By most accounts, this newest installment in the newest adaptation of one of Marvel’s most beloved characters has been one of the biggest disappointments of the summer (keeping track of all these franchises can become confusing). The movie is a child of its context. Webb’s film is requisitely compared to Raimi’s “original” series and judged in the context of the rest of the Marvel world. Whether it be Marvel-owned entities like the Avengers, Fox owned titles like the X-Men and the Fantastic Four or even the DC films, this movie could never stand alone. And maybe it does strain under that pressure, fending off the need to be dark and edgy like Nolan’s Batman films, or have the larger-than-life visuals afforded to a superpowered superhero like Thor or (some of) the other Avengers (no offense Hawkeye). Wesley Morris from Grantland.com may have summed it up best in his review: “The studios and the producers have to split the difference — between excellence and adequacy, between darkness and light, between seriousness and fun. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 might have been split too far. It doesn’t taste like anything.”
Morris is right, the film feels like a kid at a carnival with a fistful of tokens. It has all the power in the world but doesn’t know how to use it. But even as the movie is torn in different directions, it still manages to be amazingly entertaining. The enjoyment stems in large part to from the performances delivered by the three young actors in the film who often upstage their more famous castmates including Jamie Foxx. Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man is as vulnerable and quirky as Tobey Maguire’s but more charismatic and suave. The chemistry between Garfield and Emma Stone supplies the film with a major emotional undercurrent that carries over from the The Amazing Spider-Man. Their struggles are believable in a Christian Bale and Maggie Gyllenhaal kind of way but applied to a younger, and much more dynamic pair. And of course, Dane DeHaan provides us with what has become a characteristically remarkable performance. After seeing him in Chronicle (2012), I bought a few shares in DeHaan stock as he was one of the bright spots in an otherwise shaky movie. When The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) debuted I had to sell all of my furniture so I could grab as many DeHaan shares as possible. And he really has made sleeping on the floor worth the price. There’s a strong chance his mannerisms alone swayed me to his camp like Ryan Gosling did a few years. Regardless, I’ve written DHaan’s name in ink on my list of upcoming actors to watch. Watching DeHaan, Garfield, and Stone interact was a treat despite the film’s sometimes shaky handling of the trio.
This mishandling is a perfect example of the film’s major flaws. The film creates great moments and shows flashes of competence but the it can’t hold it together and its problems compound to yield an unwieldy product. DeHaan plays a great Harry Osborn but an unsatisfying, over-the-top Green Goblin. Foxx’s Electro appears overly unstable in a way that doesn’t imply underlying psychosis but rather script flaws. The visual effects and depiction of Spider-Man’s abilities are phenomenal, especially in subtle non-superhero moments like when Garfield catches Stone or chases her down a street. Electro’s powers are fantastic to watch individually but do not allow for a satisfying final fight as Spider-Man can not use his usual tricks against Electro. Some may say this is a positive but those tricks are what people come to watch. They want to see Spider-Man’s clever web-slinging (like when he tags Stone’s hand to a car door), not Electro’s bolts. One of the best sequences (which is featured heavily in the trailers) comes at the end of the film as Spider-Man uses a manhole cover to fight Rhino. Instead of moments like these, we watch Electro send jolts up Spidey’s webs. Sure this is remarkable the first time, but not something you use to sell the farm.
So in the end, instead of using all our tokens to get that huge plush bear we eyed all summer, we get a few small stuffed dolphins. Sure the dolphins are sweet, but the bear would have been awesome.
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