Sunday, May 11, 2014

Movie Rant: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

I've been a Spider-Man fan for a long time, but the Amazing Spider-Man 2 sucked.  I can't believe how bad it was.  It's so bad that, if you're not a comic reader, you're probably wondering why the Hell anyone thought that would be a good movie in the first place.

*Spoilers Below*

The immediate problem is obvious.  The movie is really two or even three movies smashed together, with the upshot that none of the plot threads seem to have anything to do with each other.  There's the story of Peter Parker's doomed love for Gwen Stacy.  This story mostly works, although I don't think we see them enough when they're together and happy, so the story itself becomes about Peter's guilt rather than his joy and his pain.  That's an obvious storytelling mistake.

Smashed into that is the story of Oscorp, Peter's long-lost friend Harry, and the genetics work that their fathers had been doing together back in the day.  This plotline had my favorite moments by far--in retrospect, this was the movie that I wanted to see--but it was also the slowest plotline, and it had the most head-scratchingly useless moments dragging the film down.  Still, for me the stuff about Harry and Peter and the deaths of their dads was terrific.  Plus, there were elements of class disparity there and the ticking time-bomb of Harry's genetic condition, coupled to Peter's memory of what happened the last time he helped a guy use his dad's genetic research.  I liked the whole Green Goblin plotline a lot, and I think it would have worked in this movie if it wasn't for the way that the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man used both the Goblin and some of the elements from The Night Gwen Stacy Died the first time out.  They were trying so hard to be different than those Raimi films that the source material got mangled.

Finally, there was a movie here about Electro.  This movie also worked, but it wasn't given enough time to develop because we spent so much time worrying about Peter's dad despite the fact that Richard Parker is ultimately a non-entity in Peter's life.  Also: the physics/engineering of the Oscorp power plant drove me nuts.  At one point, Peter has at least 8,000 megawatts of power carried on the filaments of his webline, and that's neglecting in-rush current.  Not to mention, this just in: restarting New York's bulk power system is a graduate-level engineering challenge.  On the plus-side, though, there really is a giant power station at the spot where they put the Oscorp plant in the movie.  Also: I give them props for putting the final battle in Queens.  That never happens.

Anyway, if they wanted to do these three interconnected stories, they should've done them as a season of television.  There was easily enough plot here to do a House of Cards-type cable series.  That would have worked brilliantly.  But as a single 2.5-hour movie, it was both maddenly slow and yet somehow incomplete in its treatment of all the elements.  Peter and Gwen are great.  Peter and Norman are great.  The scenes with Spider-Man are great.  And yet somehow the movie as a whole sucked a high, hard one.

I blame Peter's father.

ASM #121 is Stan Lee's finest moment.
The thing is The Night Gwen Stacy Died is a terrific book.  Some forty years later, it still holds up.  It's a great read, and the events still have ressonance in the modern day comic, now more than six hundred issues down the line.

For something like a hundred issues, Peter Parker is this nerdy kid who can't catch a break.  But then he gets to college, and suddenly life starts changing.  He's got two women in his life, and they're both terrific.  So much so that he can't choose.  There's Gwen, the pretty fellow science-geek who sees the world in much the same way that he does, and there's Mary Jane, the bombshell party-girl who's related to Aunt May's best friend.  Meanwhile, Peter's best friend Harry is having a nervous breakdown because of the hypnotism that his crazy father Norman is using to keep Harry from finding out that Norman is secretly the Green Goblin.
And oh by the way, Norman knows Peter's secret, which puts everyone in Peter's life in danger.

They fight, and Peter wins, knocking Norman on the head.  Norman gets amnesia, forgets that he's the Green Goblin, and for a while, it looks like everyone's going to live happily every after.  At the same time, Peter finally comes to the realization that Gwen is the love of his life.  MJ might be super-hot and super-popular, but there's more to life than having a ditzy girl on your arm, even one who's as gorgeous as MJ.  So he and Gwen start getting serious.  But...

Norman wakes up, remembers everything, and goes straight after Peter's loved ones.  This whole time, Peter hasn't wanted to kill Norman because Norman is Peter's best friend's father, but by now it's becoming obvious that Norman is insane for real, that his goblin serium did bad stuff to him psychologically, and that he's never going to stop.  Eventually someone is going to get killed.  So Pete knows that he has to do something, but he can't quite bring himself to do it.

And then Gwen Stacy dies.

The Goblin throws her off the Brooklyn Bridge, and it's just like what happens in the movie.  Pete webs her foot, but the recoil from the fall is so severe that it snaps her neck.  And it's shocking because you keep expecting that he's somehow going to save her, that he's going to win in the end despite the fact that it says right on the cover "This is the night that Gwen Stacy dies!"  The story works because it is ultimately about choosing the harder right over the easier wrong and what that can sometimes cost.  That message still comes through, even when Peter is holding the body of the love of his life in his arms.

Jeff Loeb and Tim Sale retold this story a few years ago in
Spider-Man: Blue.  It's also very good.  Loeb has since become
more recognizable as the creator of the TV show Smallville.
The problem for Amazing Spider-Man 2 is that Sam Raimi used a bunch of these same plot elements in the first Spider-Man movie trilogy, and this new set of films is clearly wary of treading the same ground.  I think what they did still could have worked, but to make it different they just smashed a bunch more stuff on top of the basic framework of the story, and that didn't really do the job.

At the point, the best I can offer are the original stories, via Comixology:

 -- The Amazing Spider-Man: The Death of Gwen Stacy.  This is vintage stuff, written and published in the 1970s and very much a product of its time.  But it's still amazing, and it holds up despite some of the language, some of which is, well, vintage to the era.

 -- Spider-Man: Blue.  A more modern take on this same story, this one is more a retrospective than a retelling, but it's immensely satisfying, especially if you came away from the movie non-plussed, and you don't get why this is such a big deal.

So that's what I've got.  Your thoughts?


  1. Loeb didn't create Smallville. Also, the movie was amazing. For some people.

    1. I've gotten some static on G+ about not liking it. Who are these people who liked the movie? Even my kids thought it was mediocre at best.