REVIEW: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

amazingspider2_posterThere has been a weird rise in Internet chatter lately from Spider-Man fans demanding that Sony – in addition to continuing their hugely successful films with Marvel Studios – jump back in time and commission a third Amazing Spider-Man movie starring Andrew Garfield. To an extent I understand the urge; Garfield was great in the role of Peter Parker, and the second of his two Spider-Man features ended on a wide-open note. At the same time I worry that his fans forget why there never was an Amazing Spider-Man 3 in the first place. Let’s jump back almost eight years to take a look at Garfield’s last turn as headliner.

In The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (released with the unnecessary subtitle Rise of Electro in Australia) Peter Parker continues to fight crime while vacillating over his relationship with Gwen Stacy and reuniting with his childhood friend Harry Osborn. When an industrial accident transforms the shy engineer Max Dillon into the super-powered villain Electro, Parker has to stop him before he destroys all of New York.

And so on and so forth. This is actually a difficult movie to describe in a sentence, because the majority of its 142 minutes are devoted to cross-film story arcs and subplots, without a lot of space left over from a strong narrative through-line. The film has a beginning, a middle and an end, but they’re all just a little too unfocused and flabby. The story appears to straddle across the film rather than fill it: it picks up on a string of plot threads from 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man and finishes with a bunch of stuff left over for a sequel. In between there’s a movie that’s amiable, and often enjoyable, but far too weakly put together to fully recommend.

Individual elements work fine. The acting, for example, is difficult to fault. Andrew Garfield is a near-perfect Spider-Man, managing to do that ‘cheerful working class dude who can’t cut a break’ schtick in a way never quite achieved by predecessor Tobey Maguire (too bleak) or successor Tom Holland (working class woes mean nothing if your best friend is a billionaire). Emma Stone is similarly great as love interest Gwen Stacy, and the two actors share a brilliant chemistry. It has been some years since I published this review, and can only reiterate that an unrelated Garfield/Stone romantic comedy would be very welcome.

The supporting cast are similarly strong, notably Jamie Foxx, Sally Field, Colm Feore and a wonderfully creepy Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborn. Paul Giamatti is weirdly inserted into the film’s beginning and end as Alexei Sytsevich, aka the ridiculously unconvincing super-villain the Rhino, and simply feels like yet more foreshadowing for The Amazing Spider-Man 3.

Visually the film looks great, particularly the visual effects used to bring Electro to life. I’m usually not one to marvel at visual effects – they’re there to tell a story, so individual pieces of eye candy aren’t typically worth mentioning – but the work here looks genuinely impressive. The action sequences are also for the most part well shot and choreographed.

The film staggers quite badly at its climax. In the lead-up to Spider-Man’s final fight against Electro I was impressed at how well the film had organically generated multiple villains. This is usually a weak point for superhero movies, but the development of Harry Osborn as the Green Goblin made narrative sense and progressed in a believable manner. Then he actually turns up as the Goblin, and the film becomes remarkably embarrassing. A climactic plot point that should hold enormous weight happens so arbitrarily that its potential is left utterly wasted, and besides it is foreshadowed with such glaring obviousness that half the audience expected it to happen anyway.

So much potential is wasted and ruined, because Sony saw the success that Marvel Studios was finding with an interconnected community of films and – knowing the value of what they had in Spider-Man – tried to generate their own shared universe. They did it in a hurry – Amazing Spider-Man 2 tries to launch at least three films – and they did it very poorly. With a global gross of US$709 million dollars it was the lowest-grossing of the five Spider-Man films up to that time. Despite earning the company a solid profit it led to a lot of soul-searching and indecision within the company. A third film was set for 2016, but then delayed to 2018 and its release slot replaced by a prospective Sinister Six spin-off. That never eventuated either. Instead Sony worked out a deal to reboot the character with Marvel Studios, while also releasing a stand-alone animated film and a pair of unconnected Venom movies. I suppose they did get the expanded franchise they were looking for – a Morbius the Vampire film is due in cinemas later this year – but as with the Amazing films they did it in almost the messiest and tortured manner imaginable. It was a weird fate for a film that grossed more than seven hundred million dollars. That makes it the sixth-highest grossing film of its year, by the way.

It is a shame Garfield never got his third film. It should not have been this difficult. Spider-Man is an engaging character and looks great on screen. It is a toss-up over which superhero character is more popular with audiences – Spidey or Batman. If only Sony had stopped trying to building a franchise and just concentrated on making good films. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) came about because Sony were dissatisfied with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3. Rebooting the franchise was never the best solution to their problem. The solution was to make a better film with Spider-Man 4. The solution here was not to delay or cancel or diversify. It was to make a well-plotted, entertaining and most importantly self-contained film out of The Amazing Spider-Man 3. The ingredients were fine: the cast was solid, and the director (Marc Webb) was talented. All they needed to do was make a movie. Eight years on, one reboot, two sequels, and a handful of Avengers tie-ins later, and the Spidey ship has really sailed on this one. Give me a well-plotted and entertaining Amazing 3 in 2016 or 2017, and I would have been a happy fan. Give it to me in 2023 or 2024, and you are over-complicating an already disorganised and messy-as-hell franchise.

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