By Matthew McKibben | May 2, 2014
Director: Marc Webb
Writers: Alex Kurtzman, Robert Orci, Jeff Pinkner, James Vanderbilt (screen story), Stan Lee (comic book), Steve Ditko (comic book)
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Paul Giamatti, Sally Fields, Chris Cooper
The Amazing Spider-man 2 is a mess of a summer blockbuster. It’s not great, but then it’s not awful either. There were moments when I thought I was watching one of the great comic book movies of this current era, and then five minutes later found myself yawning and rolling my eyes. To give credit where credit is due, that’s kind of an amazing feat. Even great comic book movies like The Dark Knight and The Avengers have moments where they drag a bit, but they’re generally consistently great throughout. But then you have movies like The Fantastic Four and X-Men Origins: Wolverine which are pretty consistently awful with almost zero redeeming scenes or moments. But a movie that manages both excellence and ineptitude on such a scale? That’s rare.
The biggest issue with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 comes down to the script, penned by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (JJ Abrams’ Star Trek and Michael Bay’s Transformers), which tries to do way too much. There are a ton of things going on in this movie. You have Peter Parker’s (Andrew Garfield) relationship with Aunt May (Sally Field), his relationship to Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), his friendship with Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), Peter trying to figure out what happened to his parents, seeing what actually did happen to Peter Parker’s parents, Harry Osborn’s relationship with his dad (Chris Cooper), Max Dillon’s (Jamie Foxx) relationship to his work and his feelings of being forgotten, the Rhino (Paul Giamatti), the inner workings of OSCORP, and then on top of all of that, they actually manage to squeeze in some killer Spider-man scenes! Because they tried to fit so much in, the movie has this weird see-saw style momentum where the overcooked whole is constructed from a thousand undercooked parts.
I get the feeling that Kurtzman and Orci were inspired by what’s going on in the X-Men Universe and with Marvel Studios and attempted to do their own comparable Spider-man world-building. That seems to be the era we live in for these comic book movies. Instead of telling a simple tale with easily understood character motivations, they tried to shoehorn the mystery of what happened to Peter Parker’s parents into a larger conspiratorial story involving OSCORP and how these villains and heroes came to be. The Marvel playbook is apparently to constantly hint at future, bigger events while never sacrificing the present. Much of the overcooked nature of this script comes from them trying to fit way too much stuff into the movie. The Green Goblin, for example, is someone that could have been hinted at throughout the movie, instead of getting his own 5-minute action set piece at film’s end.
Beyond the script’s complexity and over-fullness, I just don’t think Marc Webb was the right guy to direct this movie. Directing a movie of this size and scope is an extremely difficult undertaking and perhaps going with the guy whose biggest movie credit was (500) Days of Summer wasn’t Sony’s best move. The scenes in the movie where Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy flirt and discuss the nature of their complex relationship with one another really showcase Webb’s talent at bringing out the chemistry in his leads. And in those moments, Webb seems absolutely the right guy to direct this movie.
He also completely nails any scene that has action in it. Spider-man has never looked better in these scenes. They’re easy to follow scenes in which you know exactly what’s going on (not a lot of annoying jump cuts and confusing action where the camera is zoomed in too far), which utilize some of the most amazing effects work seen in a superhero movie. Kudos to Marc Webb for perfecting the effect of showing what it must be like to web-sling through New York City from Spider-man’s point of view. The fighting and action scenes have a weight, strength, and gravity to them that I don’t think Raimi ever completely nailed in his movies. While the action was great in those movies, it always felt very lite and low-impact. When Spider-man attaches to a building in this and pulls himself up, you get the sense of the strength necessary to accomplish such a feat.
I’m not completely sold on the cast and I feel like many of the tonal issues of the script and direction were magnified due to some of the choices the actors made. Jamie Foxx must have loved what his In Living Color cast mate Jim Carrey did in Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever, because he almost completely rips off Carrey’s pre-Riddler performance here. Foxx’s work as Electro is solid and I dug all that he did once he has transformed into the villain, but everything before that is laughably bad.
As Spider-man, Andrew Garfield is pretty great. From a character standpoint, I love all that Garfield has done in both of these movies as the web-slinger. He has sarcasm and an attitude that serves the character well. But as Peter Parker, Garfield leaves a lot to be desired. Andrew Garfield lacks the warmth required to make him feel relatable to the audience. I found it hard to root for him because he’s too much of a brooding wise-ass for me to want to rally behind him. And on top of everything else, Garfield seems to have taken acting classes from Shia LaBeouf and thinks that stuttering and mumbling your way through is the best way to play a scene.
Dane DeHaan is the real standout in this movie. He brings an intensity to the part that worked for me, and has a face that is both menacing and sympathetic. He’s adept at playing the rich son who wanted better but got damaged by his screwed up father. It’s pretty similar to the work he did in Joshua Trank’s Chronicle. Emma Stone plays the part of the jilted on again, off again, on again, off again lover well, but for most of the movie, there really isn’t much for her to do outside of longingly looking at Peter Parker from afar as he shows off his amazingness.
The rest of the cast does a decent job with what they have. Sally Field plays Aunt May a little more realistically than Rosemary Harris’s version in Raimi’s Spider-man movies. She’s a little more firm and neurotic with Peter, but doing so saps some of the warmth I feel is needed in the part. Chris Cooper also does well for the five minutes he’s in the movie. If any character is shortchanged in this movie, it’s Norman Osborn. Although his shadow haunts everything that’s happened in these movies, why have we barely gotten a chance to see him? You don’t bring someone like Chris Cooper in if all you’re going to have him do is one quick five-minute deathbed scene.
Although I have my issues with the movie, on the whole, I think it’s worth a recommendation. My issues with the movie have more to do with the potential I felt was there and how overly jam-packed everything felt. This isn’t an ineptly bad movie like Tim Story’s Fantastic Four but it’s hurt by trying too hard and its lack of tonal consistency. And Spider-Man deserves better. Maybe the third time will be the charm.