The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) is a campy embarrassment
Instead of reviewing this movie, I think I’ll just let J. Jonah Jameson sum up my opinion:
Okay, seriously, Sony: Where’s the real movie?
Hyperbolic opening aside, folks, part of me even now can’t quite believe this thing called The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a real movie. It isn’t that I feel like an elaborate prank has been pulled on me—I feel like I just visited a parallel universe where superhero movies never got out of that awkward phase in the ‘90s where no one quite knew how to make the damn things. A world where Bryan Singer and Sam Raimi never came along to set things on the right track.
It’s not like I’m shocked the movie’s bad. After all, the first Amazing Spider-Man was shit, and it’s not like bad superhero movies don’t happen all the time. But The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was bad in a very special way. It had that blend of incompetence and out-of-control camp that we haven’t seen since Batman & Robin.
And you know what? I almost liked the movie for it. Instead of the usual anger and depression that comes from seeing one of my favorite superheroes bungled, this train wreck elicited nothing but laughter. You can’t be mad at someone who essentially just shat themselves in front of you. I suppose at this point my enjoyment is purely schadenfreude at seeing how badly Sony has been handling this franchise since firing Sam Raimi. Serves them right.
I suppose it’s best to start with a compliment, and to be fair, there is good stuff to be had in Amazing Spider-Man 2. In fact, the first 10 minutes or so (not counting a dull prologue revisiting the subplot about Peter Parker’s dad that continues to be the albatross of the series) is indisputably the strongest opening of any Spider-Man movie to date. Spidey’s web-slinging is brought to life more beautifully than ever before, the script has finally given Andrew Garfield some decent one-liners to work with, and the opening action scene (where Spider-Man apprehends Paul Giamatti, who later becomes the Rhino) is fun and charming and lacking the obnoxiousness of the first film.
I especially enjoyed the “Day in the Life of Spider-Man” montage, which included, among other things, a genuinely adorable and heartwarming moment where Spider-Man chases away bullies who are demolishing a little kid’s science project, which he then fixes for him and walks him home. It really gives the impression that perhaps this film might actually get Spider-Man, presenting him as witty, kind, and genuinely heroic, nailing his image as a hero to the common man in a way the previous movie never did. If the film had kept up the momentum of the first ten minutes, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 could’ve easily been the best Spider-Man film since Spider-Man 2.
Unfortunately, things go south almost immediately from there. It quickly becomes apparent that the film is hilariously schizophrenic, a Frankenstein mash-up of two entirely incompatible movies. Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy occupy the movie’s better half: a quirky romantic drama not dissimilar to director Marc Webb’s own (500) Days of Summer. This is good stuff for the most part, owing largely to the genuine chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, and the fact that it seems to be the only thing Webb is genuinely interested in filming.
Unfortunately, these scenes keep getting interrupted by the villains, who seem to be under the impression that this is a Joel Schumacher movie. Everything about the villains and everything connected to them is incongruous and embarrassing, to the point that the only logical explanation for any of this making it past the editing room is that Marc Webb truly did not give a shit.
Jamie Foxx’s character, whom I shall dub “Urkelectro” for obvious reasons, is the most embarrassing, if only because a talented actor is wasted on a terrible role that ends up having no impact on the story and could have been cut from the film without affecting anything.
His “character arc” (if it can be called that) is a baffling choice, a blatant rehash of the “fanboy gone bad” routine last seen with Syndrome, Aldrich Killian, and the Riddler in Batman Forever. Foxx’s attempt to seem like a socially awkward loser is hopelessly unconvincing, and about as timely and relevant as Revenge of the Nerds*. He’s clearly miscast. It’s not an issue of his range; he’s proven himself capable of playing vulnerable and pathetic characters before. It’s just, well, with Django Unchained still fresh in our memories, it’s a bit ridiculous to cast Jaime Foxx as someone who desperately wants to be Andrew Garfield.
[*Once again, this franchise’s habit of sticking in archaic nerd stereotypes to contrast against the decidedly un-nerdy new Peter Parker comes across as unnecessarily mean-spirited.]
Things don’t improve once his character turns into Urkelectro, either. The film keeps throwing these weird, out of place comedy beats into the middle of all his action scenes, complete with quirky slapstick music. There’s a moment in the final confrontation when, in the midst of high drama with hundreds of people about to die, Urkelectro starts playing his dubstep theme song using power station pylons (and we know it’s happening in-story because Spider-Man actually comments on it).
It’s all so laughable to watch that you can’t help but wonder why they ditched the character’s ostentatious costume from the comics in favor of this Blue-Man-Group-in-a-scuba-suit garbage. Yellow and green spandex could not possibly have made things any sillier. To top it off, the CGI effects for Urkelectro’s powers look like dogshit, owing mostly to too many different colors being used. The result is action scenes that look like a bunch of extras running from highly destructive rainbows.
But the Golden Crown of Suck rests upon the head of Dane DeHaan, who I’m completely convinced was never cast, but simply wandered onto the set one day, completely stoned*, and they just decided to start filming. I’ve never before seen an actor try and fail to be Nicolas Cage, but by god if that’s not what DeHaan is doing here.
[*By the way, what’s with Harry Osborn always being played by actors who have a glazed, stoned look in their eyes? Is this a reference to the character being a drug addict in the comics or something? If not, it’s a weird coincidence.]
DeHaan’s performance is out of control in the worst way, totally bizarre and directionless, and a surefire Razzie winner come year’s end. He’s so bad that by the time he puts on his hideous costume to become the Green Beavis, it’s almost an improvement… almost.
But the movie’s biggest failure comes at the end, when the two halves of the movie collide, and it comes time for Gwen to do the only thing Gwen Stacy is known for. Anyone remotely familiar with the comics saw this coming way in advance, and the trailers have made every effort to confirm those suspicions. But even if you’d never heard of Gwen Stacy before Amazing Spider-Man, the foreshadowing is so stunningly obvious I can’t imagine you won’t immediately guess what’s coming. Gwen practically announces at the beginning of the movie, “I’m totally gonna die later, so look forward to that.”
But even with a lot of build-up, the Gwen Stacy death sequence is so poorly handled it ends up being the funniest part of the movie. This is partially due to the Green Beavis’s costume and makeup*, but also because when he finally shows up, we’ve already spent so much time with Urkelectro that we’ve forgotten this movie had an actual plot to get back to, so it basically comes out of nowhere. Not to mention the staging and tone is so melodramatic in the laziest way that it becomes impossible to take seriously.
[*Seriously, Marc Webb, if you need an explanation as to why the Green Goblin is green, you probably shouldn’t be making Spider-Man movies.]
Gwen’s death scene is so funny, in fact, that it almost distracts from how offensively misogynist the whole thing is. Not because Gwen dies; that’s fine. It’s the context in which she dies. Peter has spent the whole movie being protective of Gwen while being haunted by the ghost of her father who wanted her to stay away from Peter for her own safety. When Peter goes off to fight Urkelectro, Gwen insists on coming along despite Peter’s best efforts to stop her. She even makes this big speech about how no one’s telling her what to do and she’s making her own decisions. The end result is that when the Green Beavis kills her, the reaction is essentially, “oh, why didn’t poor, fragile Gwen listen to the men in her life like she was supposed to?”
Aside from the inconsistent tone of the film, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has the same core problem as Amazing Spider-Man: a fundamental misunderstanding of the main character. After two movies, I think I have a good idea of what my issue is with Andrew Garfield: he’s actually a pretty decent Spider-Man, but he’s an awful Peter Parker. Tobey Maguire, who’s gotten a lot of unfair flack since his series ended, had kind of the opposite problem, in that he was a great Peter Parker but only an okay Spider-Man. If you can only nail one of these, being a great Peter Parker is far more vital in the long run.
What the Amazing Spider-Man series completely fails to understand about Peter Parker is that Peter is not “cool”. Garfield’s Peter constantly struts around, self-assured, always ready with a clever one-liner, kisses his girlfriend onstage at graduation, and follows it up by high-fiving the principal. In short, he’s no different when he’s Peter than when he’s Spider-Man. And that shouldn’t be.
The whole point of being Spider-Man is that power and anonymity is what gives Peter the freedom and confidence to be a fearless wisecracker when he’s out saving lives. Spider-Man is cool. Peter Parker is not. He’s Cameron Frye, not Ferris Bueller. All those things that people say bother them about Tobey Maguire’s performance (“He cries too much!” “He’s a wimp!”) are the very things that made him such a great Peter Parker. Broad, dated archetype or no, Peter is the kind of classic nerd that’s inherently confused and vulnerable in ways everyone can relate to, even if they don’t excel in science or wear glasses. Turning Peter Parker into a trendy, detached hipster is the worst possible thing they could have done.
I wish I could say this film had potential that just wasn’t realized. As I said, I liked the opening, and that same sense of fun makes a brief comeback in the final few minutes (the little kid with the science project even comes back!). But potential would imply that someone gave a shit. Potential would require there to be an idea here worth salvaging. Even with the minor improvements (I do love the fact that the color palette has actual color in it, and the new Spider-Man costume is the best it’s ever been), The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is still ultimately soulless and hollow.
Basically, the franchise has been stripped of the man that gave it life. Say what you will about the Sam Raimi Era, but the man truly loved and understood this character, and his films had vision, charm, and most importantly, consistency. Marc Webb has delivered none of that. If someone told you this was a happy little movie, if someone told you this was everything Spider-Man could and should be… somebody lied.