Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
Director: Marc Webb
Screenwriters: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner & James Vanderbilt
Based on Spider-Man, a Marvel Comics creation from Stan Lee & Steve Ditko
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Paul Giamatti, Chris Cooper, Campbell Scott & Sally Field
Runtime: 142 min // Certificate: 12a
As a member of the vocal few who happen to think that The Amazing Spider-Man was a vast improvement on Sam Raimi’s trilogy-spanning interpretation of everyone’s favourite web-slinging superhero, my expectations for its sequels were – despite the efforts of the film’s promotional team to temper them with countless spoilerific trailers, production stills and interviews –pretty damn high. For me, Marc Webb’s vision for Spider-Man – though far from perfect – was much closer to the character I know, love and secretly wish to be than that of Mr Raimi who, in his defence, was fatally hampered in his efforts by having to direct two of the worst actors known to man through three (well, two… Spider-Man 2 is alright, I guess) limp, tedious screenplays.
So, here we are, two years down the line and…*sigh*. To sum it up in a few words… well, I’m just sorely disappointed. Though it boasts a full slate of fantastic performances (none of which it deserves, though more on that in a bit), The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a serious step down from the promise of its predecessor. It is a cumbersome, aimless affair that tries to juggle such a vast breadth of plot details, characters and ideas that it all comes crashing down under the weight of its own ambition before the first act is through. In a number of ways, this film is the “make or break” moment for what’s yet to come in Sony’s cynical mission to maintain the rights to the Spider-Man character for as long as they possibly can. None of the sequels, spin-offs, video games, rollercoasters, breakfast cereals, pencil cases etc. will work if this film falls apart at the seams. After all, if the burden of three villains – two of whom are on screen for all of about five minutes each – is enough to cause a collapse then what hope is there for the “Sinister Six”?
Alas this “collapse” does occur, and it all happens in a rather catastrophic fashion. Despite its 142 minute runtime, the film is bloated to within an inch of its life (though nowhere as much as the trailers might suggest, so at least some lessons seem to have been learned from the unspeakably rotten Spider-Man 3…) but that’s not even its fatal problem. In fact, one of the few admirable things about it is its refusal to rein itself in. No, the coffin-nailer is that it is an overwrought mess from start to finish. The first act delivers a near-fatal blow with a tone that is manic, unkempt and wholly lacking in subtlety, and though it improves rather a lot from there it still never recovers sufficiently enough to feel comfortable in its own, lycra-coated skin.
Most of the film’s issues stem from the writers’ apparent inability to focus on the major plot points, which are often sacrificed to make room for another, tiresome dose of “universe expansion”. Now, I don’t dispute the importance of universe expansion any more than I dispute the importance of character development or plot advancement, but there has to be a balance. Alas, it seems the main purpose here isn’t to build upon the foundations laid down in the first film but instead to widen them. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is consistently and infuriatingly stymied by its position as a bridge between what we’ve already seen and what is yet to come, which means that nowhere near enough time is devoted to the stuff that matters in the here and now.
This issue affects each layer of the story, though none more so than the trials of the film’s titular hero himself. When the focus shifts from the CGI-laden action sequences to a more intimate look at the characters – Peter, Gwen, Harry, and Max – it shows a lot of promise. However, whenever Spider-Man or Electro (or the Green Goblin, or the… is that meant to be the Rhino? It sure doesn’t look like a rhino…) are on screen, it all starts to fall to pieces. It’s not that the action isn’t fun but that it’s all a bit safe. I mean credit where credit’s due, the visuals have never been better and I got a real buzz from watching Spidey swinging through New York, but it’s nothing I haven’t seen before… though it is – admittedly – much more spectacular this time around.
Of course, amidst all the chaos and the disappointment, there are a few individual elements that are “amazing” enough to warrant inclusion in a much better film. For a start, the final act – in which all bets are off – brims with some serious “edge-of-your-seat” tension, though it all comes with an unfortunate air of, to coin a phrase, “too little, too late”-ism. The first two acts don’t do enough work to make you care about anyone other than Peter and Gwen, which means that the fate of the two main villains – neither of whom are what you might call “evil”, at least not in the traditional sense – is all but irrelevant. Nonetheless, I doubt anyone will be able to sit through the film’s two climactic battles without their heart rate increasingly substantially.
On a further note, the performances are – without exception – fantastic and the “human” characters, so to speak, are the rock upon which the film’s best moments are built. The tête-à-tête between Peter and Gwen is, if you’ll pardon the pun, “electric” (it’s far more thrilling than the exploits of the film’s primary villain anyway…) and both Garfield and Stone slip back into their roles effortlessly, sucking you in with their infectious personalities and glistening chemistry. Jamie Foxx is decent as Electro – who is a ridiculous but strangely entertaining villain, despite his Victor Freeze-esque appearance – and whenever Dane DeHaan is on screen he steals the show, even from Andrew Garfield. However, for me it is Sally Field’s turn as Aunt May which gives the film its heart and helps to ground the drama. Her heartfelt performance grants the audience a way into the action that the rest of the film denies them and, in spite of all the incredible talent on offer, hers was the performance I most believed and invested in.
In conclusion, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is an ambitious but fatally cluttered film that just about survives on the back of its stellar performances and a decent final act. It is stifled by a need to introduce a gazillion new threads for the later films in the series, some of which serves as enjoyable fan-service but most of which just adds unnecessary confusion to an already convoluted story, and a screenplay (written primarily by Kurtzman and Orci, who really do just need to give it the fuck up now…) which fails to capture either the spirit of its characters or the sheer significance of its more powerful moments. It is a film that is at once too short and too long in that it fails to expand on the stuff that matters while devoting too much time to the dross, and though I think it just about works, for me it doesn’t live up to its predecessor which, for all its faults, was a much tighter and more accomplished film.
See it for the performances, the final act and Andrew Garfield’s and Dane DeHaan’s beautiful faces. If none of these things interest you, just wait for the DVD, or go and watch the initial reboot again to get a glimpse of what a decent Spider-Man film looks like.
But seriously though guys… I am so disappointed.
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