You really have to love Spider-Man movies to give more than two hoots and a holler about “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” I mean you really have to love Spider-Man movies not to find this 2 hour and 20-minute prequel about the most pitilessly emo of our superheroes just a wee bit annoying from time to time.
Here’s the trouble: It’s said that this big Marvel Comics spectacular is the official beginning of summer movies in 2014. (If Spidey’s here, can “The X-Men” and “Godzilla” be far behind?) To me, that’s hogwash. Yes, “Captain America” appeared in April – no one’s idea of a summer month – but if ever there were a movie that could psych up audiences for comic-book derring-do and wisecracking, it was “Captain America,” with its excitingly old-school fights and stunts and deadpan asides.
“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” has already made $100 million-plus overseas, and there’s no reason to think that it won’t hit the stateside box office jackpot this weekend. But you can bet the farm no one’s going to take this movie to its bosom the way it did the last “Captain America” movie or those first “Spider-Man” movies with stars Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and director Sam Raimi. (That upsidedown kiss has already become an iconic movie moment, suitable for postcards, posters and social network site IDs.)
I liked those original “Spider-Man” movies – really liked them. Love would be stretching it, but I did love at least the idea of a superhero who really was just a screwed-up kid who could always save a few thousand lives whenever life and post-adolescent misery came at him too hard.
In this new Spider-Man series with Andrew Garfield – prequels if you’re the sort to pay attention to chronology – we’ve got a new actor who’s good but doesn’t begin to have Maguire’s shy, satiric smile, the grin of a wise-guy kid who seems to know things no one else does, which always makes the world a bit of a joke to him.
Dunst was certainly beautiful, but she has a real neighborhood kind of beauty. The cliché these days is not to call it “approachable,” but rather a “relatable” beauty that you might actually see in a young woman in front of you in a checkout line.
Here we’ve got this Garfield kid, a solid young British actor always, apparently, looking for a chance to act. And we’ve got his real-life girlfriend, Emma Stone, playing Gwen Stacy, Peter Parker’s girlfriend. Stone is wonderful, of course, but the first time anyone ever saw those eyes, the chances were good that they said, “Get on a plane to Los Angeles and make movies.”
Neither kid scores much in the “relatable” department.
And Peter Parker’s emo self-torture and adolescent angst is taken to the Nth degree here. This is one unhappy and star-crossed kid.
His relationship with Gwen has gotten just too complicated to make anyone happy – up and down, up and down. They adore each other and can’t stay away from each other but keep splitting up and coming back to each other. At their big love-clinch moments, though, there are interruptions by cars to be caught in midair by Spider-Man and invitations from Oxford to Gwen to join her true peers among the world’s more promising biological researchers.
Not only that, every time the kid makes a friend, things go to hell in a hand basket in a flash.
Peter’s old pal Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) feels abandoned, so he becomes the Green Goblin in order to cure the fatal disease his father (Chris Cooper) died from. Peter also makes a new friend, a shy, nerdly wizard of an electrical engineer (Jamie Foxx) by telling him at one of his Spider-Man heroic rescues that “you’re my eyes and ears.” Just a superhero kindness to a misfit as misunderstood as he is. He becomes the villain Electro.
Peter’s aunt gets a big dramatic scene in this new ultra-emo Spider-Man movie, to get teary-eyed about the difficulties of raising a nephew left to her by parents who had to abandon their son. So her scene is really dramatic – Sally Field dramatic, you know?
Man, this is a lot of unhappiness for a superhero comic book movie. And then when he does his big, indifferently filmed heroic derring-do, he suddenly lurches into the kind of ineptly snotty wisecracks only 15-year-olds think is funny.
Please don’t think I’m making light of mental illness here, but this version of Spider-Man’s personality made me wonder if he weren’t a bit bipolar.
All of that might have worked if, like the last Spider-Man series, our boy had something of a media presence – a visible public life that he always felt the need to play to.
It just seems more than a little disjointed and awkward as it’s played out here.
There’s a big wrench in the plot here which I can’t tell you about – other than that it exists and its consequences aren’t handled very well.
All through this thing, I got the sense that everyone thought they were too good to make a Spider-Man movie. There’s even a slyly funny toss-off in one scene showing us Peter’s bedroom and, plain as day, a copy of David Foster Wallace’s doorstopper-sized novel “Infinite Jest” on a table.
Spider-Man lovers will love and suffer with their boy. The rest of us will be moved at times, entertained at times and more than a little annoyed that Spider-Man’s genuinely amazing days really seem to be over.
The Amazing spider-man 2
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Sally Field, Dane DeHaan
Director: Marc Webb
Running time: 142 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intensity and big sci-fi action and violence.
The Lowdown: Oxford University, bad guys and world-saving responsibilities get in the way of Peter Parker’s great romance with Gwen Stacy.