The Amazing Spider-Man: Five Things I Loved (And Five Things I Hated)
On balance, I thought The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was one of Sony's better efforts. As someone who was never particularly a fan of Sam Raimi's trilogy (even before it spiraled completely into Cloud Cuckooland with Spider-Man 3), The Amazing Spider-Man was at the time the best Spidey flick I'd ever seen, and the second movie held up for me. It's drawn a lot of criticism, though, and it's not hard to see why. Aside from the preconceived notions that people had going in that the movie was going to be an overcrowded mess (more on that later), the reality is, there were flaws in the film. And of course we live in a world where if it isn't done by Marvel Studios, a superhero movie is inherently subject to a degree of scrutiny to which few commercial films are subjected. So what did I like about the movie -- and where were its flaws? When I saw the film, I started to take notes on the thing, but about halfway through was swept up in the movie and they stopped being coherent enough to write a review. Luckily, another writer got one in and I was able to take some time and really digest what I'd seen. Here's what I came up with...
Good:It's a crowded movie, but there's not a wasted frame. Gwen receives the scholarship call while Oscorp is reeling from Norman's death and moments before Max becomes Electro. It felt like, yeah, there are a lot of people in this movie, but it isn't like we're trying to cram in a central plot and a pair of subplots while also juggling an extended, absurd musical number. Comparisons to Spider-Man 3 were premature and frankly silly, and while the comparisons to Batman Forever were fair in the sense that Jamie Foxx's character was basically Jim Carrey's Riddler, it isn't as though the whole movie was Schmacher-levels of bad.
Bad:Peter & Gwen's breakup was oddly stilted. I get what they were going for with the whole "I...breakup with you." thing -- but it just didn't work. The chemistry the pair shared onscreen made their breakup in the first act fairly unbelievable, actually, and while a solid, emotional performance could have fixed that, what we got was a kind of paint-by-numbers scene that telegraphed the fact that the breakup wasn't going to last...partly becuase you couldn't believe a screen couple so good breaking up in such a stilted and awkward way. Good: The score is classic superhero stuff. This is a more retro movie than we've done in ages, and the music is among the most obvious reasons. That they opted to go big brass band only reinforces some of the "rescuing cats from trees" moments that would be deemed too campy for a DC movie and too small-stakes for Marvel's blockbusters.
Bad:BJ Novak basically just plays Ryan from The Office. He's got a really punchable face. Novak wrote some great episodes of The Office, but the character he played always felt a little one-note and after a while you just (or at least I just) hoped he would finally fade away for good instead of always coming back just when you thought the humor couldn't get any broader and dumber. Playing Smythe like a grown-up Ryan Howard who somehow lucked into a high-paying job just...blah. Good: Both Peter and Spidey are such GOOD people in the film it's hard to believe. This is another one of those "retro superhero tropes" things. The "you were there for me when my parents..." is perfect. The way he interacted with the kid was great. All in all, this movie had all the heart that everyone complained Man of Steel was missing. It felt more like a Chris Reeve superhero movie to me more than any film that's ever featured a Marvel character. Bad: This one embraces a bit of camp in a way the first Amazing never did without desceding full-on into it the way the Raimi trilogy did. The upside is that I never liked the tone of the Raimi films and so I'm glad they didn't go that far. The downside is that they didn't really feel like they committed to a tone in this movie. I saw some reviews that said whoever happened to be onscreen at the time was setting the tone for the whole production, leaving the movie feeling like a loosely-connected series of scenes. That's maybe a little reductive, but not entirely inaccurate or unfair. And dear God, that "light my candles" catch-phrase...ouch. That was Arnold territory. Good: Lots of mirroring that felt more like the filmmakers were really thinking about what they were doing than just being easy and exploitative. Marc Webb seemingly wanted to set up a lot of similar situations and then pay them off in different ways to mirror thematic situations but show character differences or character growth by using the decisions people make and the reactions they have to situations inform their personalities. The way Peter and Harry deal with the deaths of their respective parents is one similarity: while we didn't see how Peter dealt with his parents in the immediate aftermath of their disappearance, we know from the previous film and from bits of this one that he allowed it to be a driving force for him, and remained inspired by them even when he didn't know whether they deserved it. Harry took the empire his father built and continued his legacy but did so without shedding a tear. It wasn't so much about respect or love for Norman as it was just...what you do in that situation. The way Harry and Max deal with their feelings that Spider-Man is a fraud who has somehow broken an implicit agreement with them is another one. Both of them respond very similarly, even though the situations are very different (more on that below). Another is the way Peter responds to losing Gwen. First when she dumps him, he hurls himself into being Spider-Man, appearing all over the city and letting his whole personal life suffer. When she dies later in the film, he snaps the other way like a rubber band, disappearing into the life of Peter Parker and only being drawn out when he's basically explicitly told by May how much the city needs Spider-Man.
Bad: "You're my boy" There was a lot to love about the relationship between Andrew Garfield's Peter and Sally Field's Aunt May, but one thing that drove me nuts was the labored scene wherein she tried to keep hiding his parents' secrets from him because she was jealous of them, or something. It didn't make a lot of sense, didn't really gel with what we'd seem from her character before (either in other media or even in the first Amazing movie) and ultimately just made her feel petty and selfish for a scene. Garfield redeemed it with his earnest expression of love for her and ultimately May snapped out of it, but the whole "You're MY boy" thing really just...reminded me of that terrible Mark Millar story Trouble. Good: Harry is quite sympathetic at times. This is a guy who had more onscreen chemistry with Peter in the first five minutes than James Franco and Tobey Maguire did over three films. And so...who did we have to root against? A dude whose big complaints were "Everybody wants my money!" and "I just want to live!" Yeah...that motivation is a lot stronger than avenging his borderline-abusive and obviously-insane dad. Bad: Both Foxx and Dehaan are fine in their role -- it's a weird thing, though. They're playing nine-year-olds. It makes sense for Harry, as he's clearly in a state of arrested development, but Max is clearly more damaged than just that. His repeated birthday references...what grown person cares that much about their birthday?!