Col. Graff here looking to finally wrap things up with my review of Amazing Spider-Man 2. Seeing as how over a month has passed it’s probably about time I forced myself to finish talking about this thing before it turns into a year-long exercise. So on that note, let’s finish off the bitching by talking about some villains…
Unlike other comic book heroes or villains, I’ve never been beholden to the literary origin of Max Dillon/Electro. In fact, his origin in the books is so simplistic, convenient and uninteresting that it never bothered me that Webb and company would be taking liberties with said origin. What does bother me is that what they replaced it with is just as uninteresting and convenient. Prior to his transformation, Jamie Foxx’s Max Dillon is about as close to a “misunderstood-nerd” archetype as you’re likely to ever get. This isn’t limited solely to his character traits, but actually bleeds into his appearance. With his bad comb-over, gapped teeth and nerdy clothes, Foxx tends to remind us of a grown up Steve Urkel more than anything else. It’s cliché to the point of being unrealistic which just helps to distance ASM2 even more from its predecessor. Now for the sake of fairness I’ll freely admit that I don’t blame Foxx’s performance for any of this as he clearly had very little to work with. And what there is to work with isn’t even allowed to come out through the performance. For some reason the filmmakers deemed it a better idea to blatantly tell us all we need to know about Foxx’s character in some of the worst cases of exposition I’ve seen in years.
We know that Max Dillon is a brilliant but misunderstood scientist because he flat-out tells us on more than one occasion. We also know he’s unbalanced because of a brief fantasy sequence where he flips on a co-worker for taking Spider-Man’s name in vain. In addition his own personal issues about not being noticed and always taken for granted, Dillon develops an unhealthy obsession with Spider-Man after the old web-head saves his life and acknowledges his name. Once again, the decision is made to blatantly show us just how extreme this obsession has become when we get a glimpse at Dillon’s apartment and see his shrine to Spider-Man all over the walls. On a quick side note, did anyone else besides me get a Jim Carrey/Riddler vibe when watching this scene? As this as all of this is, it doesn’t even compare with how thin Dillon’s motivation towards villainy is once he becomes Electro. After the accident that grants him his electrical powers a confused and frightened Max stumbles into the middle of Times Square and starts feeding on the energy from the electrical cables under the streets. This naturally attracts the attention of Spider-Man and due to a misunderstanding Max suddenly blames Spider-Man for pretty much everything that’s going wrong for him and targets him for death. And that’s really it. If you don’t consider this to be the greatest motivation for a super-villain, you’re no alone. Even the filmmakers couldn’t seem to find anything of merit to do with Electro after this point. Once Spider-Man defeats him, Electro is carted off to the Ravencroft Institute for study and experimentation where he’ll stay for a good chunk of the movie until the “plot” requires his rescue by Harry Osborn for the inevitable Super-Villain team up. Though I don’t relish the idea of invoking previous movies in these situations, I couldn’t help but feel I was reliving Spider-Man 3 and the odd team up of Sandman and Venom.
Now before anyone starts calling me a negative nelly I should point out that It’s not all bad. As as I stated earlier, Foxx does what he can with what he’s given and he does bring a nice contrast between pre-accident Max Dillon and post-accident Electro. I also like the design of Electro which is much more visually impressive then I would have expected. In particular I love his initial appearance after the accident where his presumed dead/charred to a crisp corpse suddenly comes to life. With each step the layers of charred dead skin begin to crack and flake off, revealing the electrically charged from beneath. It’s never stated anywhere in the movie but my interpretation is that the electrical energy filled Max’s body from the inside, taking his shape and the dead exterior skin is just shed away like a snake. This allows for the scenes later on when Electro is shown to be not totally corporeal and is able to disappear and enter electrical conduits. If that was the intention, it’s a great idea, but again an idea that’s never really addressed or taken full advantage of. In a lot of ways, that last statement pretty much sums up Electro in this movie to a ‘T.’
One last note in regards to Electro before I move on: What the hell is the suit he’s wearing after Harry breaks him out of Ravencroft, and where did he get it? Seriously. When Harry first releases him, Electro is shown floating around in nothing but a pair of boxers looking all “Dr. Manhattan.” When next we see them both at Oscorp he’s suddenly in the full piece suit that’s been shown in the trailers and all the toys. I’ve got no problem with the suit or the design except that it’s never mentioned where he got it or what purpose (if any) it has. The design of it tends to look as if it has some function but never once does anyone say what it is. Does it exist as some kind of rubber insulation to keep his electrical power from dissipating? And if so, who made it? Was it something Oscorp built? If so, why? If it was made specifically for Electro it doesn’t seem to make much sense as it would only exist to benefit him, rather than Oscorp. And even if I were to believe that, I’m not likely to believe that they managed to manufacture it so quickly. And really, none of these “what if’s” matter since no answers are to be given. While it may not be important to the remaining plot of the film, it just screams of lazy writing.
The golden rule of the superhero film should be, in my opinion, “One Hero = One Villain.” The minute you start introducing multiple villains, in most cases, your story is bound to suffer because there’s just too much going on for one film to handle. Some films, like Batman Begins, have managed to avoid these pitfalls. But in general, the multiple villain rule usually spells doom for most Super-Hero films. Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, and Spider-Man 3 are all prime examples. There’s only so much you can do in a 90 minute to 2 hour run-time. With more than one villain in the mix, someone’s going to end up getting shortchanged. Which brings us to Harry Osborn.
In another wonderful example of having little to no correlation with the first, Harry Osborn is introduced as being Peter’s best friend from when they were kids. But wait…Harry wasn’t featured in the first Amazing Spider-Man. Oh, don’t worry. Apparently Harry’s father shipped him off to boarding school when he was 11, so naturally he wouldn’t have been around to make an appearance in ASM1. And of course, it also makes total sense that with him being off at boarding school, Peter would never once mention the name of his best friend even once, even to bring up the fact he just happens to be the son of the owner of the company that is potentially responsible for his father’s death and his new Spider powers. Wait…you’re saying it doesn’t make sense? Ah, damn it. Anyway…
So Harry is brought back from his exile by Norman not only because of Norman’s impending death, but to also let him know that the disease killing him is genetic and therefore is likely to eventually kill Harry as well. By a wonderful coincidence (as we haven’t seen any already) Harry starts to show signs of the disease almost immediately which makes him desperate for a cure. By a brilliant bit of deduction based on pretty much nothing, Harry determines that Spider-Man must have gotten his powers from the genetic research Oscorp had been conducting and assumes that Spidey’s blood is the cure that he needs. So Harry’s entire role for the bulk of the film is to whine and complain and get angry at both Peter and Spider-Man for not letting him have this blood that he’s not even sure will cure himself.
Those looking to at least get a nice glimpse at the friendship between Harry and Peter are going to be treated to a nice short scene of the two of them awkwardly catching up on what they’ve been doing all these years while they take turns skipping stones. Annnnd that’s it. Literally, the entire “friendship” between Peter and Harry is relegated to this one scene. From this point on, any interaction between Harry and Peter is confrontational and just helps to make you dislike Harry as a character.
The eventual transformation of Harry into the Green Goblin is probably the most forced thing in the movie and proves almost completely pointless. The goblin’s participation is so shoe-horned in that he literally doesn’t even show up until well after Electro has been defeated and the movie should be over. The sequence that follows, including the battle between Spider-Man and the Goblin and the death of Gwen, although executed fairly well, are all things that scream to have been saved and held back until the next movie. But of course, then we’d have to put off the Sinister Six movie a bit longer. And that would just be a crime.
Now that we’ve touched on the son, let’s talk about the father:
Not to sugar coat it, this one really pisses me off. For many fans, the Green Goblin is THE Spider-Man villain. And not the Harry Osborn Green Goblin, but the original Norman Osborn Goblin. And to see what’s done with him here probably makes me more angry than almost anything else in this film. I hate to keep bringing up the idea of being wasteful, but I can’t think of a better word to describe a situation where you cast Chris Cooper as Norman Osborn and kill him off after one scene. Now to be fair, this could once more be part of the studio’s attempt to plant seeds for later films. At the time of this writing I’ve seen stills floating around online of a scene deleted from the film that features the frozen head of Norman down in the Oscorp secret vaults. First, this scene didn’t make it into the movie, so I’m not counting that as canon. And even if it was there, I don’t care. At the time I was watching, it felt like they finally introduced Norman and then BAM!, he’s dead. And all so we could pave the way for Harry’s Goblin. Not exactly the choice I would have made…
If you’re one of those out there who’s a big Rhino fan, get ready to be disappointed. He’s in the movie for a grand total of maybe 10 minutes. And of those 10 minutes, 5 of them are him not even in the costume. What annoys me about this is that I actually like Paul Giamatti’s portrayal of the character. I’m not too sure about the design of the Rhino suit, but then again I can’t imagine how anyone could possibly translate Rhino to the screen and actually make him look fantastic. It seems odd that the publicity of the movie chose to feature Rhino so much, including on the posters when he is only on-screen for such a brief time. But seeing as how he gets his costume from Oscorp, it’s likely to assume he’ll have a bigger part to play in The Sinister Six. Which brings me to one more point on the villains:
WHY THE HELL IS OSCORP THE CENTER OF NYC?
If Sony is really planning on expanding this universe and creating a money-making franchise for themselves, they really need to consider actually expanding the universe. I don’t exactly get the sense of massive scope when everything (and I mean everything) can be traced back to Oscorp. Just to illustrate:
Dr. Curt Conners/The Lizard = Oscorp
Max Dillon/Electro = Oscorp
Harry Osborn/Green Goblin = Oscorp
Rhino = Oscorp
Richard Parker = Worked for Oscorp
Gwen Stacy = Works for Oscorp
Peter Parker/Spider-Man = Got his powers from Oscorp
And now after seeing the hidden special projects division that also contains Vulture’s wings and Doc Ock’s arms, we can assume with a fair amount of confidence that when those two pop up, it’s going to be part of Oscorp. Next you’ll be telling me that the alien symbiote for the Venom movie isn’t going to be alien at all but something genetically engineered by Oscorp. Wait…I think I may have just written the third movie. Make sure you spell my name right when you send out those checks Sony
Rather then leaving things on a sour note, I’d like to end off this review (novel) by discussing the positives. Despite anything else in the movie that I found to be lacking, I’m still convinced that Andrew Garfield is the perfect actor to portray both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. Although I enjoyed Tobey Maguire’s interpretation of Peter Parker in the Raimi trilogy, I never really bought him as Spider-Man. Except for any of the times the mask came off, I just never really believed during any of the Spider-Man sequences that it was Maguire in the costume. It’s also been said before that the original three films were greatly lacking in that classic Spider-Man banter and wit that we all love so much. With Garfield I really feel we’ve found someone who is a great fit for both characters. His portrayal of Peter Parker in both films feels spot on to me (at least in terms of Ultimate Spider-Man) and when he’s in costume as Spider-Man I really do get the feeling that its him under the mask. He has a great gift for delivering the more comic lines and that helps to bring on a lot of the much-needed Spider-banter we’ve been waiting for.
Garfield’s interpretation of the role also blends into his chemistry with Emma Stone as Gwen. The fact that the two are a couple in real life now only helps to their on-screen relationship. I’ve been a fan of Emma Stone in everything I’ve seen of her so far and she really does help to bring Gwen Stacy to life in a way I didn’t think I’d ever get to see. Her performance and her interaction with both Peter and Spider-Man endears her to the audience and makes you completely okay with never getting to meet Mary Jane. Which brings us to the oft-discussed conclusion to the film.
If you’re a fan of Spider-Man and know your comic lore, you knew this was coming. Maybe you didn’t know it was coming this time, but you knew it was in the pipeline and was going to happen at some point. The death of Gwen Stacy is the second most defining moment in Spider-Man’s history after the death of his Uncle Ben. But unlike Uncle Ben, we’ve never gotten to see that moment played out on screen..until now. Thankfully, Gwen’s death, although not 100% accurate to its comic counterpart, is one of the few aspects of this movie that I feel they managed to get really right. The only negative I could find in the execution (no pun intended) was the lame use of CG to make Spidey’s webline resemble a hand reaching out to catch Gwen. It was hitting the nail on the head a little too hard when it didn’t need to be. But the moment is spot-on. This is probably the scene of the movie where Garfield really shines, going from relief, to disbelief, to anguish in only a few short moments. The way it’s played by all involved is actually genuinely heartbreaking. It’s a shame this much thought and attention couldn’t have gone into the rest of the movie.
My only gripe with Gwen’s death, and it’s a small one, is that I personally feel it was too soon. We’ve really only been given a short amount of time to enjoy Peter and Gwen as a couple and now she’s already dead. No matter what happens in the next film and whomever they end up casting as Mary Jane, Amazing Spider-Man 3 is going to be lacking just by Emma Stone’s absence. Maybe that was the intention, but I can’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t have worked better to introduce the Green Goblin at the end of this film to be the main bad guy of ASM3 and conclude the first trilogy of films with his and Gwen’s deaths. But alas, I’m not on Sony’s payroll.
Overall, it should be fairly obvious by now that I was not a fan of Amazing Spider-Man 2 and am in no rush to see it again. With how much I ended up enjoying the first film, this really should have been one of the best movie-going experiences of the summer for me. It’s a shame that that ended up not being the case. What’s worse is that not only have I disliked the movie itself, but I’m also left with no desire to want to see the eventual Amazing Spider-Man 3. So far, most everything I’ve read or heard from others seems to agree with me to some extent. I can’t help but feel it would be both amusing and ironic if this film that was meant as the launching point for a major franchise ended up being the one that kills it before it really begins.