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Friday, May 2, 2014

Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2



The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a bad movie.  You won't come out of it thinking this.  You'll come out of it, well, if not pleased, then sated, at least; it's a film that relentlessly, nonsensically panders, and - shocker - we as a species typically enjoy being pandered to.  You will come out remembering the film's best scenes, of which there are a number.  And then you will go to sleep.

You will wake up the next day and have trouble remembering what you did the night before.  You'll see a commercial, then, or a print ad, or this review, and remember that you saw The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  You enjoyed it.  You'll see a clip of that Electro fight at the power grid, Tweet how cool that scene looked, how fluid CGI Spidey moved.  You'll wonder, briefly, why, during that scene, Electro kept playing "The Itsy Bitsy Spider," instead of fighting, but this will pass.  The Goblin!  You liked the Goblin.  Well, you liked that one scene, which was just stolen wholesale from a better comic, at least. And why did he deteriorate so quickly compared to everyone else in his family?  And why did he think poisoning himself would help?  Why didn't he just get in the super-healing suit in the first place?

"Why?"  It's the question that will ruin your day.  Because nothing that happens in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 flows naturally from what happened before.  Things just... occur.  There is no natural progression of events, no flow of scenes building off of one another.  There is only a single question: What would make you, the viewer, pay attention to me right now.  It's filmmaking filtered through the brain of an infant, and it demands your attention, not to say anything, but just because it likes having attention.

As I count it, there are roughly three films running concurrently here, and none of them have anything to do with one another.

In the first, the hot-but-cocky Peter Parker and his charmingly brilliant girlfriend Gwen go through relationship troubles based on mutual loss and an opportunity one of them has to do something amazing with her life.  This is the good movie, a goofy but largely tender relationship dramedy carried entirely on the shoulders of two gifted young actors.  Not coincidentally, it's also the type of film director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) feels most comfortable making.

In the second film, Peter discovers the aftermath of a medical conspiracy thriller in which his father, a once-in-a-generation gifted scientist, and his mother, a womb who almost has a line once, are being hunted down because Oscorp wants to weaponize his cure for basically every disease... a cure he hides in his own son's blood (shades of a similarly stupid plot twist in Star Trek Into Darkness, which shares writers with this film) and then destroys all other traces of, because fuck cancer, am I right?  This isn't so much bad - well, okay, it's very bad, but that's not the point - as it is unnecessary.  It never comes up, it never matters, it mostly just exists because this is a modern action movie and thus it requires daddy drama.  Literally every second of this plot could be cut without changing anything from the overall film.

In the third film, Marc Webb just kind of inadvertently remade a Joel Schumacher Batman film.  The villains - there are a lot of them, and none of them ever make it past 'Saturday Morning Cartoon'-level characterization - never really intersect with Peter's story in any meaningful way.  Jamie Foxx and Dane DeHaan play Max Dillon/Electro and Harry Osborn/Green Goblin, respectively, and they are both truly, often spectacularly awful.  I blame neither of them for this; both characters are poorly-conceived and half-formed on a level that is frankly kind of amazing for a film that ostensibly cost $250,000,000 to make, garish, ugly designs covering up their shallowness as much as possible.  If Foxx and DeHaan have turned their performances up beyond 11, it's because they're trying so damn hard to conceal how little their characters make sense.  More than once, I wondered if someone was trolling me.

A movie is more than just the sum of its parts, more than a mere collection of scenes.  The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has seemingly everything going for it.  While Garfield is a truly abysmal Peter Parker, all swagger and confidence, he make an excellent Spider-Man - and he has great chemistry with the film's real star, Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy.  The effects, as I mentioned, can finally capture the way Spider-Man moved in your imagination as a child, fluid grace transitioning effortlessly into feats of casual strength.  There are some genuinely funny scenes, and at least two moments where they really capture who Spider-Man is in his best moments.

Unfortunately, those elements are buried in an avalanche of grating, insulting, mind-numbing stupidity that is virtually inescapable when your film is written by screenwriting's most notorious duo, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen; Cowboys & Aliens).  Entire major characters could be excised from the film with virtually nothing changing.  Indeed, only the Green Goblin, who gets maybe 15-20 minutes of screen time, is even remotely integrated into Peter and Gwen's story.  Electro and the Rhino may as well be called Studio Notes 1 and Studio Notes 2, both clearly shoe-horned in to give the film big new setpieces.  Everyone talks almost exclusively in exposition, even extras who we never see again pop up briefly to explain why something happens before disappearing entirely.  A low point comes early, when Peter watches an interview where a random extra bystander from his fight with Electro comes on TV, explains that Peter survived the fight because his suit was insulated, and then disappears forever.  Even random extras exist to do nothing but either 1) remind us what the plot is, or 2) patch up plot holes (sort of) in stray lines of, "Oh, by the way, this totally happened so that makes sense by the way."

You will probably enjoy The Amazing Spider-Man 2 when it is actually in front of you; to a degree, I know I did.  This isn't The Room, its awful production valued worn on its sleeve, though its script makes about as much sense as Wiseau's notoriously insane film.  There are even a few moments that flirt with greatness.  But you'll dislike it just a little bit more every time you think about it, every time you remember it exists, which will be rarely, until, a few months from now, it will be not at all.  The Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn't a movie; it's fast food, meant to be consumed in a half-aware stupor and then forgotten until they can shove more down your throat.

I give it a D.
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