“Two” Steps Backwards

Two years ago, the reboot of the Spiderman franchise was a pleasant surprise. It cut down on the angst that was a weakness of the Sam Raimi version, particularly when it came to Spidey’s love interest, so in the end Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) ignore her father’s request that they stay apart. There was also less of the trash talk on Spidey’s part, and while the plot was fantastic, as is most every superhero movie, it was handled in a more realistic and less cartoony way. There was hope that the sequel would build on this good start. Instead, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 steps backward. It’s well-filmed, the special effects are top-notch, and the chemistry is wonderful between Garfield and Stone, but the problem is the script. It was pounded out by four writers, and they ended up with a clichéd mishmash. At nearly 2 ½ hours, it’s also bloated.

The movie begins with scenes repeated from the first film, when Peter was dropped off with his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) by his parents Richard and Mary (Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz). The movie then shows what happened to Richard and Mary afterward in a scene that involves a plane falling from the sky, though they must have been traveling near the edge of space since the astronauts of the 1960s took less time coming down than does this plane.

In the first set-piece with Spidey, he (along with apparently every NYPD police car) is trying to catch three Russian mobsters, led by Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti). The script gives Spidey a constant string of wisecracks that turn the action into a cartoon. Actually, some of the action seems cribbed from the Warner Brothers classics, though Bugs Bunny and the Roadrunner did it better. Peter’s also late for his graduation ceremony, where Gwen is the valedictorian. He misses her speech, but arrives just in time to collect his diploma. Even as he’s cracking wise, Peter keeps flashing to visions of Captain Stacy, so the angst rushes back in and Peter must break up with Gwen to honor her father’s dying wish. One giant step backwards right there.

During the chase, Spidey saves dweebish electrician Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), who’s wandering around the streets carrying multiple rolls of blueprints for absolutely no discernable reason. He’s a male version of Michelle Pfeiffer’s “Selina Kyle” from Batman Returns 22 years ago, but without the sympathy she engendered, or the edge she projected once she turned into Catwoman after being killed by Christopher Walken. Dillon works as an electrician for Oscorp, the evil corporate empire of the Spiderman saga, and is picked on by his manager (B.J. Novak). It’s stated that Oscorp has stolen his design for a power grid, but he shows no resentment against the company, even after the industrial accident they cause that turns Dillon into Electro. Why doesn’t Electro get some revenge against his manager? Apparently the writers forgot about Novak’s character.

Dane DeHaan is Harry Osborne, the role James Franco played in the Raimi films. Harry is written as a black sheep who’s disappointed his father (Chris Cooper in a small, uncredited role) and was shipped off to boarding schools when he was eleven, though somehow he’s still Peter Parker’s BFF. Soon Harry’s old man dies of a genetic disease that he’s lived with for decades, but when Harry begins to manifest symptoms, he acts like he’ll die tomorrow. Eventually he takes on the Green Goblin persona, but it feels like an afterthought. The writers have set up Oscorp as this powerful corporation with strong security and evil henchmen, but it seems like whenever someone needs to get some carefully protected item, they can walk right into the building and pick it up.

When you compare Amazing Spider-Man 2 to April’s superhero movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the problems with Spider-Man become clear. With Winter Soldier, the writers took the Marvel world and stood it on its ear. (I won’t go into how just in case you’re one of the three or four people in the world who haven’t yet seen the movie.) The action always has a purpose, the plotting is deft and it mirrors real concerns in the world that give it a topical edge. The first Captain America was a bit of a period piece (though a very well-done period piece) whose purpose was to set up the character for The Avengers. With Winter Soldier, though, the franchise jumped from afterthought to the level of the Iron Man series, and came close to the quality of The Dark Knight.

In contrast, Amazing Spider-Man 2 feels like it was cribbed from the other Marvel movies. The writers even lift a scene from Iron Man 2 where a kid steps in for the hero, though Iron Man did it much better. The Spidey banter is annoying because the writers use it in place of characterization. The film will make money, but if they make a third movie, the filmmakers will have to work hard to get rid of the bad aftertaste this movie leaves in your mouth when it’s finished.

(Note: It’s common now for Marvel movies to have two tags during the credits. This time, though, the only tag is a scene from X-Men: Days of Future Past that comes midway through the credits. It’s almost like the filmmakers are saying, “Yeah, this one stunk, but there’s a good movie coming in a couple of weeks.” There’s no tag at the end.)

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