In Theaters – The Amazing Spider-Man 2

indexThe Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014; Dir.: Marc Webb)

GRADE: C-

By Daniel Barnes

It is so difficult to relay in writing what doesn’t work about both The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and its 2011 predecessor, which was also directed by Marc Webb and starred Andrew Garfield as the web-slinging teenage superhero. Both films rely heavily on tropes and clichés that have worked for superhero movies in the past, but the execution is as poor as it gets on a too-big-to-fail production like this one.

There isn’t that one obvious thing that doesn’t work about this particular reboot – it’s a lot of tiny things that don’t work feeding into a tributary system of things that don’t work, which eventually dumps into an entire ocean of not working.  The tone, the acting, the dialogue, the bumper cars story construction, the ugly set design, the incongruous special effects – none of it works, even when the movie is brainlessly entertaining. Minor details are sloppy and thoughtless – during a brief overhead shot of a graduation ceremony, we can see that one of the grads has taped the words “GO TEAM” to his mortarboard. Did they not even want to make up a mascot? What did this movie cost, a few hundred million or so? Spend five dollars coming up with a fucking mascot! Bobcats, there you go. Five dollars, please.

images2In that spirit of half-assin’ it, I’m going to the bullet points:

  • I don’t know if Andrew Garfield is a good actor, but I’m quite certain that he is abysmal as Spider-Man. A lot of the problem is with the dialogue, which becomes a barrage of stupid quips when Garfield is Spider-Man, but runs sludgy and soft when he reverts to his alter ego Peter Parker. But Garfield also makes some disastrous actor choices, has a strange lack of onscreen spark with Emma Stone, and just doesn’t have the physical presence to make us believe he could be the human inside that back-flipping CGI suit, as Tobey Maguire did in the Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man series.
  • I have no perspective when it comes to comic book movies – I never read comics as a kid, so I have no built-in affection, don’t appreciate the mythology, and don’t understand or care about all of the embedded references. On top of that, most if not all of the recent superhero movies have been garbage. Last Thanksgiving, I wrote, “I command you all to stop liking this crap immediately!” Well, you didn’t listen, and now this bullshit is happening. Good work by you. But seriously, no matter your taste for superhero films in general and the Raimi Spider-Man series in particular (I bumped the 2nd, harrumphed the 1st, and dumped the 3rd), almost everyone seems to agree that this iteration is some candy-ass shit. And yet The Amazing Spider-Man 2 will easily gross eleven hundred million billion kajillion dollars (take it to the bank!) and spawn half a dozen sequels and spinoffs. So who knows what the hell is going on.
  • Semi-SPOILER ALERTS from this point forward —
  • Jamie Foxx plays one of at least three villains in the picture, a total that does not include “henchmen” like the sadistic psych ward doctor, or “jerks” like B.J. Novak’s snide office manager. You could swell the count to four if you included Colm Feore’s Oscorp CEO as a villain, since he doesn’t really work for anyone and his machinations drive the plot; five to six, if you want to count Harry Osborn/Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan) and/or Aleksei/Rhino (Paul Giamatti) as two separate villains apiece.  Have I mentioned yet that this movie is a complete fucking mess?
  • My #1 takeaway from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 that I can apply to real life: if terrorists, giant robots, or God-like pure beams of light are wreaking havoc in a public square with machine guns, missiles, and instantly fatal electrical shocks, I will be perfectly safe (and perhaps even slightly bored) standing behind a few wooden sawhorses and some police tape.  It might even be the perfect time to kind of dance around a little.  I mean, why not?images
  • As we left the screening, Mike Dub made some interesting observations regarding Jamie Foxx’s Max Dillon/Electro character. Dillon works for the sinister Oscorp, and he is the only significant black character in the film. He feels like an invisible man (in case you don’t get symbolism, the first thing he says to Spider-Man is, “I’m invisible.”). His ideas have been ripped off and appropriated by the white-owned Oscorp. He is the unseen current of the city (literally!), the exploited working class that makes it run. He idolizes/crushes on Spider-Man, an extremely visible figure who can still hide his identity behind a mask. Dillon seemingly dies in a work-related accident because his white bosses have no regard for his safety. When he revives and becomes Electro, the first thing he does is put on a hoodie. The first thing the mostly white public does is run away in fear. The first thing the cops do is attack him with deadly force. As soon as he achieves a measure of “fame”, of visibility (by getting his face plastered all over Times Square), the mostly white public turns on him, branding him a “freak”.  He is “kept in line” by getting violently doused with a fire hose.  Meanwhile, Dillon/Electro is contrasted with the pure and morally unimpeachable white bread Peter Parker/Spider-Man, who the narrative portrays as an underdog even though he has filthy-rich friends and can basically fly and throw cars and shit.  This rippling undercurrent of racial inequity in the film is fascinating…to think about.   The Amazing Spider-Man 2 does absolutely nothing with it, and after that big Times Square sequence, Electro is pretty servile and unreadable. Also, he wears electrical boxer briefs instead of nothing, and sometimes dons actual clothes, even though, as I said earlier, he’s basically a pure beam of light. Figure that shit out.