Y’know, personally, it’s sometimes tough for me when it comes to objectivity reviewing a Spider-Man film; especially considering I once had a Spidey space-hopper at aged 5 and who had a full web-head costume at 37 and my devoted love for this character makes it sometimes hard to see things clearly. Need proof? Then how about the fact that I vehemently and selflessly defended Spider-Man 3 for years after it came out – YEARS I tell you!
With all that being said, even the most devout friendly neighbourhood Spider-Fan would have to agree that Sony’s handling of the franchise had been somewhat self-destructive between the releases of the sublime Spider-Man 2 and the majestic Spider-Man: Homecoming as the studio seems content to make the same mistakes over and over again in an over eager attempt to create a Spider-Verse that simply didn’t want to be born…
After the climax of the previous movie left the police captain father of his girlfriend, Gwen Stacey, dead at the hands of a giant lizard-person, Peter Parker has violated the promise he made to keep her out of his dual life as the Amazing Spider-Man. However, as their relationship stalls and starts due to Peter’s patented guilt, Gwen unsurprisingly decides that’s she’s had enough and calls the whole thing off. Helping Pete to get over his heartbreak is the return of his shifty looking childhood buddy Harry Osborne who also happens to be the son of the industrialist who’s lab created the spider that gave Parker his powers (yeah, it’s one of those kinds of scripts…) but is secretly succumbing to the same crippling illness that did in his father. Meanwhile, nerdy Oscorp employee Max Dillion gets a literal shock to the system when the kind of one-in-a-million freak accident that seems to happen once a week in comics turns him into the electricity flinging lunatic known as Electro. As if juggling a complicated relationship, inordinate amounts of guilt, a dying best friend and a crackling super villain isn’t enough, Spidey is also trying to untangle the continuing and frankly unnecessary mystery of his parent’s death; but in an attempt to not be eclipsed by all this other drama, Harry’s inevitable shift to the dark side may cause traumatic ramifications that will rock Pete and Gwen to their very core.
Firstly, to be supremely honest, it’s no surprise that on a purely basic fanboy level I tend to sort-of like The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but then, I guess I’m unable to dislike ANYTHING Peter Parker related at a genetic lever, so I figure that doesn’t necessarily count. However, it’s painfully clear that Sony has learnt absolutely nothing from insisting on the overload of characters and villains that drove Spider-Man 3 so firmly into the ground and once again we have a transparently desperate attempt of a studio running before they can walk in order to get a piece of that sweet, sweet Avengers money. There’s enough hints, easter eggs and sequel teasing to fill a robotic rhino suit, but it’s all at the expense of the story which turns out to be the exact reheated stuff we used to get served in the 90’s Batman movies with Jamie Foxx’s lethally crackling nerd simply being a rerun of Jim Carrey’s Riddler. Even whole actors are sacrificed to the voracious appetite of the franchise gods, with Felicity Jones’ “Felica” literally having nothing to do except hope her contract is renewed so she can hopefully become Black Cat in a future installment – similarly, Shailene Woodley’s Mary Jane was edited out of the movie entirely due to pacing concerns proving that Sony might not know what “investing” actually means…
Truthfully, the best thing about this movie ends up being the worst thing about this movie, in that over the 2 and a half hour running time it tries to be everything to everyone and all at the same time. One second it’s funny, then exciting, then a thriller, some romance, back to thriller, back again to romance, ooh now it’s scary… So for every scene that doesn’t connect (and unfortunately there’s quite a few) there’s bound to be one along in a minute or two that does, but after 150 minutes it can get exhausting. Expect advanced bum-numb.
Luckily Andrew Garfield (still better in the suit than out of it) and Emma Stone manage to keep the whole thing moving (just) with that fantastic chemistry which helped the previous movie through it’s frequent tough spots. Another plus is that the movie (and thankfully the wall crawler himself) has no problems being enjoyably goofy with wise cracks and visual gags aplenty, not to mention we get a hero who (pay attention Snyder) actually go out of his way to, y’know, RESCUE PEOPLE; not to mention this film arguably features the best version of the Spider-suit and CGI web swinging the series has seen to date.
Obviously, with all the bouncing around, sizable chunks of the plot just simply don’t work; Peter and Gwen’s break up/make up cycle is not only annoying, but it kinda makes a pining Spidey seem a lot like a mouth-breathing stalker; a creepy german scientist with a thick-as-tar accent wouldn’t feel out of place in Batman & Robin; and Electro trying to kill Spider-Man with a power of a dub-step version of “Incy Wincy Spider” is just fucking weird.
Speaking of the dump truck load of bad guys – the movie sort of attempts to side-step a super villain log jam by ranking their appearances much like Batman Begins did in order of merit, (crook > super villain > super arch villain) so keeping track isn’t so bad, but while Chronicle’s Dane Dehaan seems to be a canny choice for Harry Osborne 2.0, his introduction is rushed and his Goblin transformation with it’s spikey blonde hair and his greenish skin ends up looking like a queasy Billy Idol. Things seem to get even worse thanks to the Iron Man 2 levels of clumsy lip service paid to future installments that embarrassingly never paid off (tentacles! wings! Name dropping!) that is sure to elicit an impressive amount of audience eyeball rolling in generations to come.
But while it’s responsible for bringing another phase of Spider-Man’s movie career to a screeching halt, in the rare moments when it’s webs hit the target, AS-M 2 manages to pull out some amazingly perfect moments from the chaos. The scene where Spidey multi-tasks between saving civilians and desperately trying to reason with Electro during their first encounter is actually spot on and moments where our hero relates to a bullied kid raise a lump in the old throat – but it’s the climax that ballsily tries to adapt the darkest moment of the comics that gives you the biggest hint of what we could have had if the movie had even the slightest clue as to what it was actually about from the get go. Handled absolutely magnificently with admirable skill, the legitimately heart breaking death of Gwen Stacey is skull crackingly devastating and almost makes the hot mess you’ve just had to sit through prior worth it… but not quite.
All in all, the relative clunkyness of the whole enterprise screams of behind the scenes tampering, something that’s hamstrung the previous two entries in the Wall Crawler’s filmography. Sony Films infuriating habit of hurling too many villains into the mix and the fact that AS-M 2 doesn’t actually seem to be about anything scuppered future plans as surely as a well-placed Pumpkin Bomb.
While not quite as deserving of all the hate that comes it’s way, even the proportionate strength of a spider won’t stop AS-M 2 getting crushed from the weight of it’s own plot.
It’s a good thing that action is Spidey’s reward, because there’s little actual reward to be found here…