Web of Shadows
After retelling the origin story for Spider-Man in the first film, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had the opportunity to finally tell its own original story and commit to some of the ideas it had introduced. Unfortunately, the sequel falls prey to the problem of Spider-Man 3 and tries to bite off way more than it can handles to its detriment. This leaves the final product of the film in a tangled web, filled to the brim with potential spin-offs and sequels without telling a story of its own. It even completely turns around in tone from the first film, moving from moody and dour to goofy and cartoonish. Little works in the sequel, but if its known for anything its that it finally gave the rights of the character back to Marvel.
The film opens by reintroducing us to the mystery of Peter’s parents, a plot thread that was all but abandoned in the first film, and tries to get us back in the “swing”. It features a cartoonish opening with Paul Giamatti’s Rhino, a somber speech by Gwen, introduction of Max Dillon as Electro and a conversation about why Peter and Gwen can’t be together. This opening is so jam packed with plot points and ideas that it already feels messy, and showcases the clashing of tones. On one hand, you have a Saturday morning cartoon of Rhino rampaging through the streets while Spider-Man jokes around with him as hundreds of civilians are put in danger. On the other, you have a reflective somber conversation between Gwen and Peter about the impact Captain Stacy’s death has on the couple. Both moments are messy and feel off when following after one another.
The main problems is that there are way too many ideas within this film without committing to one singular narrative to tell a complete story. You have Electro, Harry Osborn returning to town, Peter and Gwen’s relationship, Peter’s quest to uncover the secrets of his parents, the mystery of Oscorp, Aunt May’s new job, Gwen’s scholarship to Oxford, the set up for an eventual Sinister Six film, and the consequences of Peter’s actions. None of these ideas are given enough time in the spotlight, and similar to the first film they are introduced and thrown away with. The film even will present a hasty conclusion to a problem such as Peter’s parents, or drop the plot point entirely like Oscorp’s surveillance of Peter. Why the film feels burdened to tackle so many different plots is baffling, and just leaves this a mess. This is exactly what happens when you try to set up a cinematic universe without taking the time to plot everything out accordingly and let things develop naturally.
Peter and Gwen’s relationship is only maintained by the chemistry Garfield and Stone share together, not by anything the writing does for them. It’s confusing to see the first film end with them broken up, and this one begin with them back together only for them to break up fifteen minutes in. There doesn’t need to be this relationship drama, and the film seems very concerned with the emotional turmoil of being with Gwen brings Peter versus actually letting them process their grief and emotions together. The decision for them to break off is because of Peter, even thought it is Gwen whose father died. We never see how Gwen processes these emotions, nor does she become a character. The film simply drives a wedge between them only for their to be a “powerful” ending at the end (more on that in a minute).
The villains in this film range from idiotic to just plain cheesy. Rhino is barely in the film which makes the fact that I’m writing this sentence about him pointless. Electro is an obsessed lunatic who’s fixated on Spider-Man and then turns on him when he forgets his name? Harry Osborn is seeking Spider-Man’s blood to cure himself of a disease that won’t affect him for another 50 years, and seems cartoony in getting mad when he doesn’t get his way. What happened to the nuanced and deep characters we got in the Raimi trilogy? Gone are the sophisticated and tragic characters and replaced are caricatures of iconic villains that made in a marketing ploy or to set up future films.
The film doesn’t truly commit to an idea except in its last 10 minutes. The death of Gwen Stacy is an iconic comic book moment, and all though the writing of how we get to that moment is stupid (Gwen literally asserts that she NEEDS to be their because it’s her choice regardless of how dangerous it is), the actual death and emotional impact is effective. But I never truly felt the gut wrench because of the writing but rather because I could see how Garfield and Stone really loved each other. I wasn’t watching Spider-Man, I was watching a man lose who he loved. The next 10 minutes proceed to show Peter give up being Spider-Man and grieve, but it skips over the depth something like this can have.
We never get to see why Peter is down, or how he processes these emotions. Its a theme that is characterized throughout these two films with powerful impactful moments happening such as the deaths of Uncle Ben, Captain Stacy, and now Gwen, receiving little to no fallout. How do these characters feel? What kind of grief do they need to work through. The last 10 minutes could be a whole Spider-Man movie in it of itself with the final act being his eventual return to save the city. The film wastes any potential or actual decent idea in favor of providing a fan moment and pursuing its own agenda.
Garfield as Spider-Man is good, but it borders again on cartoonish. We see Spider-Man look out for the kids but he’s more arrogant and cocky when it comes to battling villains. The film is insistent on being quippy, but wants Peter to be moody and morose. Garfield could have been great in his role, but the script just never found true footing.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was supposed to be the launching pad for a cinematic universe, and in a way it did by giving us Tom Holland as Spider-Man. By failing to commit to any ideas, trading quality storytelling for jokes and campiness, and ignoring any human fallout or impact, this film destroyed the franchise and paved the way for a brighter tomorrow. It’s actually sad rewatching this film, seeing where the character ends up and knowing there’s no resolution. If for anything, I am hoping Garfield appears in No Way Home solely for the purpose to give him a proper conclusion and send off.
(D -) Tangled