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Amazing Spider-Man 2
posted October 1, 2014

Creators: Marc Webb, Robert Orci, Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Sally Field, Paul Giamatti, A Number Of Comic Book Creators From Whom The Original Ideas Came
Publishing Information: Film, Sony Pictures, 2014
Ordering Information: Available Through Various Hard-Media And Streaming Options

I'm an easy mark for superhero movies. I've yet to see a great one, but I think a few of them are good. I find myself entertained for long stretches at a time by most of the post-2008 Marvel movies. I like spectacle and wisecracks and the employment of standard action-adventure templates, and most of the modern superhero movies seem to provide that. I'm in love with the art of acting for film right now, and some of the roles make for a set of very interesting choices from a lot of charismatic performers. They're fun, mostly.

imageThat said, I found The Amazing Spider-Man 2 deplorable: excruciatingly boring, dumb, emotionally manipulative, disjointed and lacking in any kind of dramatic stakes that weren't cheaply purchased. I even thought that it suffered from sloppy ensemble acting (good lord, Paul Giamatti). My understanding is that even with the hundreds of millions it made in theatres that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a disappointment in terms of it being a continued likely foundational source from which to launch multiple franchises. The only part of that that surprises me is that it made hundreds of millions of dollars. I thought the film felt stretched to cover its own running time; the thought that it would somehow spawn hundreds of minutes of like entertainment boggles the mind.

I didn't see the first Spider-Man movie in the Marc Webb reboot series. I saw most of the Sam Raimi cycle: the first two films in their entirety, parts of the third. I like Spider-Man just fine. I like him a lot, actually. Spider-Man is one of the five great superhero characters, and the original run of his comic book is one of only three works in that genre I'd put on just about any Top 100 list of comics works from the 20th century. The great thing that Spider-Man has going for him as a character is that he could be anyone at all: what happens to him is an accident, unforeseen and mostly unwelcome. That puts great dramatic emphasis on the choices he makes in response. The element that makes his comic book compelling in those early issues is that Steve Ditko was able to rationalize a non perfectly moral hero by making his story one of character development. Peter Parker lacks a father figure; his villains are brilliantly a long line of terrible adult role models, ways not to be. His greatest nemeses are universally recognizable young-person obstacles: the class bully (Flash Thompson), the horrible boss (J. Jonah Jameson) and a close friend's asshole dad (Norman Osborn). My personal ending for the original Spider-Man series comes after the creators leave -- the character is that compelling -- in the first few pages of issue #143. Peter Parker, off to do his not-superhero job, kisses Mary Jane Watson in an airport in a way that indicates he's serious about pursuing happiness with an emotional equal. Robbie Robertson, an actual father figure, stands as witness. I haven't read anything since that's changed my mind.

Amazing Spider-Man 2 makes different choices. The movie uses an approximation of a later-Marvel storyline where Peter Parker's long-departed parents are involved in some sort of high-stakes corporate-political intrigue. This makes Peter Parker a chosen one rather than a random one, both by simply having such parents and by their directly setting him up to become Spider-Man. It's the kind of thing long-running franchises do when they're bone-tired, and while it injects some juice into the proceedings for a brief moment right after it's done -- I can imagine the first Webb film got a boost simply by telling a different origin than most folks were used to -- it's a wobbly, hackneyed leg on which to stand. There's certainly nothing interesting going on with it here. The second decision that I found confusing and once again stabbing right at the heart of what I find compelling about this character and his stories was to have our hero encounter seemingly random, vaguely doppelgänger-ish villains (best friend, a less socialized smart guy) rather than rotten adults. All the urgency leaves the room with those older antagonists. I went mentally scrambling to find a connecting thread, and came up dissatisfied there, too. The closest thing to a figure behind both major costumed villains is a corporate functionary played by Colm Feore, whose character's name I can't even remember. What should be dramatic high points hit with all the force of issued white papers. None of the fighting seems to arise organically from theme or plot; they feel like required matches on a wrestling card. I never cared who won.

Emma Stone (the forthcoming Birdman) and Andrew Garfield (Red Riding) are talented actors given very little to do. I never bought Garfield as a late teen -- he looks and acts 30 (I don't know how old the actor is, and I'm going to skip looking it up). I never even got a feel for the parameters of his powers; they always seemed up to whatever the task was at hand, at least until story demands dictated otherwise. The final outcome for Stone's character seemed called-for by index cards pinned up on a bulletin board somewhere rather than anything that connects to anything else going on, plot-point wise or thematically. It felt inevitable and out of left field, in itself an accomplishment in a movie that generally lacks them. I could not have been more bored.