I really enjoyed Amazing Spider-Man, I really did, it was not without its flaws, and it took a spin on the character that split opinions, but was respectably set apart from the Raimi/Maguire rendition, with a villain we’ve wanted on screen for quite some time realised by an actor who could compensate for the… odd choices made in the script. I left the cinema with questions, a handful of doubts, but with hope for what a sequel might bring.
Then the hype train starting rolling, and what we saw was a modernised version of Electro with none of the daft yellow spandex in the hands of a very capable actor, Jamie Foxx, and the Rhino in a questionable but ingenious casting choice in Paul Giamatti, in a rhino-shaped tank which looked cool, and we had a Goblin set-up that looked slick and who was obviously going to kill Gwen Stacey.
Flags are already waving. Three villains… same problem faced by the film that killed the last series, but there’s still hope! Right?
Villains For Days Yo!
Goblin: So Goblin pulls a Venom! We meet Harry Osborn for the first time, lacking any and all of the set up from the Raimi trilogy, and just introduced as a best friend to Peter with no chemistry or history that isn’t presented as exposition while skipping stones and wandering around a theme park. Teenaged Harry arrives and expects the entirety of the company to bow down and do as he says, doesn’t care about reconnecting with his best friend in the time he has remaining, not unless he can get something from that friend. Where old Harry was generally a bit likeable but obviously troubled guy with some obvious but forgivable flaws, this one’s just a loathsome smear of grease… which I suppose makes Dane DeHaan a perfect casting choice!*
His appearance as the Goblin comes in the final fragment of the film, even more last-minute than Venom himself. He’s advertised as having a long, slow-burning reveal, a silhouette in the dust, a growing madness, and yes, the close-quarters action we see in the trailer practically screams of climactic finale, so we expect Goblin to only be an act three moment, perhaps some grim mastermind behind Electro and Rhino?
Electro: I say again, visually spectacular, and in the hands of a great actor, and there’s solid evidence of a great character concept! Foxx plays awkward nerd, confused monster, and intimidating living-weapon surprisingly well, but it’s so overcooked.
Max Dillon is too mentally broken to be believable as a the designer of a masterpiece powerplant. There’s some removed content about his profoundly troubled relationship with his uncaring, unfeeling mother, but I guess that detracted from how lonely he was? His creation is… on paper just as dumb as “I got bit by a spider and it made me a superhero” but it’s made just as bad on screen. Credit where credit is due, watching him stumble into New York, his mind in shambles, and then irrationally lashing out at civilians and Spider-Man (none of which would have happened if the police hadn’t irrationally lashed out at him) was a great moment for me! And I loved the soundtrack that went with it, cinematic and electronic at the same time, some hated it, I thought it was a cool choice… anyway, moving on.
He goes weird for our third act, his gives a villainous monologue that makes no sense, falls in behind the little rich kid, and takes the power grid as the seat of his power, which he learns to play like a xylophone for the sake of some taunting music. And then he explodes having learned nothing.
Rhino: Here’s where I disagree with a lot of people. I liked Paul Giamatti for the Rhino, the character is rarely more than a brutish henchman for someone else, so having him as loudmouthed and kinda dim witted was on-point. His opening scene sets him up as the getaway driver to call when the vehicle you’re hijacking or escaping in is an HGV, especially if it’s armoured or powerful enough to ram through stuff, so yeah, as a Rhino set-up, I’m ok with this so far.
And I liked that the fight at the end was a fakeout setup! I think that would have been great, except:
1) It was a bad spider-man moment, it was supposed to be this huge comeback, his return to glory just in time for the Sinister Six to start rising to conquer New York. But the comeback followed a few minutes of half-hearted absence, and not the dominating feature of a second act as it was in Spider-Man 2.
2) The scene was badly directed. People don’t flock to the scenes of explosions, the police don’t have barricades ready for super-powered showdowns, and the inconsistency of the shots makes the whole thing feel wrong.
3) If you’re going to fake out a scene like that, keep it out of the trailers. We know how you feel about promises you don’t intend to keep, and it’s still a crappy habit.
Spider-Man and the Backstory No One Wanted
In addition to cramming in all the villains, yet more romance with Gwen Stacey – seriously though I still like Emma Stone’s Gwen! The outburst of “Peter!” when he webs her to a car for her own safety, followed by a panicked slap over her mouth hoping no one heard, that was incredible. I know the whole magnetism thing is expositional and cheesy but I don’t see MJ Watson coming up with anything better, I would watch the hell out of a straight-forward romcom between these two characters, especially if they could reintroduce Shailene Woodley as the Amazingverse Mary Jane. Mind you, Garfield and Stone have apparently broken up… sorry, what was I saying?
Oh yeah! With everything already occupying screen time we also have the whole “special genetics” subplot, including the single most ridiculous secret hideout ever! I think the hidden train in a hidden subway tunnel that can only be found with subway tokens hidden in a calculator, is the tentpole holding up the hatred surrounding this film. Andrew Garfield may be too reckless for a Spider-Man, too cocky, too dangerous, but he’s quippy, funny, and would have had to reign in his bad habits after watching Gwen die, surely. But the fact that his Dad made him genetically predisposed to superheroism, and had enough money to build a hidden subway train lab and a private jet but not enough money to keep his sister (sister in law? I always forget, gotta be sister in law right?) out of poverty.
Ok, so we expected some more threads to be woven into the story that was started in the first film, and it was no small thing that a sequel was expected that might have rounded up the whole “Peter’s Secret Parent Story” thread but no one cared, no one wanted to know, and no matter how much we wanted to see a Sinister Six brought to screen, we simply weren’t keen enough to put up with all the drek that went along with it.
Plus they’d just killed off the most interesting character.
I still say that there was a good Spider-Man somewhere to be found in Andrew Garfield, and I’ve yet to hear anyone disagree with that, he’s a very good actor, and if you want proof that he was a good pick look no further than the crime-fighting compilation in which we see him coming home over and over again, increasingly exhausted, with the signs of various struggles as he unsuited. The idiot kid who charges in to fight the Rhino at the end? We see Spidey drive off some bullies who are picking on him, fix up his science fair project and sent him cheerily on his way. That Spider-Man is one we could really have enjoyed, but alas, he’s only on screen for a few minutes.
Hating on Amazing Spider-Man 2 is well trodden ground at this point, and I think it’s mostly fair, and I’m not going to sit here and praise it as one of the greats because… well it isn’t. It’s not fair to out and out gloss over the virtues of the film. It is entirely fair to say that a better sequel would have left Amazing Spider-Man 1 looking better than it does now… It’s like trying to enjoy Unbreakable after watching The Happening, it leaves a sour taste.
Next week I’ll be skipping over Homecoming, as we had an excellent review – albeit I think a harsh one – by guest author Ed Brown. So I’ll be skipping straight to Into the Spiderverse to round out Spider-Manuary, taking us into Spider-Mebruary?
Into the Spider-Vebruary? Webruary…
*I actually like Dane DeHaan, I think he’s a good actor who has made some bad choices