For all its flaws, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 was committed. By comparison, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 a paint-by-numbers version of the comic. If not for the chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, TASM2 would be a complete bust – their on-again/off-again romance is the only part of the movie that feels at all real.
As someone who thoroughly enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man (I gave it an A-) – and who was there for the first issue of the first Spider-Man comic (back in 19-sixty-mumble) – I went into TASM2 with high hopes. After sitting through the closing credits – the closing credits tag(s) were edited out (apparently only people who pay to see the movie will get to see them) – I had no interest in subjecting myself to the movie again just to see them. I probably won’t even pick up a copy of the home video release.
Let’s start with the things that made Peter Parker/Spider-Man unique: he was a spindly nerd whose love of science got him beat up in high school; he got his powers via an incredible fluke; his first instincts were to use his new abilities (a) to make money and (b) to beat up the high school bully, Flash Thompson.
In order: the guys who were the nerds back in Spidey’s early days are now running things so Parker, these days, would not necessarily be the outsider; in this series of movies, at least, his powers are directly attributable to his father’s (Campbell Scott) work (Wait! What?), and his first instincts were to use his powers to… Okay. I’ll give you that one.
Then there’s the collection of villains. Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) is an engineer working for Oscorp, which steals his design ideas for New York City’s power grid, and who is bullied by his superiors. Until his life is saved by Spidey, he’s never really had much of anything good happen to him – so he becomes an obsessive fan. When he falls into a vat of mutated electric eels, he becomes supercharged and gains the ability to control and use electricity. He also looks like a veiny version of Watchmen’s Dr. Manhattan.
Because he has only just gotten these new abilities, he accidentally causes havoc and, mistakenly, is attacked by police and our friendly neighborhood wallcrawler – which turns him against Spider-Man ‘cause… it does. He tries to reclaim his work in an extremely extreme manner and more havoc ensues.
That’s it. Jamie Foxx – wasted.
Compared to Spider-Man 2’s Doctor Octopus, Max, now calling himself Electro, is a pencil sketch. But he looks cool and can blow up/fry stuff.
Then there’s The Rhino (Paul Giamatti) – who’s onscreen for about four minutes. He’s an escaped Russian convict whom Spidey puts away before he comes back in super armor. Maybe there’s more to him than what we saw – a maniacally laughing psychopath – but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. This must be a mortgage movie for Giamatti.
Finally, there’s Harry Osborne/The Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan). He’s the heir to Oscorp and takes over when his father dies. Turns out, he’s going to die too. Only it’s possible Spider-Man’s blood can save his life. He’s an old friend of Peter’s (since well, a few minutes ago) and turns to him for help. Spidey refuses, so Harry – now booted from his company and framed for treason – scurries to a secret lab, steals some spider venom (long story) and a suit of battle armor and a rocket glider. The spider venom saves his life but! Side effects!
Long story short, he now hates Spider-Man. Only DeHaan’s performance keeps the Goblin from being a write-off.
The big difference between Spider-Man 3 and TASM2 is that the latter actually doesn’t do a terrible job of integrating three super-villains into a single story. What it also doesn’t do is give us any real reason to feel anything for them – something that has always been a key ingredient in Marvel’s comics (and Marvel’s own movies). Again, see Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus. That’s how it’s done, people!
The one aspect of the film that works is Peter’s relationship with Gwen (Stone). No matter how hard he tries, he can’t stop seeing her father (Denis Leary) and thinking about that promise to stay out of her life. She insists that that’s not his decision – as a cop’s daughter, she can take care of herself and she’ll see him if she wants. When he finally makes the decision to pursue her for real, she’s got a shot at a scholarship to Oxford.
The scattered moments of their relationship – in between villains and fight sequences and such – actually feel like the real thing. They talk like real people and there’s honest emotion and chemistry between them. Unlike, for example, a tacked on kid-in-danger sequence that’s supposed to echo one from the first Garfield/Stone movie but just feels like the tacked on attempt to manipulate the audience that it is.
Even Peter’s scenes with his Aunt May (Sally Field) feel more like plot points than a real relationship.
On the purely technical side of things, the 3D for TASM2 sucked. It never seemed completely focused and added nothing to the overall experience – subtracted from, more like.
After seeing The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I can say I am officially scared by the thought of a Sinister Six movie. TASM2 will undoubtedly make enough money to make that seem viable. That’s a shame. It’s an overstuffed, underdeveloped exercise in noise.
On the plus side, I now have a new description for an overstuffed, underdeveloped superhero movies. Instead of saying it’s suffering from Spider-Man 3 Syndrome, I can say it’s suffering from a case of the TASM2 Blues.
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Photos courtesy of Columbia Pictures