I will admit right now that I did not see the first film in the Spider-Man reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man, nor did I pay much attention to its reviews. Oh, I picked up that Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker tended toward the “emo” side even more than Toby Maguire had. But that was about all I had going into this new motion picture this past weekend with my kids. We had all enjoyed the first two big-budget Spider-Man films with Toby Maguire, and I was expecting a movie with much the same tone – lots of humor, some romance, a little bit of horror with the villains, and some great special effects and fight choreography.
The movie started off well enough. Spider-Man foils a theft of plutonium and is just as wise-cracking in the process as he generally is in the comics. The very end of the film also had the same tone, when Spider-Man ended up battling the same character (who is played for laughs) in a very different villainous guise. But the in-between parts? Dark, dark, dark.
The movie features two main villains and one “minor” villain at the end. Honestly, this was two villains too many. And the tone of the villains seemed way off for a Spider-Man film. Batman’s villains are walking horrors (the Joker, Clayface, Two-Face, the Scarecrow, etc.). Spider-Man’s villains, on the other hand, are supposed to verge on the near-goofy, at least in their original Stan Lee/Steve Ditko and Stan Lee/John Romita, Sr. portrayals.
Think of the original portrayals of such villains as the Beetle, the Sandman, the Rhino (I’ll never forget the look on his face the first time Spider-Man was able to dissolve his super-costume off of him), and, yes, even Electro (don’t tell me that “electro-shock” yellow hood he originally wore wasn’t somewhat comical). Dr. Octopus wasn’t particularly dark, being more of a forever downtrodden megalomaniac. The darkest members of Spider-Man’s rogues’ gallery was the original Green Goblin, Norman Osborne, and the second Green Goblin, his son, Harry Osborne. But the rest of them were often portrayed for laughs, as the butts of Spider-Man’s quips, even when they teamed up against him in groups such as the Sinister Six.
But in this film, both Electro and the Green Goblin were portrayed like villains straight out of The Dark Knight series. The origin stories (in the film) of Electro and the Green Goblin are both horrific. My kids were covering their ears and closing their eyes. I nearly did the same. When did superhero films become so darn intense? Much of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 felt like a combination of one of the Fast and Furious movies with plentiful helpings of The Evil Dead mixed in. By the end of the first third of this very long movie (two hours and twenty-two minutes), I was regretting my choice to bring my kids (who had loved PG-13 superhero or action movies such as The Avengers and Pacific Rim). They said afterward that they had liked The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but their reactions during the picture belied that.
Another big failing of this movie was that there is simply too much going on. In their attempts to tie everything together (all revolving around Oscorp), the screen writers throw in:
(a) the deaths of Peter Parker’s parents when Peter was a child (his father was a geneticist working for Oscorp);
(b) the death of Norman Osborne (who in this remake/reboot never becomes the Green Goblin, although his genetic disease causes him to grow goblin-like talons before he dies);
(c) the introduction of a battle suit which Norman had invented, supposedly to save his son’s life from the genetic disease they both shared (but how a flying battle suit with pumpkin bombs is supposed to accomplish this feat is never explained);
(d) Oscorp genetic research on spiders and spider venom (which created Spider-Man in the previous film and which promises to potentially cure Harry Osborne in this one);
(e) Max Dillon’s transformation into Electro (yes, he works for Oscorp and designed the entire power grid of New York City, but he is treated like a lowly flunky at the corporation), care of genetically altered electric eels and a precipitating electrical accident at the Oscorp plant; and
(f) sneak peeks at Oscorp battle suits for the Rhino and Dr. Octopus and possibly other members of Spider-Man’s rogues’ gallery (the little snippet passed by too fast for me to mentally process all three or four battle suits shown).
So everything is Oscorp, Oscorp, Oscorp. It appears to be, not only the only evil corporation in New York City, but the only corporation, period. Even Gwen Stacey works for Oscorp!
Alas, poor Gwen Stacey. I don’t think I’m ruining the story for too many Spider-Man fans by mentioning here that the poor girl does not come to a good end. To ramp up Peter Parker’s sense of guilt at putting Gwen in jeopardy by being her boyfriend, the film includes two or three “hallucinations” by Peter of the dead Captain Stacey, Gwen’s father, who I presume in the first movie of the reboot series told Peter to stay away from Gwen, and was then killed in the line of duty. But the identity of Captain Stacey’s “ghost” is never made clear in the current film; I only figured it out because I’m familiar with the Stan Lee/John Romita, Sr. story in which Captain Stacey died during one of Spider-Man’s battles. It blew right by my kids, and I’m sure it blew right by any audience member who is not a hardcore Spider-Man reader and who did not see the first film in the reboot series.
The screenwriters simply cram too much story into too little movie, even though the movie runs nearly 2.5 hours long. There was enough plot here for two or even three movies. The climactic battle against Electro should have been the final climax of this movie – but two more major superhero-super-villain fights are yet to come! In addition to the film’s crescendo of tragedy! Also, Electro, in my humble opinion, is simply portrayed as being far too powerful, way out of Spider-Man’s league. The feats he was able to accomplish in this movie would have made him a worthy foe for the Mighty Thor, who is at least ten times as capable and powerful as Spider-Man. I understand the writer’s temptation to make the hero’s predicament dire, but in this case they overshot the mark, making Spider-Man’s eventual triumph over Electro seem downright unbelievable (yes, I know it is a superhero movie… but it took the entire Avengers team to beat Loki and his minions in The Avengers, and Electro was portrayed as a Loki-class villain in this film, which he never was in the classic Spider-Man comics).
With all the above in mind, I can’t give this picture more than 2 stars out of 5 (and I gave an extra half a star for the very beginning and very end of the movie, both little bits having been enjoyable and in the spirit of Spider-Man). I’m afraid I won’t be taking my kids to see the next one in this series, if I can at all avoid it.