With my cousin-in-law Jeff Reed, at 3:50pm on a Saturday afternoon, I saw The Amazing Spider-Man 2. While I make sure to see all effects heavy films in IMAX, I am much more selective when deciding on 3D. For this film, I did elect to see the film in 3D after reading some pre-release reviews of the 3D experience.
This review will not be spoiler filled until I touch on my thoughts of the writing. I will make sure to put the spoiler warning in an obvious spot. Here we go.
1.) Visual Effects – First and foremost, I believe the second strongest aspect of this film is the visual effects. They are the best Spider-Man effects to date and are an awe inspiring achievement. The first trailers of this film, before fully rendered, made the film’s scenes seem like XBox cut scenes. Fortunately, that is not the case. Spider-Man’s powers are utilized in the most creative ways yet. The staging of every effects fight is varied and brilliantly realized on screen. They know they have a web-slinger in this movie, so we get webbing flying through the screen, and those great ‘Spidey perspective’ scenes that have worked so well in the past. Those are the best they have ever been. Electro is visually represented in the most tactial way possible, and his use of power scenes are totally buy-able.
2.) Acting – I think the acting in this movie is top notch. Everyone knows what movie they are in, and the principles are great. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have electric chemistry. Their love story is the strongest element of this film, slightly nosing past the visual effects. There are some moments of painful emotion that he struggles with a little bit, but the best scenes in the movie are the two of them. Jamie Foxx pulls a credible double duty between pre/post conversion Electro. (More on this in spoilers). Dane DeHaan is very playful and charming. Chris Cooper and Campbell Scott are good in the scenes they get but there is one actress I really want to call out. I think Sally Fields is great in the fleshed out part they give her as Aunt May.
3.) Score – I am divided on this score. There a moments with Electro that I really enjoy the synth-vibe it’s using, but there are moments I really get annoyed but his music. I think I actually dislike parts of Spider-Man’s theme in this film. The big horn anthem parts of it really work during the swinging scenes, but there are parts of it I think fail the film. I really believe there are moments that the score detracts from some of the Andrew Garfield’s more emotive scenes.
4.) Writing/Plot – So here are where the spoilers come – read at your own risk.
So, I want to say, that this movie has some plot issues, but they are more small divots than holes. This film DOES NOT suffer from ‘Iron Man 2 disease’ as many critics have cited. It is definitely not derailed for universe building as that film was. This is also not Rami’s Spider-Man 3; while there are obvious similarities, those are only skin deep.
I will say that Electro, Green Goblin, and the Rhino are not three dimensional or nuanced here, I don’t think the movie wants them to be, and the movie’s juggling act is stronger for it. Electro has one motivation, hating Spider-Man. But I think the character is set up to be a little broken with reality as it is, and he has a “to be needed” complex that is very well set up. His singular focus of hating Spider-Man also fits with the villain he becomes. Electro. Electricity. He is a force of nature, and rage fits with that.
Dane DeHaan’s role as Harry Osborn being single minded and singularly motivated is less well integrated. At the beginning, he is set up with the ticking clock of death which would hasten his activity to be sure, but his dad didn’t die right away. (Though, I LOVE how the Green Goblin thing is written. That is is a degenerative skin disease is a great way to go so that it isn’t an experiment gone bad or a silly tiki mask) He also is motivated by being mad at Spider-Man, which is a part of the weakness of this character. Being mad at Spider-Man is redundant when Electro is already mad at Spider-Man. What they do to try to fix this is add the layer that he also figures out that Spider-Man is Peter Parker and that it is Peter Parker that betrayed him. I think this conceptually, but in execution it is lacking. We needed another scene of them together, being friends and we also needed another scene of Peter mulling over what to do. Ultimately, we never think Peter is struggling with giving over the blood and we don’t see enough of a friendship that makes killing Gwen worth the betrayal. This movie didn’t need to be longer, but maybe we trim the edges of some scenes (because I don’t feel like any need cut) to make room for 3-7 minutes of extra character development. There is a weird moment though where DeHaan does some bad theft of Ledger’s Joker.
As for the Rhino. No-one should be mad about the Rhino. This is a fun cameo and that is all we should take from it. He is not a juggled plot line in the movie, only a book-end thrill. Paul Giamati is maybe a 1/2 dimensional character, but he is no more developed than Batroc the Leaper from Captain America: TWS and everyone loved that film and moment. I also think the Mech-Rhino is brilliant and the best way to integrate that character.
I think I really like the tact this series of movies is going for with Oscorp and theme. Both movies now have been about medicine and cross-species genetics. Oscorp feels like an character in this world and their actions and motivations make them a more realized character than Harry Osborn in my opinion. I really think the Smythe name drop is worth it and no different than the Steven Strange drop in CA:TWS and I think the Sinister Six set-ups are fun and woven in with the movie in an un-clunky way.
As I said above, the Gwen/Peter romance is the best stuff in this movie and it makes her death so much more traumatic. The single ‘CRACK’ we hear as the score cuts out and her head hits the pavement is quick, thin, and vomit-inducing.
I think the ending, while needed and fun, is a little bit of a mess and a lot a bit powerful. While I totally accept that the power station has a back-up that could restart everything and fry Electro, the fact that it would restore all the power to the city after all of the damage done to the towers is a little rough for me to handle. The five month off period for Spider-Man is poorly revealed to me, and I think his absence/giving up the webs could have been better shown vs. told. I think maybe a ‘seasons changing’ montage of the suit sitting dusty would have been more resonant – however, after we get to the replay of Gwen’s speech and the scene with the full-mech Rhino the ending really scored with me. I must be that I am a parent now, but when this kid we’ve seen two or three times in the movie, Jorge (couldn’t we have named him Miles) pulls on the mask and re-enacts the Tiananmen Square I was tearing up. Inspiring the purity and naive heroics of a child are the reason I love comic books and heroes. It’s why I tied a towel around my neck and jumped down the stairs to fly like Superman. I loved it.
Speaking to this, I love the way Spider-Man is characterized in this film. He is fun, quippy, and fully embraced as a hero by the city. He peacocks like a pro-wrestler and taunts and is just a lot of fun.
I don’t want to go on too much longer, but this film is slightly compromised by the studio’s ambitions. Though it is not so detoured and dull in the middle like Iron Man 2, it does suffer a little bit from length and lack of a couple character moments in order to build a universe. I think the big difference between this and Rami’s Spider-Man 3 is that those villains were all attempted to be tied up and bowed at the end of the movie, so their arcs suffer. This movie knows it has a sequel and I think the main story of hope, betrayal, and owning your decisions is well served. The universe building feels like subtle extensions more than ham-fisted references. The visuals are incredible and the acting is the best this series has ever had. I am very excited to see how this universe plays out. Ultimately, I recommend this film to be seen in the theater in the IMAX 3D. It’s worth it. I would rate it as 4.25 out of 5. I will have to watch Rami’s Spider-Man 2 again to see how I feel, but I am pretty certain I would rate this as the best Spider-Man film. Better than Solid, but less than strong recommend.
**As an Easter egg footnote, I think that it is brilliant that the clock on the tower at the climax reads 1:21 at Gwen’s Death. This a nod to Issue 121, which is when Gwen Stacy is killed in the comics**