If I was feeling generous, I might describe Sony's management of the Spider-Man franchise as "uneven." But seeing as I'm not feeling particularly generous at this precise moment, I'll be more direct: this studio has been astonishingly stupid in how they've produced these movies. Sure, hiring Raimi was a good move, but the studio demanded Spider-Man constantly lose his mask and made some idiotic calls on which villains were included. It's kind of shocking that Spider-Man 1 and 2 turned out as well they did, in hindsight.
After the awful third movie, a decision was made to reboot the series. They did this, presumably, to cut ties with the tone of the first trilogy and free themselves to tell the Peter Parker/Gwen Stacy story in its entirety. When they announced it, most of us hated it. Spider-Man 3 was a mess, but there's no reason you can't fix a superhero franchise (look at how Fox has turned around the X-Men movies). However, Marc Webb did a solid job with The Amazing Spider-Man. Turning down Spider-Man's power level and transforming the world into something more SF than comic-book weren't how I'd have gone, but they seemed to work.
That brings us to the present. Now let's discuss The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
The first thing you need to understand is that it doesn't really exist. Oh, the movie title exists, and I certainly spent two and a half hours watching SOMETHING, but it was not a continuation of the 2012 film. Sure, the plot was connected and the actors were the same, but in every other meaningful aspect, this was a film in the aborted Raimi series. This was Spider-Man 4, and it was being directed by someone trying - and failing - to make it the way Raimi would have.
Spider-Man's strength, speed, and agility are back up to where they were in the original trilogy. Likewise, he's back to magically swinging around the city. And the campy undertones are back with a vengeance: half the time this feels like an 80's cartoon.
Raimi's movies were certainly campy at times, but it came off as a stylistic choice. And, above all else, he knew enough to take the villains seriously. The bad guys in this one are utterly ridiculous: until he gets his powers, Max Dillon is comic relief. Hell, there's a scene where he talks to himself to pretend Spider-Man is hanging out with him. His motivation for becoming a supervillain is even less subtle. It's painful to watch.
Fortunately, the fights are also closer to Raimi's movies. The battles with Electro, while relying heavily on CG, are extremely cool. Utterly absurd, but let's not quibble. Dillon's powers are bright and beautiful, and he tears up the city in true comic book supervillain fashion.
To be fair, there are also some solid character moments between Peter and Harry, as well as a few decent scenes between Peter and Gwen. But the plot is an incoherent mess. You'll see a lot of critics complain about there being too many villains, but that wasn't the issue. Hell, that's never the issue. The problem was that the characters - heroes and villains both - were poorly managed, and the plot wasn't thought out. Putting a couple villains in the same movie is fine - and, for the record, there were really only two villains who got more than a cameo. But the stories given to those villains were poorly constructed, and their motivations were weak. Worse yet, the same can be said for Spider-Man. You could cut everything having to do with Peter's dad from this movie and not lose a thing. And that, for all intents and purposes, was supposed to be half of what's driving him.
This was definitely a disappointment. I don't think it's as bad as Spider-Man 3, but it felt far too similar to that in both tone and quality.
Okay. So there's your review. I covered what worked and what didn't and made it pretty clear this is one that can wait for Netflix. There now. We're done. I mean. We're sort of done. Maybe.
If you care one iota about spoilers and have any interest in seeing this movie, you should stop here. See, the thing is, I've got more to say, but it's got a lot to do with the last twenty minutes of the film, and, if you want to go in and make up your own mind without finding out how the damn thing ends, then this is enough.
No, really: I mean it.
...I have a few thoughts...
...about the death of Gwen Stacy.
Maybe that's a bit of an overblown spoiler warning for something most of us expected after part one. The big reason I gave the reboot a pass was because they were clearly laying the foundation for this arc. After Spider-Man's origin, it's probably his most famous story. And, until I saw this movie, it looked like they were going to do it justice.
Instead, I suspect it sunk the film. It wasn't that the death scene itself was that bad (though I have a few complaints coming up), but rather the compromises it necessitated.
Here's the thing: if they'd followed the trajectory laid out in the first movie, this one would have been a tragedy. And tragedy, we all know, doesn't really sell in early summer. That could have been pretty impressive, though: a Spider-Man film with some real gravitas. Forget it, though: this is Sony.
Maybe I'm giving the director too much credit, but I find it hard to believe the same person who made the last installment would miss the mark this badly on his own. I'm betting the studio agreed to the resolution under the condition the movie stay fundamentally light and funny. I could certainly be wrong, but I can't find any other explanation for why they turned a movie about Gwen's death into a comedy.
For what it's worth, they gave her some heroic moments in the lead-up, and the actual moment she died had some force. Even knowing what was coming, it was a bit shocking to watch. But everything on either side was stupid.
Even worse, they wasted it. The fight with this iteration of the Green Goblin was already over, so we didn't get to see Peter's reaction to her murder. We never saw Spider-Man's rage. Instead, we cut to a montage of him morning for six months, before he realizes the world still needs Spider-Man. Then we're briefly back to supervillains and banter before the movie closes on a positive note.
This means we're not likely going to get much of a reaction from Peter. I'm sure he'll still be upset in the next movie, assuming Webb gets to continue making these, and he'll almost certainly beat the snot out of her killer in part three. But the six months they montaged over are the six months that matter. Without those, the story line, Gwen's character, and this entire reboot feel like a wasted opportunity.
This wasn't just the middle chapter in a larger arc. This was the movie they had to get right, the one that was supposed to deliver a phenomenal experience that sticks with us. Instead, they gave us a movie that belongs in continuity with Spider-Man 3 and nothing else.