2014 was a colossal year for comic book movies, with the debuts of hit films like “X-Men: Days of Future Past”, “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”. All three have a solid place among the greatest comic book movies ever made, which made that years “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” seem like a drop in the water by comparison. This sequel to 2012’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” both under-performed at the box office and generated more negative reviews then any of the previous films in the web-heads series.
Following after the events of the last film, Spider-Man is now fully embraced as the cities hero, with both fire fighters and police officers in his support. However, the unsolved mysteries of his parents and sudden abandonment as a child are still eating away at him. Also, holding over from the last film is the sudden death of police Captain Stacy, and his final words to stay away from his daughter, which is keeping our hero from pursuing a relationship with the girl he loves. Shortly after, Peter's best friend Harry Osborn has returned to town, only to discover that his father is dead, he now has the responsibility of a billion dollar company thrown on his shoulders, and worse yet, he’s coming down with the same case of “death” his late father had.
The cast once again is outstanding, and I think Spider-Man himself is represented best in this film than any of the previous movies. The visual effect of our hero web-swinging is perfect, the costume looks much better, and I love the added features of his spider senses, as we actually see every detail of what Spider-Man needs to accomplish before a sudden action takes place. Aside from all the technical details, the characterization of Spider-Man himself is flawless.
For as great as some of the earlier movies got, I always felt that Spider-Man’s relation with the people he rescued was very distant. In this movie, Spider-Man makes both the viewer and the people of his city feel great. He treats everyone like friends or pears instead of anonymous save targets in a video game. I love this one moment when Spider-Man protects a little boy from some bullies, then he has a pleasant little conversation with him while making sure he gets home safely, and that was a charm that I just never got from the early films. I also love that whenever a new villain is on the scene, Spider-Man will actually try to talk and reason with them before resorting to fighting, which is fantastic, and it just makes me cheer for him all the more. Naturally, our hero’s relationship with Gwen Stacy is another big highlight. Both Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are the engines pulling this train, and the two just have perfect chemistry with one another. Not only is their relationship sweet, but I love seeing them work together, and solve problems together. In fact, Spider-Man would have never defeated the villain without her assistance. This does a great job making her feel like a real character, as opposed to someone cute that just needs to be rescued all the time. Even without Spider-Man, Gwen Stacy would still be a compelling lead.
Now, of all the villains from Spider-Man’s rouges gallery, Electro would probably be the last one I’d choose as the main villain for a feature film. I never found him that interesting to begin with, and he just had the dumbest looking costume. So, I had no expectations for him in this movie, and just hoped he could entertain me on some level. In this regard, Electro actually surpassed my expectations. I loved his re-design, with transparent blue skin, and Jamie Foxx did a fine job supplying the character with menace. I surprisingly loved his dub-step theme, which should be stupid, but I honestly think it works. No other Spider-Man villain from the movies had their own music score, and I thought this track gave the character more of a presence. I especially love how the music builds whenever the action heats up between him and our hero. Once again, the special effects of his lighting powers, and how he becomes one with electricity is fantastic. Unfortunately, Electro still doesn’t qualify as a good villain, in fact, he feels tacked on, like he’s just there so the movie can have a super villain. His transition from fan boy to bad guy wasn’t handled very smoothly, and the script has no idea what to do with him as a player. Once he gets his electrical powers, he’s immediately knocked out, held prisoner by some cartoony mad doctor, and then freed to fight in the finale. So, as I predicted, Electro wasn't a very good villain, but credit where it's due, he was far more entertaining to watch then he had any right to be.
If there was any other villain I was looking forward to seeing less in a theatrical Spider-Man movie other then Electro, it would definitely be The Rhino. In both the comics and the cartoon show, the Rhino was just a physical threat with no real character or motivations to speak of. Plus, with Paul Giamatti over acting the hell out of this performance, I really didn't want to see him as a main villain. Thankfully, that is not the case, the Rhino barely has more than a cameo, which is both merciful, and kind of a nice touch. I always pictured the Spider-Man universe as one where villains can spike-up randomly from anywhere, some minor and some major. By giving the Rhino this little role, it made Spider-Mans universe feel much larger, and it's just great to know that not every super villain has to be a main threat. Although, the Rhino's re-design from muscle suite to robot is still pretty silly. One other minor character that took me by surprise was Felicia Hardy, played by Felicity Jones from "Rouge One: A Star Wars Story". Aside from featuring a wonderful actress, Felicia has always been my favorite girl friend character from Spider-Man's love interest roster. In both the comics and the TV show, she became our hero's partner in fighting crime called the Black Cat. While she's still just a throw away character in this film, it was still cool too see her at all.
The last character to address is Peter Parkers best friend Harry Osborn, played by Dane DeHaan. His father is briefly seen played by Chris Cooper, and his death gave me the great satisfaction that I wouldn’t have to put up with the Green Goblin a second time. Of course, Harry becomes a new Green Goblin of sorts, which is fine, I prefer that to a strait forward rehash of the same Green Goblin from the first movie. I really liked that this film spent more time focusing on Harry Osborn as both a friend and a victim long before he becomes a villain of any sort. Many have complained that it was rushed, but I thought his transformation was handled fairly well. Unlike Electro, who just went evil for no reason, we see the progression of Harry Osborn going downhill. We also see his best efforts to do good before taking desperate actions, and that was another detail I really appreciated. While we don’t get the buildup lasting over several films like we did in the original trilogy, this still worked for me. I bought the friendship between both Harry and Peter, and I just felt more sympathy for the guy. Also, I really didn’t care that this Goblin had limited screen time, after all, we’ve seen these Green Goblin’s in two previous movies already, so I'm done with them ... lets move on.
Okay, now it’s time to address the absolute worst aspect of the movie by far, which is Peter’s quest to discover more about his mysterious parents. Oh boy, this was mildly interesting in the first film, but it really should have been resolved in that movie. Leaving it open to continue in this film was just plain stupid ... and boring as hell in this film. This was based on the comic series of Spider-Man’s parents, in which they were revealed to be traders to their nation, and it just has no business being here.
Whenever the movie is building some momentum with either the unveiling of a new villain, or interesting character relations, it all comes to a screeching halt whenever the issues of Peter’s parents come up again. There is at least one very emotional scene between Peter and Aunt May as they discuss the whole family situation, but it’s still not enough. We have this long, boring opening in which we see every single detail of what happens to his parents, and thus spoiling any potential surprises down the road. Then the movie waists a good deal of time just watching Peter go on a scavenger hunt of sorts until he finally finds a video from his dad, telling him exactly what we already saw in the opening. So what the heck, why is this in the movie? Personally, I think it should have gone like this... That whole prologue should have been part of an opening credit sequence, complete with a music score and no dialogue, minus the fathers message which could have been heard throughout. Then as the credits continue, we see Peter discover the message. When the message ends, the credits are wrapped up, cut to black, big title screen comes up, and then we continue with the rest of the movie.
For me, it’s the middle act of the movie that suffers the most. The first act actually dose a reasonable job setting up characters and plot threads, and the third act in my opinion is about as epic as Spider-Man movies get. Unfortunately, that middle act does bring the film down hard, as the script has no idea how to organize the various plots or balance the pacing. There’s just this lack of focus on what the movie is about, and it just feels like a boring mess at times. It should be noted that, even though the multiple plots weren’t organized very well, this movie at least put its characters, and their arches before action and spectacle. Actually, if you ignore both the opening prologue with Peters parents, and the epilogue with the Rhino, there are only three action scenes in the film. We have the opening car chase, the attack on Time Square in the middle, and the final showdown at the power plant. By spending more time with the characters, I honestly felt more invested in the battles. The action has also gotten much bigger, with Spider-Man fighting in larger areas, yet it still has the same sharp choreography and style of its predecessor.
Now, I never thought I’d say this, because while I loved Danny Elfman’s score from the original trilogy ... I honestly like Hans Zimmer’s new music score a little more. It may not be as grand, but it fits with Spider-Man very well. This music just has this triumphant, yet “fun” feel, which reflects off the character wonderfully. I really want to give director Mark Web some serious credit, because he’s clearly putting his best efforts into the overall emotion and look of the film. On that note, I think this is currently the best looking Spider-Man movie by far. It’s bright, colorful, and looks like a comic book brought to life on the big screen. I will admit that the comedy, while very funny at times, tends to overstay it’s welcome. For example, there’s a running joke with Peter keeping his identity secret from Aunt May, which is very amusing at first, but then it just keeps going ... and going. Even the cute banter between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy goes a little too long. Jami Fox certainly has his annoying quirks, and then there are some downright silly moments. One little detail that just amuses me to no end comes during the opening car chase, in which we see at least 30 cop cars chasing down a single armed truck. It’s like something out of “The Blues Brothers”, because there all crashing into each other, and it’s just so silly.
Let’s finally talk about the ending, because in my opinion, this is one of the best climaxes of the whole series. I love the buildup, as we see our hero swinging through the city while chasing this electrical trail left by the villain, the music builds, and I just get chills all over. As the battle begins, Electro and Spider-Man fight in this colorful electrical plant, which is a cool design, and it’s a lot of fun watching our hero leap all over the pillars, while the villain relentlessly blast him with electricity. Some of the best moments once again are Spider-Man and Gwen Stacy working together to defeat their foe.
Once Electro is beaten, the new Green Goblin makes his attack, which leads into a deeply thrilling fight in a clock tower. There’s a real sense of dread as the fight builds, and as Spider-Man does his best to keep Gwen safe, we the audience are terrified knowing what’s about to happen. Obviously, this ending was inspired by the classic Spider-Man comic in which Gwen Stacy dies, and for the most part, there are some great improvements on its source material. First of all, Gwen is conscious throughout the whole battle, so we have this nervous hope that she might make it out okay. Also, the clock tower setting in my opinion is a huge improvement over the clichéd bridge setting, because the clock is literally and figuratively ticking away to her demise. Finally, the death is hauntingly tragic, as not only did we loose one of our favorite characters, but Spider-Man lost Gwen just as he was saving her. The whole scene was just shot beautifully, and the emotion of this lose really hits home. It was thanks to Gwen being there that Spider-Man was able to save the city from Electro, but he just couldn’t keep her safe in the end, making this a hollow victory. The only thing the comic did better was that Gwen's death came at the hands of Spider-Man’s arch nemesis, and that’s just not what happened here. While the Green Goblin in general is our hero's most iconic foe, there just wasn't enough of a layered history to make this Goblin count as his greatest enemy.
Now we segue into the films epilogue, which dose start on an emotional high note. We see Peter attending Gwens funeral, and he stays there at her grave for many, many months. No dialogue, no overly sympathetic music score, just Peter standing there over a passage of time, and everything going on in his mind is left for us to interpret. If only the film had just ended right then and there, it would have been one of the most powerful endings to any superhero movie I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, the film still goes on, and on.
We see Harry Osborn in prison, and for absolutely no reason at all, he wants to organize a team of super villains. Just to push this stupid cliff hanger even further, we have that mysterious man in the coat walking around a room fool of villain product placements. We see the Vulture’s wings, Doctor Octopuses mechanical arms, and it’s all setting up for a potential Sinister Six movie. Yeah ... remember that outstanding cliffhanger at the end of “Spider-Man 2”, when Harry Osborn’s reflection became his late father, and then he discovered the Green Goblins lab ... that was downright chilling. Not just as a set up for another film, but as a natural, exciting progression of the story. This Sinister Six set-up is just there for the sake of marketing, and fan serves. I will say that, because of the franchises cancellation, I’m glad we have an ending in which Spider-Man returns to crime fighting after his tragic lose. This actually gave the ending a sense of tragedy, and triumph all at once.
Is this a perfect ending for the Amazing Spider-Man series ... no, not even close, and there’s still several plot threads unresolved. However, I think this film is still more satisfying than not. I certainly hated all the obvious set-up for future films that never came to be, and the scrip had no clear narrative focus. With all that said, I still find this to be a perfectly good Spider-Man outing. This is still one of Spider-Mans best portrayals on film to date, the cast once again make it worthwhile, the battles are genuinely thrilling, the effects are top notch, and that tragic finale still gives me chills whenever I watch it.
I know this isn’t a very common opinion, but I think there’s far more good here then bad. Thanks to a stellar ending, and other merits throughout, this is still one of my more favorable Spider-Man films. I completely understand why many fans didn’t like it, and it’s no surprise that the Amazing Spider-Man series was canceled afterwards. It’s all very average, but perfectly enjoyable ... cluttered and messy, but not without some high entertainment value. I’d much rather watch this then 2007’s “Spider-Man 3”, and while this still isn’t a great sequel, I don’t think it’s by any means a terrible one either. As for The Amazing Spider-Man series as a whole, it dose feel very pointless, especially when sandwiched between the classic trilogy, and the Spider-Man featured in Marvels cinematic universe. It mostly retreaded familiar ground, favored set-up over story, and both films just felt like products rather than movies. Even with that said, I can still watch and enjoy both "The Amazing Spider-Man" and "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" as neither are without some merits, and even some select improvements over previous films. Lets just hope the new "Homecoming" series plays out better.