Making sense of this Spider-Man world.

Making sense of this Spider-Man world.

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

Amazing Spider-Man 2

This entry in the Spider-Man film series is about Peter and Gwen struggling to find the right balance in their relationship as well as Spider-Man having to deal with a new villain on the scene called Electro. Also, Harry Osborn comes back to town to visit his dying father and reconnects with Peter. Also, Peter makes some new discoveries about his parents (well, his father).

Alright, I will start off this review by saying that I really enjoyed this movie. I want to make that clear before I start tearing it apart and making you think that I hate it. But don’t worry, I will also talk about what I liked.

The most glaring problem with this movie is how frenetic the narrative is. They weave about four or five plotlines together and never spend enough time on any of them to develop them to their full potential. One thing I wish about the new series is that they would just cut out everything with Peter’s parents. If they cut out all the stuff involving or talking about his parents, the movie(s) would be twenty minutes shorter. Or they could just use that time for more development of other characters. If we could’ve just spent twenty more minutes with Electro, it would have made the villain richer and more natural. As it is, Electro gets his powers and within ten or twenty minutes has complete control over them. He never has time to grow and learn to use his powers before he’s mastered them. With how they built up his pre-Electro self, they could have made him request to team up with Spider-Man and then Spidey just shoots him down saying that he works alone. But in general, if the film had focused more on Electro and just made a movie around him, it would have been much better.

This brings me to another point: This movie didn’t necessarily feel like it was about anything. It felt more like a long episode of a TV show than a movie. That’s mostly because this movie isn’t trying to tell a story. It’s trying to set up a story. It’s dangling carrots in front of you saying, “This movie is great and all, but the NEXT movie is going to be really great.” It’s not, “Hey, here’s a great story.”

It’s not necessarily specifically this movie’s fault, though. I have a feeling it’s a symptom of a bigger problem. Every studio with a superhero character wants to replicate the success that Marvel has achieved. All they see is that Marvel has a big overall story and that all their movies are connected and they think that’s what they need to do. They completely overlook the fact that every single Marvel movie is in and of itself a complete story with beginning, middle, and end. Sure, they lay ground work and they set up future movies, but the setup isn’t what their movies are about. Each of their movies tells a story.

But enough about Marvel. That’s a topic for another time. Let’s get back to The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Some other problems I had were minor. Such as: in the comics, Dr. Kafka is a woman who starts Ravencroft Institute and devotes herself to helping her patients. She helps several major villains (if only temporarily). In the movie, Dr. Kafka is a German accented man who works at Ravencroft Institute and tortures his patients to find out more about their powers. I realize it’s not necessarily fair to always compare things to their source material, but that is a major leap they took. The two characters are so far apart from each other that it’s a wonder why they even bothered to keep the name other than as fan service for people who recognize the name. But at that point, the fans are like, “Hey! I recognize that na- Wait, what?”

But enough about the things I didn’t like. Let’s talk about what I liked about The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The major thing that stands out about the new series is that Andrew Garfield is a perfect Spider-Man. And I can forgive the differences between his Peter and the source material because he’s just so darn enjoyable in the part. He incredibly charming and it’s so fun to watch him. And he has amazing chemistry with Emma Stone. Their scenes together feel so real and natural. Any scene with the two of them is a highlight of the film. That’s what a Spider-Man movie needs. It needs a good balance of a compelling villain, Spider-Man action, and Peter Parker life. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had all of those things, but not a good balance of them. It seems like what they do with these movies is similar to making a smoothie. You put in various things that are awesome that you love, then you just hit blend and see what comes out. It doesn’t taste quite right, but you keep drinking it because there’s hints of the great things you put into it.

Another thing I love is Jamie Foxx as Electro. Electro is a very difficult villain to translate to the screen. It barely works on the comic book page because he’s so ridiculous most of the time. But they managed to adapt him in a way that he was actually not cheesy. Pre-Electro, Jamie Foxx really brings it hard as the creepy, bizarre nobody who just wants people to know his name. Which reminds me of another point: This movie hits the comedy beats every time. When it’s going for comedy, it’s funny. Something that you can’t say about every comic book movie. A lot of times it’s hit or miss. Half the jokes fall flat, while others are great. Here that’s not the case. When they try to be funny, it’s really funny.

One of the strangest things about this movie to me is that for every thing that I love about it, there’s something else that I really didn’t like. Some changes they make from the source material that they make I’m very okay with and completely on board, others just make me scratch my head. One of the things I don’t like about this series is how absolutely everything comes out of Oscorp. Every villain is made at Oscorp. Every villain works at Oscorp. Every character works at Oscorp (Felicia Hardy works at Oscorp? Really?). All technology comes out of Oscorp. Peter gets his powers at Oscorp. Peter’s dad worked as Oscorp. Oscorp Oscorp Oscorp. I understand they may be limited with what they hold the rights to, but just look at what they did in the Raimi films. Sure, Green Goblin worked at Oscorp and all of his equipment was made there, and sure Doctor Octopus got funding for his project from Oscorp, but the Sandman gets his powers from elsewhere. And the symbiote was alien. Peter got his powers at some genetics lab. It doesn’t all have to come out of Oscorp.

I get the feeling that whenever they do the Venom story, the symbiote is going to be developed at Oscorp. But alas, part of “building a cinematic universe” requires one looming villain to permeate all the movies and be behind the scenes of everything. No matter how you feel about the Raimi films, at least each of them told its own cohesive story and the villains had rich character arcs.

My rating: 7/10

That may seem high based on all these glaring problems I just talked about, but I honestly did enjoy the movie. From a filmmaking standpoint, it’s erratic. But it was fun and at times it was hilarious and the acting all around was outstanding. Those things alone are enough to rescue this film from being a disaster. I just wish there was more focus with this series and that they would tell more self-contained stories and not just tell an ongoing story. The best film franchises work when they tell a story, lay some foundation for future movies to build on, then in the sequels add on to what they’ve done before. But these movies are more of just a tease for what’s to come next.

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

PLOT: We all know the origin of Spider-Man. Peter Parker (high school student) is bitten by a special spider that gives him spider powers. But this movie does manage to (somehow) make the origin interesting instead of just feeling like a retread.

Peter’s parents leave him with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May at a young age (for protection). Peter finds a briefcase of his father’s that contains some secret documents that lead him to Oscorp, where he leaves his tour group and gets bitten by the fated spider. Even though the next part shouldn’t be a spoiler, I’ll refrain from saying it anyway. I’ll just say he learns his lesson of “with great power comes great responsibility” and if you know what that means, you know what happens. If you somehow don’t know, then you’ll find out. He meets Dr. Curt Connors who is pressured into human trials of a new experimental serum (okay, that sounds a lot like Raimi’s first movie now that I think about it). Connors decides to test it on himself and things go…horribly wrong. Throughout the last half of the movie, Peter learns all about responsibility and doing the right thing.

REVIEW: Let’s break this down into a few different categories to critique individually.

(characters): I thought all the characters were very rich and well rounded. Dynamic, I guess you could say. They all felt very real and complex. All the dialogue and interactions felt natural. I rarely felt like the dialogue was cheesy or fake or being forced. The writers (James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves) did a very good job at having the characters say things that they would say. Which is kind of, like, a writer’s job? I guess? But it’s easy to screw up with movies like this. And for all the characters in the movie to have the depth they do, it’s quite the accomplishment, and my hat goes off to them.

I thought this version of Aunt May was really great. I think both the original trilogy and this reboot did a great job with Aunt May. Making her stronger and more able. In the comics she’s a frail, annoying lady who goes to the hospital and rags on Peter a lot. But this version of Aunt May is just as good as Sam Raimi’s from the previous movies.

Also, this version of Peter Parker was closer in some ways to the original comic, but at the same time further away. In this version, he has no friends. Harry Osborn isn’t even in the movie or mentioned at all. In the previous movies, Harry was Peter’s best friend and Peter also knew Mary Jane since they were little. But the way he differs is that in this movie, Peter is actually generally a cool guy. He may not have friends, and he may be smart, but he’s not a dork or anything. He’s witty (even before Spider-Man) and he rides a skateboard. It’s not necessarily a bad change. It’s just different.

(Fun fact before I move on; Alvin Sargent co-wrote Spider-Man 2 and 3, Steve Kloves wrote ALL the Harry Potter movies, and James Vanderbilt wrote The Rundown and Zodiac.)

(actors): All around, the acting was superb. Even Rhys Ifans, who I don’t think fit the role of Dr. Connors, was still good. He just didn’t fit the role. Everybody else fit their roles very well, though. Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy? Lord have mercy. She’s just about as pretty as can be and absolutely adorable and lovable. Andrew Garfield does a great job as Parker. He captures the wit and snarkiness as well as the internal struggle Peter has to deal with. Garfield has proven with the few roles he’s done that he’s got some acting chops. Comparing him to Toby Maguire, I don’t know if either of them is necessarily better than the other in the role. Their Peter Parker roles were different. I think they both pulled of their versions exceptionally well. I think I have to give the edge to Garfield, though. Because he’s a big fan of Spider-Man and it shows in his performance. And he pulls off the comedic side of Peter better than Maguire.

(story): The story here was very fluid and well constructed. It didn’t seem like things were being introduced randomly or suddenly or for no reason. And the pacing was perfect. Nothing felt like it was happening too fast, but it didn’t feel like it was dragging along either. If Goldilocks had to choose between three movies, she’d probably choose this one. It’s just right. I was a little disappointed, because at a certain point towards the climax I thought to myself “OH SHOOT THEY’RE NOT GONNA ACTUALLY DO WHAT I THINK THEY’RE GONNA DO!” and then they didn’t. And I was like, “Oh.” Disappointed as I was, perhaps it was for the best, because it might’ve made the movie a lot longer. And at a runtime of 2 hours and 16 minutes already, that probably would’ve created the dragging feeling I was talking about earlier. And that’s another thing; this movie absolutely did not feel like 2 hours and 16 minutes. It didn’t really feel like anything. I didn’t find myself checking my watch. I didn’t even catch myself saying “What it’s already over?” at the end.

A final note, they did a lot of things in accordance with the comics, but there were also a lot of things they changed. Some of the things they changed I didn’t like, some of the things I did like, some of the things were just changes that I didn’t feel one way or the other about.

(love story): I’m glad they went with Gwen Stacy as the love interest here. She was Peter’s first love interest in the comics (although in the comics he meets her in college). She’s also just a great character. You just fall in love with her as much as Peter does. And (dare I say it) I like her more than Mary Jane Watson. Obviously, something happens between Gwen and Peter that cause them to not be together anymore and eventually he finds his way to MJ. And in the interest of not spoiling anything, I won’t tell you what that thing is. But I will say that it will absolutely happen in the next movie. Maybe at the end of the movie, but it will happen. Probably. Also, in the movie Peter tells Gwen that he’s Spider-Man, and in the comics he doesn’t. Mostly because before he gets a chance to, she comes to hate Spider-Man for uninformed reasons. I don’t mind the way they went in the movie, though. Peter needs SOMEBODY to confide in about his crime fighting persona. And it helps draw them closer together.

Okay, I haven’t been talking much about the specific love story in the movie. Here it goes, as I’ve said about other things in the other categories, this relationship felt very real. And felt like it progressed naturally. It didn’t feel forced. It didn’t feel random. It didn’t feel out of the blue. It didn’t move to fast. Well, I shouldn’t say that. It did kind of move fast. But it didn’t feel like it moved faster than it should’ve.

(villain): Alright, I’ve been praising this movie up and down and it may seem like a very biased review. But here’s where you’ll find my problem with the movie. Pretty much my only problem.

The Lizard looked stupid. It looked real stupid. The first transformation scene was good. The makeup when Dr. Connors wasn’t fully the Lizard but still had some lingering features was really good. But the Lizard in full Lizard mode was awful. The design looks like the original one from the comics. Which was stupid as well. He has a flat face and just…looks…stupid. Honestly, just adding a snout (making him look more akin to a velociraptor or iguana) would’ve made a WORLD of difference. That alone might’ve changed my opinion on the whole thing. That is the best incarnation of The Lizard. Here’s a comparison:

This is the first appearance of The Lizard. And similar to how he looks in the movie.

and:

This is The Lizard in an incarnation in the 1990s.

To be fair, they did kind of do a mixture of both. Because while he looked like the original design, he was huge, had claws, and had a big tail. But he still looked stupid. All it takes is a snout. Perhaps they were going for a more “realistic” look. Trying to do what it would look like if a human really did transform into a lizard. But I don’t care. It still looks stupid.

As for the actor who plays Connors (Rhys Ifans), I still didn’t think he was a good fit for the character. I had a feeling based on the trailers, and just the general look of the guy. I tried to give him a chance. I remember thinking Heath Ledger was a terrible choice as The Joker and I was happily wrong. But this remained a bad casting choice after watching it. The guy they cast for Connors in Spider-Man 2 and 3 (Dylan Baker) was a near perfect casting choice. And it’s sad to see them build up the character for two movies and not get a chance to give us the payoff. And honestly, after they canceled Spider-Man 4 and announced the reboot, I didn’t care about The Lizard anymore. The previous character development was wasted and casting someone else just wouldn’t be good. I would’ve rather seen a different, more interesting villain.

(closing thoughts): But you know what? It’s a testament to the movie (director Marc Webb, the writers, the cast, everybody) that despite my big problems with The Lizard, the actor playing him, the fact that he’s even in the movie, I still was able to look past all of it and love the movie. In the end, the story itself and the characters were so great that it wasn’t like they built a brick wall where me pulling out the brick of The Lizard would cause the whole wall to fall. To use a relevant analogy, it was like an intricate web. The Lizard was one strand of the web, and pulling that out, it still stands and is still strong.

It’s so good that in spite of having the worst villain of all the Spider-Man movies previous, it is my favorite Spider-Man movie. I got a little misty-eyed more than a few times throughout the movie.

I didn’t really like the design of the Spidey suit. The black eyes and whatnot. But honestly, I didn’t even really notice or care most of the time. It only stood out to me a few times, but not enough to be significant.

I give this movie a 7/10.

It got a lot of things right, but it’s not without its faults.

Here are the list of villains that need to be in the future installments of the Spider-Man franchise. The bold ones are ones that I think are highly probable for the next two movies:

Carnage
Chameleon
Electro
Hammerhead
Hobgoblin
Hydro-Man
Jackal
Molten Man
Morbius
Mysterio
Rhino
Scorpion
Shocker
Tombstone
Venom
Carrion
Demogoblin
Jack O’Lantern (seriously. He may sound dumb, but he’s actually really awesome in the comics)
Sin Eater
Will o’ the Wisp

Thanks,

– Eric Toribio

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