Saturday, May 3, 2014
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
We have a new winner in the race to be the weakest Spider-Man movie ever. Leading the pack for seven years was the nearly universally reviled "Spider-Man 3". While it was certainly the least favorite of mine, I have never been a hater like so many others. It was a disappointment and at times a little silly. What it never was was boring. "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" is just that. Equally bloated with plot elements and villains, but managing to be entertaining for only about a third of it's more than two hour running time. The second entry in the reboot of a series that probably did not need to restart so soon, this film will be the biggest disappointment of the year to geeks and movie executives everywhere. The comic book fans will pick it apart for it's flaws and the money men will second guess how they took a sure thing and turned it into this.
There are long stretches in the movie where we get an ill defined domestic drama featuring Peter Parker, His girlfriend Gwen and his Aunt May. This is not what people turn out for. The back and forth love affair has a couple of sweet moments, but it all feels pointless and without any real motivation. If Peter is going to make the decision to stop seeing Gwen, why does he spend all his time following her around and mooning over her? Why does Gwen take him back when she knows how he is not able to make a commitment? Why would anyone care is the two of them have created no stake for the audience to begin with? Maybe if I had re-watched the last film right before seeing this one, it might have helped, but I don't think so.
The opening chase and battle with a barely recognizable and incoherent Paul Giamatti as a Russian gangster who may figure in the plot later, was sadly divisive for me. The way it is shown, from camera positions and Peter's perspective and then at street level if gracefully imagined. It just doesn't look very good. The animated CGI images are blurry around the edges, the colors look weak and it seemed flat. It is possible that this resulted from the effort to make this a 3D spectacular, but I did not see it in 3D and it looked cheap. The spitting gibberish uttered by Giamatti in the opening is Shakespeare compared to the "Ve av vays of making u talk" accented dialogue that comes from the "scientist" who is supposed to contain the villain "Electro" later in the film. It was literally embarrassing to listen to this cliche speak from the screen. This movie feels slapped together in a way that "Spider-Man 3" might have been, but at least there, the seams were only visible when Peter Parker goes dark. In this movie, every villain is half thought out, every Peter Parker domestic problem is written as if it were important but plays like it is not, and all of the action scenes are less than exciting.
I think Andrew Garfield is a great choice for the part. He and Emma Stone have a nice chemistry, but their story pales in comparison to the Mary Jane material that was explored in the first series of films. The reason it does not live up to it's potential is that it was underwritten. The conflict they have should play out with more emotional investment and it is instead brittle and conventional. I am a softie when it comes to emotions. I love those Spielberg moments that deliberately try to pull a tear from your eye. A good commercial or a dog story on the news or even a piece of gossip about a kid in my wife's class can make be sniffle. The resolution of this story left me unmoved. I'm told that fans of the Spider-Man comics think the Gwen Stacy story line is the apex of the emotional journey that Peter takes. I just sat there, stone faced and wondered why it wasn't working.
There are some easy bad choices to point to. Jamie Fox gets to play nerd, but he doesn't play an engineer as a geek, he plays it as an idiot. His Max Dillon practically drools when showing how awkward he is supposed to be. It is a caricature that makes a simple hero worshiping fan into a simpleton. "Electro" could use some motivation, but the psychological roots of his rage are conveniently skipped over. Harry Osborn is a different matter. The roots of his problems are better explained, and they are set up well. It is the manner in which he steps so quickly into the role of the "Goblin" that feels rushed. Had they left the set up for a third film and waited for this character to appear, I think it could have worked much better. In this situation, it seems like they just wanted a movie of at least two hours so they grafted an additions element to flesh it out. The "Rhino" character and Giamatti's role are throw away bits which added nothing to the proceedings. If you stick around for the credits, you will get another example of the slap dash nature of the movie. In an attempt to tie in the Marvel Universe, there is an insert that has no context, no connection, and no reason for being there. It raises some interesting questions about cross promotion, but it had nothing to do with what we just spent two and a quarter hours living through. The whole enterprise is a letdown.