Amazing Spider-Man 2

May 10, 2014

Like many teenage boys I was a fan of comic books, and my favorite superhero was Spider-Man. In fact Spider-Man is so popular that Marvel Comics had several different titles featuring the character, including Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man, Spider-Man, Spider-Man Unlimited, Web of Spider-Man, and my favorite, The Amazing Spider-Man.

Spider-Man, as you probably know, was already the star of a fairly successful 2002-2007 trilogy directed by Sam Raimi and starring Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. Marvel Comics, ever happy to milk their cash cow, dipped in the well again for this latest unnecessary version, starring Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker / The Amazing Spider-Man and Emma Stone as his girlfriend Gwen Stacy.

The story involves Peter living at home with his Aunt May and moping about his parent’s mysterious death, while flirting with his love Gwen; and as Spider-Man battling a host of villains including the Green Goblin (his boyhood chum Harry Osborn) and Jamie Foxx as a glowing electric blue bad guy named Electro. The film falls into a predictable pattern of wooing Gwen and fighting crime, wooing Gwen and fighting crime.

It took four writers to craft this half-baked, patchwork mess, though to be fair it can’t be easy adapting a story well known to tens of millions of fanboys and others. At several points you can clearly see where the writers just gave up trying to craft a credible screenplay. For example at one point one of the characters finds some subway tokens and for reasons that are never explained he decides to go to an abandoned subway station (which is curiously clean and well-lit), where (for reasons that are never explained) he puts one of the tokens into a broken-down turnstile, which (for reasons that are never explained) activates a whole mechanized series of hidden contraptions that have apparently not been touched in many years but were just ready and waiting for someone to do that.

The film struggles to find a consistent tone; one minute Spider-Man is making corny jokes and engaging in slapstick, the next he’s venting his pathos about the loss of his father. At one point Spider-Man takes a cell phone call from Gwen while he’s in the middle of a crimefighting scene, stuck to the hood of a car as it barrels through the streets of Manhattan. It’s supposed to be a jokey, cute moment, but the problem is that it simply reinforces the cartoonish tone of the film. Part of Peter Parker’s appeal is his vulnerability. Spidey is clearly in no real jeopardy-and those around him are obviously in no imminent danger-if he can stop what he’s doing to have a chat with his girlfriend during a chase. Since the threat is not palpable, it’s hard to really become emotionally involved with the characters-including Gwen Stacy, whose death (not much of a spoiler) is super-emoted by Garfield. Peter’s world is obviously shaken, but because she’s a cardboard cutout, her death has about the same emotional weight for the audience as seeing Elmer Fudd fall off a cliff.

The limp script isn’t elevated much by the leaden efforts of 30-year-old Andrew Garfield as a teenager and Emma Stone, who has the charisma of a dead battery. Director Marc Webb cut his teeth making music videos, and it shows. He includes lots of slow-motion shots and flashy camera angles but in the end it’s just filler eye candy. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 tries mightily to distract the audience from the plot holes and absurdities by filling the screen with computer-generated special effects (much of which looks unrealistic) and a pounding, Transformers-style, unnecessarily loud soundtrack.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has too many characters and is transparently intended as a launching vehicle for a series of sequels. In other words, the film is largely an extended trailer for other movies, which is fine except they forgot to make a good movie out of this one. If you want to see a good Spider-Man movie, check out the Sam Raimi version.