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The Amazing Spider-Man 2: A Review (No Spoilers) - The Watchtower of Destruction: The Ferrett's Journal
May 2nd, 2014
09:02 am


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The Amazing Spider-Man 2: A Review (No Spoilers)

Last night, I Tweeted this:

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.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

(7 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

[User Picture]
Date:May 2nd, 2014 01:14 pm (UTC)
Okay, so here's the easiest fix to make things better:

Harry's hatred of Spider-Man comes because his best friend Peter won't give him his blood to save his life. Which is kinda dickish. As Gini noted, Peter - who's been super-helpful to every other single person in New York City - says, "I won't give you my blood" and then jumps out the window without saying, "...but I'll help you research alternatives" or "...until it's clear there are no other options" or, well, anything.

So Spider-Man's a dick for no good reason.

The easiest fix is to shift events around somewhat: Have Harry lose control of Oscorp before he talks to Peter. Why the fuck is Harry so insanely focused on Spider-Man's blood when he's got a whole corporation to do research for him? Why isn't Peter pointing out that Harry has time, and that the last time this happened Doc Connors tried to kill New York?

No. If you take away Oscorp, then you have Harry - who's literally been thrown into the streets to die. Take away the research labs and the riches, so Harry's only chance is Spider-Man. And have Harry be a little unbalanced about all that.

Then have Peter find out about his DNA in the spider before he talks to Harry. So now he knows for sure that the blood won't work on Harry, but doesn't want to tell Harry why because, well, if the news gets back to Oscorp that customized Spider-Men can be made by the thousands just by seeding spiders with tailored DNA, things are gonna get a lot worse. And so Spider-Man has two solutions at hand, one he has a good reason not to tell Harry about, and the other he knows won't work.

The biggest problem, of course, is that the film loses track of Harry after Gwen dies - and I'm not sure how you fix that, because honestly, the best way to fix it is to have Spider-Man track down the crazed Goblin afterwards, beat the shit out of him for killing Gwen, and then have the Goblin kill himself out of hubris.

Which is what happened in the comics.

Which is the ending that Raimi stole for his Spider-Man.

Unfortunately, the ending here has no upnote. We don't see Spider-Man getting his revenge; in fact, the Goblin literally vanishes, and it's a surprise to see him in jail. IMDB tells me that the original, more satisfying endings were judged too scary for a PG-13 movie, but the last-minute solutions here don't do it.

The real problem is that they're splitting time between two villains, and after having Electro be the main baddie, suddenly Goblin swoops in and kills Gwen and what? It's not earned. Not earned at all. And if you'd set it up so that it was earned, that moment could have been devastating, but....

...As it is, you have something I've never seen before: the final scene in the film being used as the big trailer moment. Which is an indication of how unsatisfying the film is: the ending is what's used to get you into the theater, and cuts off at the same point, showing that this film's about promising more than it can actually deliver.
[User Picture]
Date:May 2nd, 2014 03:46 pm (UTC)
When Peter said he wouldn't give Harry his blood, my impression was that it was because when he helped Connors out in the first movie the end result was nearly having the entire city get turned into lizard people, and he was afraid of something like that happening again.

But since there was no dialogue to prove things one way or the other, that may just be me reading things in that weren't actually there.
[User Picture]
Date:May 2nd, 2014 04:18 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it can be implied, but not having it explicit is poor writing - particularly to those who didn't see the previous movie.

And even then, he didn't give Harry any other options.

Edited at 2014-05-02 04:18 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:May 2nd, 2014 09:51 pm (UTC)
I agree with everything you said. I would also add that webslinging Spidey looked fake to me, which was a problem. He didn't seem to have any weight; he would just fly around the screen. And the fight with Electro at the end just looked like a video game cutscene.
[User Picture]
Date:May 3rd, 2014 01:58 am (UTC)
If you miss the title of this post, and forget that they're making new Spider-Man movies, it's extremely confusing.

Side-note: We live in a world where "The original Spider-Man 2" is a phrase that not only makes sense, but is often necessary.
[User Picture]
Date:May 4th, 2014 09:46 pm (UTC)
I'm really curious about how big a factor the PG-13 rating thing really was. My opinion of the film is pretty much the same as yours: it captured a lot of what I really, truly love about Spider-Man but there was such a lack of polish to the writing that it left me feeling positively bi-polar in the experience.

But then I saw the credits and that the movie was written by Kurtzman and Orci and I went, "Oh." Because I have the exact same issues with this movie as I do with everything they do. So I don't buy that the problems were due to their reaction to the rating requirements. I think they're just incredibly lazy writers. They know exactly what it takes to get a movie to make a ton of money and they stop there.
[User Picture]
Date:May 6th, 2015 02:09 pm (UTC)
They finally got the costume right and Garfield is great as Peter Parker. But I agree with you. It's not as good as Captain America.
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