dir: Marc Webb
What's most amazing about this movie is that it's not really that amazing at all. Also, it's amazing that the makers will never learn from their past mistakes.
If there was one almost universal criticism from the 3rd Spidey flick, it was that having so many villains in it didn't improve a goddamn thing. Three villains is two too many for most people. Two is still too many. Well, maybe the third even had five villains, if you count domestic abuser Spidey himself and Aunt May with her guilt inducing speeches.
This sequel to the reboot continues with Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, which is another mistake continued on and replicated. He was aggravating in the first one, and, forgive my language, there are multiple scenes where he is an absolute spastic in this one, for no reason other than he thinks it's amusing or compelling.
The evidence I submit to the court is a scene where Peter is meant to be having a deep and meaningful conversation with his oldest alleged friend Harry Osborn (Dale DeHaan), whose father has just passed away. They're having a chat along what's either the East River or the Hudson, I think. Not content with just actually talking, Garfield starts jumping about, climbing over the barrier and basically doing a whole bunch of stuff that has nothing to do with what they're talking about or what the scene needs.
I've seen it twice, and each time I see that scene, I can't imagine any director on the planet would have suggested the actor do any of that stuff, unless director Marc Webb's advice / direction for the scene was "Okay, now as you're talking, act like a complete and utter spastic for no reason!" And yet that's what he did, and no-one could or would tell him otherwise.
He (the actor, not the director) also goes out of his way to overamp these relatively quiet scenes of non-action with more overacting and overpronounciation than a radio ad for a demolition derby on SATURDAY! SATURDAY! SATURDAY! An exasperated Sally Field also has to up the ante in some of these scenes, to the point where I felt like suggesting to the screen "Darling, you're not still playing Mary Todd in Lincoln anymore, this is a Spider-Man flick fer crying out loud".
I guess I shouldn't complain. It seems churlish to criticise the flick on the grounds that the script really seemed to care about the emotional scenes between Peter and his on-again, off-again girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), or with Aunt May. The question is whether we care enough about those relationships for it to be worth our time. Sure, Garfield and Stone are a couple in real life, and it's tempting to read into their scenes emotional resonance that wouldn't be there otherwise.
Honestly, though, who the hell cares? I wouldn't say that I was bored during the dramatic scenes, or hoping for them to end so as to return to the action scenes post haste forthwith. I guess I was in a curious bind during much of the flick, neither hoping for more action nor hoping for more drama.
I guess I wasn't really hoping for anything. There are scenes that made me laugh. My favourite scene is where Peter, out of costume, is trying to delay a bunch of goons who are after Gwen, and does it in a way that tries to mask the fact that he's doing it deliberately. So what looks like abject clumsiness becomes artful choreography. It did make me laugh with pure joy.
That's only a couple of minutes out of a very long movie. The scenes of Spidey swinging around New York of course look great, they really improve with each flick in terms of giving him the physical presence that he needs, and this works great in the opening set piece as well, where he battles some goons (including a tattooed, bellowing Paul Giamatti!) trying to steal plutonium or wasabi or something equally important. There are a fair few (completely CGI shots, don't get me wrong) shots from behind Spider-Man as he swoops and swings, and many of those images are strong enough to induce vertigo, at least in me.
Still, Peter Parker, at least this iteration, is still so goddamn annoying. At least if we had compelling villains, that could possibly counteract the aggravating vibes coming off of the doofus in the red and blue suit.
Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) is an electrical engineer at OsCorp. He's got a huge gap between his front teeth, and an awful combover, and he's clearly socially inept, so naturally he's that most common of cinematic tropes: an African-American nerd.
The depiction of his awkwardness, neediness and social ineptitude are so cartoonish that it wouldn't even work in a comic book, let alone a $200 million film. Spider-Man saves his life during a battle with Giamatti's sweaty head, and this sets the strange nerd on a stranger path, one in which because of the slights against him by the world, because of his being unappreciated all his life, he's going to become a being of pure electrical energy who can basically do whatever he wants with absolutely no bandwidth problems.
Electro is a villain I can't really wrap my head around. He looks interesting enough. In his involuntary transformation, the skin and flesh of his former body is sloughed off like a snake shedding its skin, as he achieves this near 'perfect' form, with veins and arteries replaced with glowing blue electricity, and his eyes glowing blue. His skin even achieves a paler hue. In short, he goes from being an inadequate black guy to being an all-powerful white-blue guy, which is truly the flip side of the American Dream.
His motivations, though, for any of the stuff he does, or the nature of his existence, and how he could be so easily beaten when he can basically go anywhere and do anything, make it hard to really give a crap about any of it, let’s be honest. Though it looks cool, and that’s the important thing. I guess.
Their first battle is of course in Times Square, the second gaudiest and most neon-lit place in America behind Las Vegas, and it’s a colourful abomination against the retinas of all non super-powered humans. You could argue that Electro does our eyes a favour when he shuts all that awful visual noise down. In fact, he seems to have it in for all the electronic billboards, and I can’t blame him there. They are an abomination.
That fight has an easy resolution, and isn’t that interesting, but there’s one great sequence where Spidey sees, using his radioactive-spider-enhanced senses, how a whole bunch of people are about to get electrocuted, and he has to endeavour to get them to stop what they’re doing in order to save them.
That moment is well done. And yet, while a movie is made up of moments, too many bloody moments, the passage of many other moments just bored me. There are at least three other villains, I guess, but I long ago stopped caring.
There’s also the additional backstory / motivation of Peter being really shitty about his parents for dying, which seems like it’s going somewhere, and then, abruptly, no longer goes anywhere, which is not so much disappointing as it is one big shoulder shrug.
The relationship dynamic with Gwen Stacy is particularly torturous, but it at least seems like it’s going to end in some definitive way. She seems like she’s going to be getting a scholarship to Oxford, for some reason, and Peter has to decide whether his mooning over her is way more important than her going to Oxford. As far as I know, in this, our real world, Oxford is not Hogwart’s School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, but at least as it is depicted in this flick, it might as well be. All it is, is a potential reason for the primary couple to be separated, compelling them to express a bunch of feelings to each other that they’ve had no problem expressing for much of the movie’s interminable length as it was anyway.
Which all is made a mockery of with the ending, or at least one part of the ending. It’s about the only bold move or decision they’ve made in 5 Spider-Man movies, because franchises aren’t about change or messing with the fundamentals; they’re all about loud explosions, oodles of action and grovelling fan service.
And then another ending is tacked onto that, with another climactic battle seemingly about to occur after that as well. Insert cliché here about ‘more endings than Return of the King’, because it’s hellishly appropriate.
It looked okay. I was bored by it. Half the time Andrew Garfield is a terrible Peter Parker but a competent Spider-Man. The other half of the time, the reverse is true. These movies are not made to illuminate or elevate us, just to keep us in place for a while as the studios extract what money they can from our accounts. It helps to remember that.
6 times this was marginally better than the first Amazing Spider-Man, but not enough to be reflected numerically out of 10
“You're too late, Spider-Man. I designed this power grid. Now I'm gonna take back what is rightfully mine. I will control everything. And I will be like a god to them.”
- “A god named Sparkles?” – it’s not that bad a name, it’s probably more imaginative a name for a god than just God: who wouldn’t want legions of followers praying “All hail Lord Sparkles? – The Amazing Spider-Man: Rise of Electro