Did it succeed? Not entirely, but enough to keep me sanguine despite  the fact that I’d seen large swaths of the film before. It helped that the producers had the always-awesome Emma Stone as their female lead, backed by writing that gave her plenty of smarts and agency.If producers managed to maintain that level of quality for a second, inherently less derivative film, then there was a good chance that we’d get a humdinger of a sequel.

Boy, this film feels really, really disposable.

Spider-Man has never been quite at home in film. The comic book has always been a soap opera, following the many, many characters month in and month out, which is a tricky thing to translate into a couple of hours of film. Amazing Spider-Man 2 does its best to replicate that feeling, with a bunch of different characters and mini-arcs, but in the end, none of those manage to congeal into anything truly satisfying.

Electro is the primary villain here, and an effort is made to humanize him before his turn to villainy. Jamie Foxx is tasked with turning Max Dillon into yet another iteration of the socially awkward nerd, one defined by his devotion to Spider-Man, a task the actor succeeds in admirably despite problematic material. Things go awry when an accident causes Dillon to gain electricity-based powers, and even more so when a confrontation with Spider-Man turns the electrician’s admiration into hatred. While this story could have worked when told over months, in a medium that allowed his transformation to be told with more nuance, here, it feels overly convenient—things happen because the film needs them to happen, not because they feel particularly natural. What’s more, the film ends up being yet another story where a person whose mental profile is outside the norm becomes the super-powerful aggressor, in direct opposition to the way things actually turn out in real life. In the end, Electro’s story is one we did not need.

The film’s second villain, Harry Osborn, doesn’t fare much better As interesting as it was to see the film set aside Norman without turning into the Green Goblin, and as all right as Harry’s story got in parts, most of it could have been well served with additional space to breathe. Introducing the character and his friendship with Peter, killing of his father and establishing a life-threatening illness, having him become the Green Goblin, lose, and then have him plans for the Sinister [Unspecified Amount of Villains] was more than enough material for two films; doing all that in one film means that only about half the beats work. What’s more, nothing terribly satisfying comes from it, as this version of the Green Goblin feels purposeless: he exists solely to kill off Gwen Stacy in a manner that follows the comic books.

Also, this is the film that finally kills Gwen Stacy.

Gwen’s death has always carried singular weight in the Spider-mythos, and super-hero comic books as a whole—it’s considered by some the moment that heralded the end of the Silver Age. It has also come to define the character, much like the Phoenix defines Jean Grey, to the point where it’s the one story people expect and hope is told when the character is introduced.

That’s all sorts of fucked up, by the way.

Regardless, screen versions of Gwen usually managed to escape that fate, which is a thing I’m grateful for. While a textbook case of fridging, the original story is tied to a whole bunch of context that made that story arguably make sense in that particular instance, but not others. At the time she’d died, Gwen had been established for years, and the writers, correctly or incorrectly, felt that she’d run her course, and that killing her (and the Green Goblin who is not killed off here) would help energize a book that threatened to become stagnant. None of those factors apply to the adaptations, and most certainly don’t apply here, where Gwen was easily the best character in the film.

And yet, there she goes. One of the two female characters in the films with significant roles, and she’s dead. The one character whose major arc in the film is her attempts to maintain her agency—attempts that seemed to lead her to a life that did not involve a romance with Peter—is killed off for it. And why? What does it add to the story, except to give Peter more manpain? Sure, it’s a shocker to those audience members who fortunately managed to never speak to a Spider-Man fan, but given the film’s particular context, this seems like far from an acceptable reason.

Still, it’s not all a downer. The few minutes when Harry and Max work together work really well. Electro’s powers are very well represented. Gwen Stacy continues to rock: while there was an early moment when I feared that she was being turned into a passive bystander in Peter’s adventures—during the first Electro battle—those fears were assuaged by the time she began investigating Electro on her own. And I really liked seeing elements of the Spider-Man verse that the Raimi movies couldn’t make time for—I always love seeing Donald Menken. Still, the film never manages to feel essential, and given the way it ends, I’m not sure I care enough about this version of the Spider-verse to stick around for a third film.

Random Thoughts:

  • I really don’t like Peter in this film a whole lot.  His behavior regarding Gwen is all sorts of problematic, and only Garfield and Stone’s fantastic chemistry saves it from becoming utterly unpalatable.  Outside of that, he’s bog-standard Spider-Man, with nothing in particular to recommend him.
  • One of the more unsettling things about the film was how…untethered Peter seemed to be. Like, once he graduated, there was no real sense that his life had a status quo. We know he was taking pictures of Spider-Man, but that’s all we really get. Is he in college? Does he have a major? Is he looking to move out? Given how important Peter Parker’s life is supposed to be, this felt extremely odd, particularly since he’s promising Gwen that he’s willing to move to England to be with her. With what money, Mr. Parker?

  • Paul Giamatti was unrecognizable as the Rhino, who, disappointingly, does not go by Alex O’Hirn here). While watching the credits, I was all, “Paul Giamatti was in this film?” until I realized who he’d played.

  • Speaking of Rhino…guns? Really?

  • This film’s interpretation of the Green Goblin’s look automatically makes the one from the first Spider-Man flick, which was okay at best, one million times better. I realize there’s reasons why the original concept from the books doesn’t translate terribly well to film, but c’mon people!

  • Given the film’s dearth of female characters, I was deeply disappointed to see long-time supporting character Ashley Kafka turned into a dude for this film. It makes things like the casting of Electro feel cynical rather than encouraging, particularly since Electro himself ends up blue-skinned for most of the film.

  • This film continued the subplot about Peter’s father.  I did not care about the subplot about Peter’s father.

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