The opening of Summer Movie Season is something I look forward to each year. It signals not just he beginning of Summer break, but also the season when I’m likely to spend the most time in theatres, drinking in whatever delightfully overblown spectacles Tinseltown has for us this year. And each year, it’s up to one movie to open it all up, to be the first horse out of the gate, the first soldier to run screaming towards enemy lines, usually the soldier the squad commander thinks would serve his country best as a piece of cover for the men behind him. This year’s human shield is The Amazing Spiderman 2, and when the enemy rounds tore a nice new window in its sternum, I for one wasn’t exactly crying but I’ll probably still send a nice letter to its mum when the war’s over.
The problem with writing a quick, succinct summary of the basic setup for the film is that the film really has no basic setup, which as we’ll discuss soon, is one of the problems. In the first half hour alone we’re thrown into more plotlines and character arcs than the first episode of The Wire. Peter Parker’s fresh out of college and living it up as Spiderman. Meanwhile, an Oscorp employee named Max Dillon falls prey to an industrial accident and becomes the super-villain Electro, swearing revenge on his hero Spiderman for forgetting him and all the people of New York for not paying attention to him. Meanwhile, Peter’s old friend Harry Osborn comes back to town just in time to watch his father die of a degenerative disease, just after telling Harry he has it himself. Meanwhile, Peter uncovers the truth about the death of his parents, learning of a sinister Oscorp conspiracy to steal his father’s work and frame him for crimes he didn’t commit. His relationship with love interest Gwen Stacy is stopping and starting more than an old Volkswagen with a duct-tape engine, with Gwen going away to Oxford and Peter paralyzed with guilt for all the smooching they do after he promised her dying father he’d stay away from her and keep her out of harm’s way in the last movie.
The moment when the credits rolled, and I learned the script was by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, it felt akin to that moment in a slasher movie when the protagonist learns who the killer is and goes “My God…it all fits. It all makes sense, why didn’t I see it before?!?!” before a knife flashes behind them and a hole opens up in their throat large enough to give birth through. The script may not be their worst, but bears all of their signature problems: massive logical gaps, groan-inducing “humor”, a reliance on mcguffins, appallingly bad dialogue, a lack of any kind of real cleverness or charm, and the overall feeling that it was hashed out over a weekend. The “too many villains” accusation has been dropped at the film’s feet, and I’d say the problem is really too many origin stories. Paul Giamatti’s Rhino is really just set dressing, the film still spends much of its time juggling the origins of the Green Goblin and Electro, and neither of them ends up being all that interesting, with the generic “I want revenge for things!” motivations. And when we aren’t getting all of that, it’s more of Peter and Gwen’s non stop “are we or aren’t we” drama, served hot on a plate of sickeningly cutesy banter between the two. Although Gwen does get one really, really good character moment towards the end….it’s just a shame it gets completely undercut mere minutes later.
The movie doesn’t know how to balance any of the million things it has going on effectively. Oscorp has this AI interface program that seems to only exist to spout exposition, and everyone constantly seems to have news reports playing in the background, because heaven fucking forbid someone weave exposition and character building together in the dialogue. The script feels like a hastily-assembled Rube Goldberg machine, held together with scotch tape and spit, and barely holding together.
Marc Webb, for his part, seems to be getting a bit more experimental, but more often than not his stylistic choices seem either odd or laughable. During a climactic scene, the tip of one of Spidey’s webs folds out into the shape of an outstretched hand in slow-motion, which had me chortling during what was probably meant to be a very serious and dramatic scene. The score seems odd and disjointed, part synth, part Williams-esue orchestral and with really weird background vocals in one scene that sound like something out of a Marilyn Manson song.
The action scenes, at least, are mostly entertaining, possibly some of the best we’ve seen in a Spiderman movie thus far, often with just enough little touches to keep the audience entertained.
But there’s nothing in The Amazing Spiderman 2 that really makes me want to overlook the significant flaws in the script and weird artistic choices. No moments of cleverness and creativity to make fanboys smile with glee, like the Arnim Zola scene in Winter Soldier or the flying Asgardian longboat/fighters in Thor 2. It feels overstuffed and poorly executed, too concerned with setting things up for the sequels and spinoffs, or even for its own mess of a third act.
But despite how it sounds, there’s nothing that really makes me hate it. There’s nothing that offends me, beyond a lack of craftsmanship in the script. It isn’t the worst Spiderman movie ever. It’s just sloppily made and trying to accomplish too much in too little time.