Before I get any further into specific aspects of Amazing Spider-Man 2 that either pleased me or made me want to wretch, I’d like to take a few minutes to address the look and feel of the film. I’m one of those people who wants a certain level of consistency from film to film when watching a series or franchise. While I’m not against a change in director or writer to help keep things fresh, I at least expect when watching each film to feel as if I’m watching part of whole. The Harry Potter series comes to mind. When watching ASM2 I didn’t get that feeling at all. And that’s even more strange when you realize that almost everyone in front of and behind the camera were the same for both films.
As I watched this film I could see the long arm of Sony reaching to take control. That’s the difference that can be felt when watching something like this compared to say Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Although both films are sequels and part of a larger cinematic universe you can tell from every frame that Captain America is a Marvel movie made by Marvel. Yes, they want to build on what they’ve already started and get us that much closer to Avengers 2, but they also love Captain America as a
character and made sure to make a film worthy of the character and the fans that love him. On the flip side, almost every frame of Amazing Spider-Man 2 feels like it was made by a corporation. And I don’t just refer to the fact that every cell phone and laptop used in this movie just so happens to be a Sony brand. It’s this corporate tinkering that helps make this film seem so separate from the first ASM.
When re-watching the original film it’s very obvious that all involved are trying their best to do something new with Spider-Man. After all, this was the movie that was supposed to be Spider-Man 4 until Sam Raimi bailed out. So instead, Amazing Spider-Man was left with being the reboot nobody asked for that felt way too soon. Probably for this reason, you get the feeling that Sony and Marvel were making efforts to distance themselves as far from Raimi’s trilogy as possible. This resulted in several somewhat controversial choices as tweaking Spider-Man’s origin, his costume and introducing Gwen Stacy rather than Mary Jane as his love interest. I know from many discussions and several reviews at the time that there were plenty of fans that disliked these changes, but I never had a problem with them. I liked the look of Spider-Man’s new costume and although I wasn’t a huge fan of the story changes, I figured if they were going to make us sit through his origin again so soon we might as well see something a bit different. The way I’ve chosen to think of it is that Sam Raimi’s trilogy is (with the exception of Venom) his adaptation of the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko books of the 60’s, while Marc Webb‘s Amazing Spider-Man is an adaptation of Brian Michael Bendis‘s Ultimate Spider-Man book.
With ASM 2 there’s almost no consistency with the first film. True, the actors are the same as well as the director and writers, but the look and feel of the film is almost completely different. The darker and more serious tone from ASM1, although present to some extent, is all but excised this time around. This time we get a Spider-Man film that’s big and bright again, and rather than rooting it in some kind of reality as before, we’re given numerous moments and scenarios that defy logic and character portrayals that border on being campy. To make this idea more tangible, as an experiment try watching both films back to back and compare how many scenes in ASM1 are set at night compared to the number in ASM 2 set during the day.
So why the drastic difference? Why spend so much time and effort trying to give us a more realistic and grounded approach to Spider-Man only to do a complete 180 this time around? A fair assumption would be that a lot of this was due to the reaction to the first film. Although it did well, ASM1 wasn’t nearly the kind of box office hit that any of the three Raimi films were. Both Marvel and Sony may have simply got cold feet and decided that they might want to stick with what worked for them before. While I feel that may have had a lot to do with it, I’m also inclined to believe that all involved were suffering from PAS (Post Avengers Syndrome).
Keep in mind that ASM1 was released the same summer as Marvel’s The Avengers which means it was already in the can and ready to go out before Sony had a chance to see the kind of business that Avengers ended up doing. Once the figures came in, suddenly anyone with a comic book property was looking to hop on the Avengers train and try to create a franchise that could bring in major cash. Warner had it easy as they already had the film rights to all the major characters involved to make a Justice League movie which, as we all know, is basically the DC equivalent of the Avengers. Fox still had the rights to X-Men, hence last summer’s release of The Wolverine and the imminent release of X-Men: Days of Future Past. But what did Sony have? Spider-Man and…Ghost Rider**? Hmm. Considering that both Ghost Rider films tanked (and rightfully so) and the character doesn’t exactly lend itself to a team-up movie, that left Spider-Man as Sony’s sole chance to build a major franchise and get themselves some Avengers bucks. ASM2 screams this through almost every single frame.
The revised costume of ASM1 has been replaced with a more traditional variation closer to the Tobey Maguire outfit. In addition, comedic moments are plentiful and they’ve tried to ramp up the action. Mixed in with all of this we have seeds being planted that are meant to pay off in future installments as well as setting up the already announced Sinister Six spin-off movie. Honestly, I’ve really got no problem with any of those elements. The action sequences I feel do work really well and the Spider-Man fan in me was full on geeking out at all the banter they threw in this time around. None of this is the problem. The problem is that they forgot to make an actual movie while trying to lay all this groundwork for a series. I didn’t pay $10 to sit down and watch a two hour commercial for Amazing Spider-Man 3 and The Sinister Six. I paid to see a good Spider-Man movie that builds on and improves on the aspects that worked so well in the first film. Instead, significant themes and characters from the first film are either only briefly mentioned or forgotten completely.
Remember Flash Thompson in ASM1? I do, because I actually loved the subplot they worked in about the relationship between him and Peter and was looking forward to seeing that explored further in this film. If you loved it too, then prepare to be disappointed because Flash doesn’t make a single appearance in ASM2 nor is he even mentioned. Just when I was enjoying the idea that we were finally going to get a couple of Spider-Man movies that featured Peter in high school I get to watch Peter’s graduation within the first 15 minutes of ASM2.
What else is missing? Well, Dr. Curt Conners (The Lizard) who not only was featured so prominently in the first film but also made it into the mid-credit teaser is only randomly mentioned during the course of this one and never once shown. And let’s not forget the robber who shot Uncle Ben that Peter/Spider-Man never managed to find in the first film. You’ll get not even a mention of him this time around. Now to be fair, it was Peter’s obsession with only wanting to find his Uncle’s killer that eventually led to him
learning the lesson of power and responsibility when he finally used his powers to help save C. Thomas Howell‘s son during the bridge attack. But even so, you would think that not been able to bring Uncle Ben’s killer to justice must still rattle him a little. You’d also think that would warrant at least a quick mention of the guy. And while we’re at it, are you going to tell me that you can get Denis Leary to show back up to stand around silently looking angry for a grand total of maybe 5 minutes but you couldn’t get Martin Sheen to come back for a dream sequence or something so that Peter’s final decision to go back to being Spider-Man could be prompted by something more than just watching Gwen’s valedictorian speech on a flash drive?
But wait, before you start becoming as angry as me, let me assuage your fears by assuring you that Sony did have a plan. By leaving out all of these aspects from ASM1, the filmmakers allowed themselves extra screen-time to devote to more important things like…Peter’s Parents…a whiny one-dimensional Harry Osborn…a whiny one-dimensional Electro…a constant back and forth of make-up/break up scenes between Peter and Gwen…and a musical montage set to a Phillip Phillips song.
See…don’t you feel better now?
**Ghost Rider is now back under the Marvel Studios umbrella