Last night, I Tweeted this:
If I wanted to show a non-writer what a really promising novel looked like about two drafts before completion, I’d show them Spider-Man 2.
— Ferrett Steinmetz (@ferretthimself) May 2, 2014
Which is, really, all you need to know about Spider-Man 2. It’s got some really awesome stuff, things I haven’t seen before in a Spider-Man movie. And it’s also half-baked, strangling its own emotional impact with storylines that could have been magnificent with a bit of tweaking.
Here’s the good: this is the first movie to show Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man in full effect. I used to say that Christopher Reeve’s Superman was the only superhero who waved hello and goodbye, giving a little human interaction between his acts of heroism, and that’s what made him great; it told you Superman cared. All those other heroes swooped in and saved you, then disappeared or soared away. Superman was about the niceties.
This Spider-Man is clearly The Good Guy. He remembers people by name. He stops in mid-chase to brush off the shoulders of the people he’s saved, to encourage them. He’s not just saving people, he’s chit-chatting, he’s making quips, he’s funny and fun to be around.
This film doesn’t even attempt to make The Daily Bugle’s hack jobs look real. Everyone in town adores Spider-Man, and that’s that.
And Spider-Man loves what he does. Teresa Nielsen-Hayden said something on Twitter along the lines of “Spider-Man says there’s nothing wrong with being Spider-Man? Oh, these people don’t understand the character.”
Except it’s Teresa who doesn’t understand. Spider-Man is the only good thing about Peter Parker’s life, in many ways: he works a shit job, lives in poverty with his elderly aunt, and he gets to creep out of the house to play the Big Damn Hero every night. Everything that sucks about being Spider-Man is Peter Parker – his friends get endangered (often through ridiculous plot development), he has to choose between survival and doing the right thing. If he could only be Spider-Man, he’d be fine.
But eventually, he has to be Peter Parker.
And the film gets that. And the emotional realism between Peter and Gwen is well-developed, an achingly real first love, where they both realize they’re wrong for each other but think that love can overcome all that. Nothing matters but love. And, obviously, when you’re Spider-Man, the universe is going to teach you how that may not be true.
The problem is the movie’s unbalanced. There’s two villains, and, well, experienced superhero film fans know what that means. And worse, they’re not really particularly well-created villains. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 feels like a step back after Sam Raimi’s richly-reimagined Doc Ock and Green Goblin – Electro is a dysfunctional, one-note nebbish who becomes a dysfunctional, one-note supervillain, and could have been taken straight from the 1960s comics.
That’s not a compliment. Movies have grown, and so have the audiences, and while I won’t hear a bad word said about Ditko and Lee, I will say that copying their simplicity in today’s market doesn’t feel groundbreaking, but simple.
And the second half of the film falls apart, with two half-baked villains trying to take the emotional place of one, and all sorts of scenes that don’t make sense given what we’ve been told before. We have the clear Idiot Plot, and on the way back from the theater Gini and I thought up several fixes that would have preserved the integrity of the characters and raised the emotional stakes. Our fixes might not have been perfect, but this film feels like they had several action sequences to film, and an end, and didn’t really think about how to connect them all together in a way that satisfies.
(IMDB informs me that the PG-13 rating they had to keep also played a factor – you couldn’t make the villains too scary, so instead of fighting and trimming, they simply filmed entirely new scenes, much to their detriment.)
And what happens next, well, that enters the land of spoilers. Over on LiveJournal, I’ll leave a comment discussing some of the problems and how I would have fixed them… but the point is that these could have been fixed. This is what redrafting is for, to interrogate yourself honestly about the weak points in the plot and to see whether the emotional moments you’re going for are actually earned. And they’re not, not quite. The elements are all there, waiting to be honed, reshaped, rearranged. But what you get is an okay movie – and after the awesomeness of Captain America 2, we really needed better than okay.
(Also: I’d like to tell my ten-year-old self that “By the way, the fifth Spider-Man movie won’t be nearly as good as the second Captain America movie” and watch his little mind go boom. What a marvelous age we live in.)
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/399998.h