KJ’s Spoiler Special: The Amazing Spider-Man 2
by Kevin J. Johnson
Didja get a chance to see THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2? No, not yet? Okay, well I’m about to spoil this entire movie from top to bottom and discuss it in length, so if you still want to watch the movie without having it spoiled by this article, go check it out and come back! It’s cool, I’ll wait.
Alright, we’re back! Here at Nuke The Fridge, we are passionate about filmmaking and moviegoing. In fact, our moniker comes from a moment in cinema that, at the time, seemed like a throwaway gag but proved to be just as pivotal as Fonzie jumping over that aquatic beast with his skis in Happy Days, forcing that show into a realm of camp from where there was no return.
Some would say that the Spider-Man franchise had its own nuke-the-fridge moment in 2007’s SPIDER-MAN 3, specifically the two back-to-back dance numbers that Tobey Maguire, as Peter Parker, performs while under the influence of the Venom symbiote. Others would argue that those dance scenes just proved how big of a dork Peter Parker was, and this was just an externalization of his dorkiness. And others still would argue this was the director Sam Raimi fighting back against his marching orders of mandatorily including the character Venom in his three-quel.
My own issues with Spidey 3 are more than just the dancing (which, on second thought, is kinda funny), but the franchise didn’t nuke the fridge in that movie. On the contrary, as flawed as that movie was, and as good as this latest movie is (and it is, in a retro-90’s way), the series nuked the fridge in this most recent installment and I can tell you where:
When the eel grins at Electro in the tank.
Tonally, everything else in ASM2 is up for grabs after that moment. Spider-Man knows his own theme song, whistles it and has it for a ringtone? Do it. The electrical grid pylons play ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’ when Parker hits them like a pinball? Hilarious. Gwen Stacy plummets to her doom unnecessarily thanks to a shoe-horned character’s appearance that had nothing to do with defeating Electro? Wait, hold on.
I had big problems with losing Emma Stone from the franchise, who admittedly was playing a doomed and ultimately tragic character. I have even bigger problems with truncating the impact of her loss into a five-minute montage before a hot-fire Kendrick Lamar verse (because that just fits). The death of Gwen Stacy was a monumental development in the Spider-Man mythos, and warrants far more narrative real estate within a film (ex.: Rachel Dawes in THE DARK KNIGHT). Her and Andrew Garfield’s chemistry was phenomenal, and while I knew it was going to happen, my jaw dropped to the floor once she was killed off.
But my biggest problem was the webbing tip, whose tendrils reached out like a hand for Gwen as she plummeted to the ground. It’s an image that in and of itself is beautiful and bittersweet, almost like a Pixar moment. Except that Pixar moments don’t take you out of the emotion of the scene, and abruptly remind you that you are only temporarily suspending your disbelief. This is why tone is important: Gwen Stacy’s death does not fit in this movie.
Arguably, Electro’s Roger-Rabbit-esque origin doesn’t belong in a film that begins with the death of Peter Parker’s parents, a scene that while executed proficiently, has nothing to do with the film at large and starts this movie (and thus the entire summer season) on a grim note. If Sony wanted an effervescent, breezy actioner, that’s one thing. If they wanted a meditative look at the costs of heroism, that’s another. But that’s a tightrope act to pull off, one only a few can manage (ex.: Joss Whedon and THE AVENGERS), and Amazing Spider-Man 2 is only so successful in this regard.
If the first Amazing Spider-Man emulated Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, then ASM2 oddly emulates BATMAN FOREVER. This is important because the Batman series is a perfect case study on the effects and significance of tone. Batman Forever was a response to the dark, psycho-sexual milieu of BATMAN RETURNS. It was kid-inappropriate and not “toyetic”; it’s hard to sell action figures of a disfigured mutant Penguin and a dominatrix Catwoman. Forever, on the other hand, was the perfect blend of Burton’s gothic sensibilities and Schumacher’s affections for the campy 60’s show.
BATMAN AND ROBIN just straight up Took It Too Far.
And so we have 2012’s Amazing, that has Peter Parker running in the shadows desperate for truth:
Versus 2014’s ASM2, with Peter Parker having a blast, literally:
Sony Pictures needs, NEEDS, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to succeed. It is their most important franchise, and that means selling Spidey sneakers and lunchboxes, Happy Meals with action figures and Spider-Mobiles, Spider-Man webslinger Super Soakers and soundtracks with Alicia Keys and Kendrick Lamar. If that means brightening the tone of their blockbuster a la Batman Forever, regardless of what the story developments call for, so be it.
This is why we have Jamie Foxx acting like the next incarnation of Steve Urkel. This is why the Times Square battle has a song score straight out of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, chanting Electro’s inner monologue for him. This is why Paul Giamatti, as the Rhino, is screaming like a madman his entire time onscreen. This is why Marton Csokas plays a mad scientist straight out of an 80’s Thomas Dolby music video. We gotta move these refrigerators, we gotta move these color TVs.
I honestly believe Sony Pictures just cost themselves at least another $800 million by ending the Parker-Stacy romance, and also by rushing Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) into the Green Goblin persona, something that took James Franco’s version an entire trilogy to occur. This movie (which I must remind you I overall enjoyed) was just overstuffed, narratively disjointed, and tonally unstable. Here’s what The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is about:
– Peter Parker losing Gwen Stacy to Oxford, and honoring his promise to her father
– Max Dillon fighting to overcome anonymity and becoming Electro as a result
– Harry Osborn returning to Oscorp and fighting a hereditary illness
– Peter Parker searching for the truth of his parents’ disappearance
– Aunt May hiding her job insecurities from her nephew
All of this is well and good, potentially compelling and fertile ground for upping the emotional stakes of the sequel. But as presented, none of these have anything to do with each other. Even Harry Osborn’s research doesn’t dovetail with Parker’s parents’ subplot, and barely with the rise of Electro. Remove any two of these five things, and you still have a movie. No wonder Shailene Woodley’s introduction as Mary Jane got cut out of the movie; there was no room, and seemingly no point. That’s not how movies are supposed to work. This is the definition of bloat.
The two Amazing Spider-Man films average a length of 139 minutes apiece. Sony’s other signature comic-book franchise, Men in Black, averages a relatively brisk 98 minutes of runtime (the Daniel Craig Bond films average a similar 131 minutes, but that’s Bond for you). Bloat is not the answer and is unnecessary. What audiences want are good films, period. I don’t need a two-and-a-half hour LEGO MOVIE or a three-hour cut of TRANSFORMERS 4. Lean, mean, storytelling machines: that’s what we want.
Hopefully, the third Amazing installment will regain some focus in its plot, having done the tonal legwork of presenting a poppier Spider-Man. Perhaps the future romance of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson will be given more attention and duration than just the bare minimum of scenes to place in a trailer. ASM2 still presents us with a lead character with humor, integrity and duty, no longer mopey and dour (until the very end of course). The filmmakers gave us a better Spider-Man, just not a better Spider-Man film, and that hurts most of all.
If you’re so inclined, check out my Amazing Spider-Man 2 review
Till next time, webheads!
Kevin Johnson is a freelancer or a modern day cowboy. Follow his escapades on twitter