“The Amazing Spider-Man” series took a surprisingly large drop in quality, surprisingly fast. “The Amazing Spider-Man” was a decent superhero origin story; it had a weak villain but it also had plenty of drive, heart and ambiance. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”, on the other hand, is goofy and not in an intentional sort of way, in a ‘this movie is so bad, over-the-top and unsubtle that large portions of it are fucking hilarious’ sort of way.
In the list of dumb things in this movie, you’ve got Paul Giamatti overacting like crazy as the Rhino and later being reduced to a floating head inside a poorly-designed, CGI Rhino tank-suit; Electro gaining his powers by falling into a tank of electric eels; Peter imagining Captain Stacy’s ghost following him everywhere, glaring at him from out of his cop car, even during the action scenes; Mr. and Mrs. Parker having this surreal espionage subplot that culminates in Peter finding their hidden spy train-carriage in the subway with all their research in it; Peter and Gwen breaking up and making up over and over again and Peter stalking Gwen; an evil, cliche Nazi scientist ripped straight out of World War II propaganda movies torturing Electro to classical music; Harry Osborn injecting himself with spider-venom that looks like it gives him Grinch hair and a nasty case of AIDs; and several instances of overly-simplistic, terribly-rendered CGI, including the climatic fight between Spider-Man and Electro, which looks exactly like two characters duking it out inside a video game with terrible graphics.
On top of all that, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is long and boring. This film has two antagonists (some would say three but let’s be honest here, Rhino is a glorified cameo), but they barely do anything antagonistic. Electro only gets two confrontations with Spider-Man, and Harry only really goes evil in the last twenty minutes. The rest of the movie’s plot is either devoted to Peter moping, angsting and feeling sorry for himself, or Peter and Gwen flip-flopping on how they feel about each other. So with very little meaningful conflict in this movie, it just drearily drags on and on through an ungodly long runtime of two and a half hours. All of the other Spider-Man movies before now, including “Spider-Man 3“, have at least been fun to watch, this one just felt soulless.
Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker is a lot less interesting in this movie than he was in the previous film. In “The Amazing Spider-Man”, Peter was spry, outspoken, snarky, determined, amiable, troubled, hubristic and haunted by his Uncle Ben’s death. In this film, Peter spends 90% of it angsting about how he wants to be with Gwen, but he can’t be with her because of her dad, but he still pursues her anyway; angsting about how he wants to know more about his missing parents but his investigation has unfortunately hit a dead end; angsting about how he wants to help Harry but he can’t know what will happen if he gives Harry his magic spider blood; and angsting about how people don’t like Spider-Man.
In the span of one movie, Peter has been reduced from a well-rounded and engaging character to a one-dimensional sad-sack, which ironically makes it a lot less effective when Gwen actually dies in the last ten minutes and we’re meant to be moved by a montage of Peter grieving her. Peter also makes a number of weird decisions in this movie that don’t exactly endear the audience to him, like letting a high-speed chase spiral further out-of-control for several minutes so he can stop and tell bad jokes, or stalking Gwen around the city, spying on her, several times a day every day for a month, which the movie just casually throws out there and never brings up again (I guess I was on point when I made that “Twilight” comparison last time).
There are a few times I like Peter in this movie, like when he rescues some kid from being harassed by neighborhood bullies and walks him home, or during the Times Square sequence, when he tries his best to approach Electro and talk him down, and when that doesn’t work he runs damage control and tries to nip things in the bud as quickly as he can. That’s a well-written Spider-Man. Peter, ignoring what he learned in the last movie about being responsible, eventually decides to give up being New York’s superhero so he can follow Gwen to England, and is immediately punished for this by the narrative when Green Goblin shows up out of nowhere and kills Gwen.
Peter gives up being Spider-Man out of grief and a few months later decides to come out of retirement, but this has no real emotional effect however, since it all literally occurs in the last ten minutes of the movie. Peter going up against the Rhino is supposed to be a satisfying return to form, but since the Rhino is really very lame it’s not a particularly inspiring place to close out this film or this franchise, and with Gwen’s death still extremely fresh in the audience’s minds, Peter still feels like a failure of a hero by the time the credits roll. I also find Peter’s overall character arc to be pretty iffy. I’m pretty sure he learned that there are times where no matter what you do, you still can’t win, and the two different endings for this film stress the importance of soldiering on through adversity. Trouble is, it feels like Peter barely grew at all in this film, and if anything he actually took several steps backwards from where he was at the end of the last movie.
Like Peter, Gwen Stacy is noticeably less fun than she was in the last film, though she doesn’t feel as blandly written as he does and Emma Stone is still nice and perky in the role. Graduating from her high school as a valedictorian, Gwen Stacy is all set to leave her old job at OsCorp behind and head off to Oxford university, if she can beat a younger teen prodigy to the scholarship. Gwen retains her fiery personality and continues to find ways to help Peter fight the good fight; she’s still incredibly stubborn and refuses to be strung along.
Like I mentioned before, instead of having their relationship progress naturally, Peter and Gwen spend the majority of this movie flip-flopping on how they feel about each other and whether or not they should break up for good, and to be honest, I really don’t care that much about the outcome. The Spider-Man movies always devote more time than they probably should to Peter’s love life and Peter’s on-again, off-again relationships with his girlfriends, and at a certain point, you just get burnt out on it. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” was that point for me. The fact that the movie ends with Gwen dying only makes the preceding melodrama even more tedious, and makes me wish all that screentime had been better used on other things, like letting Electro be an actual antagonist. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” naturally ends with Gwen being killed off, because whether you love it or hate it, that’s the direction her character has been heading since the end of the last film, and Marc Webb handles it well.
For context, let’s talk about Gwen’s original death in the comics, several decades ago. One of the writers at the time, Gerry Conway, thought Gwen was a flat, boring character and that Peter had better chemistry with Mary Jane, so when it was decided that one of Peter’s loved ones would die to change the status quo, Gwen was killed off by the Green Goblin. It’s not uncommon in fanfics for characters to be killed off for a preferred ship, but Gwen was one of the first cases where that actually became canon. Amusingly enough, she literally died for shipping. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” chooses to follow the comics, but it also clearly tries to have Gwen’s death seem less like a textbook case of fridging by having it be the consequence of her own poor decisions, as well as Peter breaking Captain Stacy’s trust.
Gwen’s fatal flaw has always been her stubbornness; she chose to ignore Peter’s warnings and put herself in harm’s way for the greater good and right before her death, she seemed to accept where her choices had led her. I don’t really think this improves it though. In this new outcome, the film punishes Gwen for exercising her own agency and not letting other people make her decisions for her (the exact opposite of what happened with MJ in the previous trilogy), and still kills off the hero’s girlfriend just to punish him and make him feel sad at the end, which is a particularly tiresome writing trope (though I suppose it does continue the spaghetti western theme established with Captain Stacy in the last movie). In Sony’s plans for “The Amazing Spider-Man 3”, Gwen was going to be resurrected as Spider-Gwen, but since they pulled the plug on that sequel Gwen’s whole character arc ends here, and it is both sudden and underwhelming.
At his worst, Jamie Foxx’s Electro is only slightly less cringy than the other villains in this duology, but I have to admit I do have a soft spot for him. Part of it is because I liked Jamie Foxx in the role, part of it is because Hans Zimmer and Pharrell Williams wrote a distinctive, surprisingly creative leitmotif for the character, and part of it is because Electro provided the Times Square sequence mid-movie, which is one of the few scenes in this film that feels like it actually had a great deal of effort poured into it to make it feel adventurous. Max Dillon is a shy, awkward and repressed nerd. A hard-worker at Oscorp, Max is often overlooked, underappreciated and mistreated by his co-workers and superiors, and as such, he has really low self-esteem.
He idolizes Spider-Man for his boldness and bravery, and puts him up on a pedestal of hero worship. Max is shown to be more than a bit unbalanced, having violent fantasies about his co-workers, devoting a shrine to Spider-Man and hearing whispery voices in his head. It’s interesting to consider this version of Electro as a foil to Spider-Man. Peter was a nerdy outcast who used his new powers for the good of the city, while Max is driven insane by his mistreatment and tries to take his revenge out on everyone who ostracized, abused him or exploited him. After a really goofy workplace accident turns him into an undead mutant, Electro is rejected and humiliated by all of New York City, and permanently made into a freak show. He wants someone to blame for his wreck of his life, some sort of scrapegoat, and Spidey had the misfortune of being the one who was present at the time. After years of repressing anger and resentment, Electro finally cuts loose and shows New York what he’s made of.
When Electro turns on his former hero and starts shooting up Times Square, lashing out at everyone there, the onslaughter quickly becomes one of my favorite visuals in the movie and it’s the moment when you realize “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” could have been a much better film than it was. This is a villain who can not only harness electricity but become electricity – in Manhattan. Peter should have spent a chunk of this movie trying to find a way to track him down, corner him and contain him in a city as large as New York. Instead, he’s benched in an asylum for the next hour and most of his potential is wasted. In Ravencroft, Electro is examined and tortured by Dr. Kafka, a lab-coat clad, black-glove wearing, sadistic scientist with a taste for classical music who has an exaggerated German accent – in other words, a Nazi in all but name. I think we’re actually supposed to take these scenes seriously, but that ain’t happening – and that’s before I mention the atrocious dialogue these two are given. Ironically, Dr. Kafka in the comics is a woman, so Marvel gave her a sex change and a nationality change for this movie.
Harry springs Electro out of the asylum so Harry can get into OsCorp and Electro can go after Spider-Man. In a nice touch, Harry swings Max over to his side by unknowingly appealing to the one thing Max ever really wanted – his desire to feel needed by someone, to be someone’s hero, which ironically causes him to become even more of a villain. The climax would be more engaging were it not for the fact that Electro’s character and his motivations have been completely neglected and undeveloped before now (in favor of more Peter / Gwen angst), and the CGI during Spider-Man and Electro’s final battle (which is also only their second one) can get pretty bad. It’s unfortunate, because out of all the villains in “The Amazing Spider-Man” series, Electro was the one who had the most potential in my opinion, but he’s almost completely wasted in this movie.
Since he was never mentioned once in the last movie, Dane Dehaan’s Harry Osborn is casually retconned into Peter’s backstory in this movie, as an old childhood friend. One common sentiment I often see expressed about “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is that it has an overabundance of subplots that have virtually nothing to do with each other, but I don’t think that’s entirely true – there is one thematic idea linking them. The main theme in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is the victims of Oscorp’s greed, ruthlessness, callousness and cruelty – the ones they tossed aside and stepped on to get what they wanted. People like Max, and Harry, and Peter’s parents. Dr. Connors from the last movie fits the bill as well. Whether or not this theme is handled well however, is a different story.
Harry is the prodigal son of OsCorp, who returns to run the company after his father dies. Harry is cynical, sarcastic, and bitter, as a result of being abandoned by his neglectful father and his privileged background causing him to grow up friendless, but he does have a close and unlikely friendship with Peter Parker. Dane Dehaan is one of the few actors in this movie who goes full ham and does it well (as Harry anyway, not so much as the Green Goblin), and the scenes devoted to his friendship with Peter are nice enough to watch. Harry’s attempts to command Oscorp are undermined by his employees and Norman’s old board, who disrespect him and see as just a rich brat.
Despite wanting to be different from his father, it’s pretty clear Harry is going to become a villain, even if you’ve never seen the previous trilogy or read the comics. Harry can be very temperamental and he has an entitled and manipulative side to him; he’s not above trying to use Peter and Gwen to get ahead. When he learns the terminal disease his father died from is genetic and it’s going to begin killing him as well eventually, he becomes determined to do whatever he can to save himself. His attempts to use Oscorp’s sciences are thwarted by his traitorous peers, and when he approaches Spidey for some of his blood, because he hopes Spider-Man’s healing factor can help him, he turns him down. Desperate, obsessed and vengeful, Harry eventually teams up with Electro so they can both get what they want and get their revenge. It’s a short-lived team-up that again makes you wish more attention had been given to these villains.
Harry eventually shoots himself up with some spider-venom that will only work on Peter and mutates into something unintentionally funny. Since it occurs in the last twenty minutes, Harry’s transformation into the Green Goblin is rushed, poorly-acted and embarrassingly cringy with a weird character design. He kills off Gwen to spite Spider-Man, and later we get some business about Harry arranging a super-villain team-up in prison. You see, for the last two movies Sony had been using the OsCorp arc to try to set up a Sinister Six movie, even if it came at the expense of the story currently being told, hence why the villains are so neglected and underdeveloped in “TASM” and “TASM2”. That Sinister Six movie never came to fruition however since this one underperformed, so there are a lot of loose ends still hanging in the “Amazing” series and it never received a proper ending.
Unlike the last film, we finally get some answers about what happened to Peter’s parents in this movie. Basically, Mr. Parker did some genetics research for Norman Osborn, found out Norman was a bad dude, destroyed his work and tried to go on the run with his wife, only to be killed (as an aside, this plot feels a lot like something you’d see in “Smallville”, particularly during the Lionel Luthor arc in that series’s third season. Just swap out Oscorp for LuthorCorp, and Dane Dehaan’s Harry Osborn for Michael Rosenbaum’s Lex Luthor). There was a storyline about Mr. and Mrs. Parker being spies in the comics, but for the most part they’ve never received as much attention as they do in these movies, because they’re honestly not that interesting and they have little to no relevance on the man Peter currently is as a result of his aunt and his uncle’s upbringing. Peter’s birth as Spider-Man being predestined by his parents, and the healing powers of his blood being strongly emphasized, also feels as though it takes something away from the unassuming, everyman aspect of his character.
There was an alternate ending to the film (which is ironically much better than the final version in the movie), where Peter finally reunited with his father, who survived his plane crash, a few months after Norman died and Gwen died. Mr. Parker helped convince Peter to return to being Spider-Man. Marc opted not to use it and save any further development for “The Amazing Spider-Man 3”, which was obviously a mistake, and as such the ‘Peter’s missing parents’ arc lacks a satisfying pay-off after two movies of build-up. One could argue that such a reunion would overshadow Aunt May and Uncle Ben’s place in Peter’s life, but that’s already happened anyway since Aunt May is given nothing to do in this movie except argue with Peter, and Uncle Ben is an afterthought at this point, so Marc Webb and Sony might as well have gone all the way with that subplot.
If Marc Webb’s direction for “The Amazing Spider-Man” felt bland at times, it often feels downright pedestrian in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”. It’s basic level stuff, devoid of any style or substance or visual flair save for the Times Square sequence and Gwen Stacy’s slow-motion death scene, and a lot of shots are framed awkwardly. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” abandons the dark and edgy aesthetic that the first film benefited from in favor of a bright and open look (more “The Avengers” than “The Dark Knight”), which only highlights the genericness. The CGI in the film is occasionally good, like during Spider-Man’s web slinging scenes, but most of the time it feels clunky and intrusive, or it feels like we’ve been transported inside a video game. In general, the film relies on it way too much considering how conspicuous it is.
The soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and Pharrell Williams (in a collaboration between the two artists) is easily the best part of the movie. Hans reworks Spider-Man’s main theme into a proud fanfare and incorporates it into many of the film’s cues, as well as pens some nice, techno pieces for the threads devoted to Oscorp and Peter’s parents. But the standout, centerpiece leitmotif is the ‘paranoia’ theme for Electro, performed by Pharrell: a combination of electronic dubstep elements, electric guitars and woodwind instruments that underscores most of Max Dillon’s scenes, depicting both his chaotic, clashing thought process and his inner schizophrenia that he’s always tried to keep a lid on before now. “My Enemy“, “The Electro Suite” and “Still Crazy” enhance whatever scenes they appear in.
“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is amazingly boring, and when it’s not boring it’s laughably cringy. This awful movie is easily the worst Spider-Man film produced so far; it killed the “Amazing” series and I suspect it’s a large part of the reason why people dislike Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man. You can easily give this one a pass.
* If you notice, unlike the previous four films, Sony placed their logo over Marvel’s and Columbia’s. Gotta get that self-promotion done right.
* This is admittedly a nice bit of symmetry. In the last film, we saw Peter’s parents leave from the boy’s perspective, but in this sequel, we finally get their point-of-view so we can get some answers.
* It bothers me that Mr. Parker has a Sony Vzio laptop for product placement, when this flashback is supposed to be set in the early 2000’s.
* “I know that we all think that we’re immortal. We’re supposed to feel that way, we’re graduating. But like our brief four years in high school, what makes life valuable is that it doesn’t last forever, what makes it precious is that it ends. I know that now more than ever. And I say it, today of all days, to remind us that time is luck. So don’t waste it living someone else’s life, make yours count for something. Fight for what matters to you, no matter what. Because even if you fall short, what better way is there to live?”
* “Sweetheart, I’m so proud of you. I know the first thing that your Uncle Ben would say” “Yeah, I know too. You better hurry up, the party’s over. You’ve gotta get a job”.
* “Wow, you have done this to me again and again. I can’t live like this. I break up with you, Peter. I break up with you“.
* “I don’t feel like my kids are safe with him out there. Get out of the way and let the police do their job!” This person is a moron. Cops are useless in superhero movies. And not only are the cops useless in “The Amazing Spider-Man” movies, they only ever seem to make things worse than they already were, as we’ll see later when we get to Times Square.
* “This is my laundry, my home, my machine! Back off! Eat your breakfast!” “Alright laundry sheriff, I’ll do it later”.
* “From now on everybody at this table works for Felicia, because Felicia works for me” I like Harry and Felica.
* “Did you ever figure out why your parents bailed?” “My Dad left a briefcase. Thats all I got, a briefcase full of junk”.
* “They lied to me, they shot at me, they hate on me, they’re using me, afraid of me, they’re dead to me! They lied to me, they shot at me, they hate on me, they’re dead to me, and now they’re all my enemy!”
* “Gone, Gone, Gone” by Phillips Phillips is a good pop song, but it really doesn’t fit the mood of this obsessive research scene.
* Heh, Peter’s ringtone.
* I really love Harry’s emo bangs. They look they were inspired by Emo Peter’s haircut in “Spider-Man 3”.
* “I don’t want you money” “Come on, everybody wants my money!”
* “The truth is your parents left you here, on our door-step. And you were this little boy whose whole world was turned upside down with no explanation. We did the best we could, your Uncle Ben and I. I mean, who else was gonna care for you and protect you and worry about you? Your father? No. I was the one who wiped your nose and made you brush your teeth and do your homework and washed your dirty underwear. Me! Your stupid, non-scientific aunt, who doesn’t know how to make ends meet, who has to take nursing classes with twenty-two year old kids so I can pay for you to go to college. And I don’t know how to do this without Ben! I don’t know how! And…and you’re dreaming about your perfect father, who was never here. No! No, I won’t tell you. You’re my boy. As far as I’m concerned, you’re my boy, and I won’t hurt you”.
* “Once you shut down the grid, Spider-Man will come to you, and I want you to make him bleed!” Harry is easily the most quotable character in this movie.
* It feels so good when Harry and Electro finally shut Menken up. I’m not even joking when I say I would rather watch a movie about Harry and Max taking on New York together.
* “Do you see me now, Spider-Man? It’s time to meet our destiny”.
* I love Peter’s ‘bitch, what the fuck is that?‘ expression through his mask when Harry shows up. He looks as appalled by that character design as the audience.
* Choke that bitch, Peter! Somehow, Harry didn’t get a snapped neck from that move.
* I thought Peter’s webbing was supposed to be super strong? It’s pretty shoddy if a simple gear snapped it.
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