Eight Legged Weak: Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-man 2 (2014) – DVD review
Amazing, as in “it’s amazing that a superhero movie in 2014 can think it is still acceptable to act like a superhero movie in 2004.”
The Amazing Spider-man 2
(Marc Webb, 2014)
A lot can happen in a decade. Back in 2004, Sam Raimi’s Spider-man 2 was pretty much the exemplar of what the modern superhero movie could be: witty, action-packed and surprisingly emotional. Fast-forward through Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and the ongoing shenanigans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Superheroes are no longer content with being the alpha-males of their own genre, but are attempting to colonise the entire Hollywood storytelling playbook.
All of which leaves The Amazing Spider-man 2 in a very sticky situation. Like its immediate predecessor, this has no real need to exist at all, given how recent Raimi’s take still is. That’s down to a variety of factors: the perceived drop in quality of Spider-man 3, the need to match up to superhero rivals and (let’s be honest) the fact that Sony will lose the rights should they not keep churning out new Spidey movies.
Let’s be charitable – as I was in 2012, on the release of The Amazing Spider-man – and point out that there is some cultural value to doing such a swift reboot. It can provide the opportunity to explore, as Gus Van Sant did in his Psycho remake, how the minutest changes can create an entirely different beast from the original. Case in point: Andrew Garfield, who remains the definitive Peter Parker. Garfield’s voice and posture are bang on, his gangly enthusiasm a thing of delight. The film’s highpoint sees the actor accidentally-on-purpose bump into some security guards, a dextrous piece of slapstick sealed by a cheeky mid-air heel-click.
Yet, if you don’t get every detail as right as this, the whole exercise runs the risk of becoming a very expensive piece of repertory theatre, with Hollywood rifling through the costume drawer to see what production to put on. Stock scenes here are remixed and recycled, from Parker worrying about the effect his ‘work’ will have on a love interest, to an ordinary Joe turned into a vengeful monster by a freak accident. When, say, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is placing its characters in the framework of a political thriller, it’s sheer laziness to still be trotting out the tropes of 2004.
And yet, half the trouble is that this film wants dearly to be regarded as the equal of its peers. On paper, The Amazing Spider-man 2 is extraordinarily ambitious, juggling the parallel rise to villainy of Jamie Foxx’s Electro and Dane De Haan’s Green Goblin with the on/off romance with Gwen Stacey and Parker’s continuing quest to justify the elaborate backstory involving his absent father. On screen, it’s a mess, and it beggars belief that another element, the introduction of Mary Jane Watson, was shot as well. For a critic, the similarity to Spider-man 3 (the film the reboot was meant to usurp) is like web-slinging fish in a barrel.
That’s a lot to cram in, and the film can’t figure out how to achieve it tonally or thematically. The screenplay jumps distractedly from subplot to subplot (De Haan is randomly introduced half an hour in) and director Marc Webb foolishly tries to handle each element on its own terms. The romantic stuff – Webb’s stock-in-trade pre-Spidey, of course – Is adorkable thanks to Garfield’s chemistry with Emma Stone, but the director doesn’t know how to pitch the rest. Foxx’s scenes, pre-transformation, are treated like a Joel Schumacher Batman movie, all Dutch angles and larger-than-life performance, but De Haan is shrouded in shadow and asked to underplay. It’s a reminder of how logistically challenging these films are: they need a consistent vision, whether Nolan’s seriousness or Joss Whedon’s playfulness. It’s no longer permissable merely to throw everything into the web and see what sticks.