Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Why It Doesn't Work: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a movie that really should have been incredible. The visuals are stunning, it has a top-notch cast with excellent chemistry, and the score is just weird enough to be fascinating. However, an extensive overabundance of plots and poor editing choices drag the whole piece down. Marc Webb expressed his wishes to build the film around Gwen Stacy's death and the theme of time, yet so many storylines diverge from this purpose that by the time the fateful scene occurs, the viewer is already fatigued.

Electro is a villain one feels was chosen mostly to look really cool, and he does, yet pretty action sequences do not a memorable villain make. Even before he becomes Electro, Max Dillon is ridiculously unhinged. The audience is meant to believe he is intelligent enough to have designed an entire power plant; however, he makes only poor decisions and is often hallucinating. Also, electricity fixing the gap between his front teeth? What?

While Electro is more intriguing once he becomes a villain, Green Goblin is far more fascinating when he is still the dying Harry Osborn. Dane DeHaan makes what could be a fairly one-note character crackle with a mix of compassion, genius, and deviance. Yet for all of his purported intelligence, he apparently knows there is a healing exosuit in the Special Projects department of Oscorp, and chooses to risk spider venom instead for no reason.

This lack of thought permeates the characterizations of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Gwen Stacy and Peter Parker are both hyper-intelligent, yet they make downright baffling decisions throughout the movie. They make a joint bad decision in breaking up near the start of the film, especially when one factors in the implication that they have been getting together and breaking up repeatedly since the close of The Amazing Spider-Man. So many movies are about unresolved couples that it would have been a much fresher take to simply make Peter and Gwen a happily together team. However, Peter's worst choices of the film take place in the final battle against the newly-transformed Green Goblin.

One of the most iconic scenes in Spider-Man's history is the death of Gwen Stacy. In the comics, the Norman Osborn Green Goblin throws her from a bridge and Spider-Man's web-catch is so abrupt that her neck is broken. In that case, there really was no better alternative. In the movie, there are multiple times where he has the opportunity to save Gwen from falling down within the clock tower setting, yet he still cannot prevent the web from snapping quickly enough to save her. Perhaps the writers intend it as a commentary on the futility of life, but it seems more likely that the new writing team somehow forgot that in the first installment, Spider-Man's web shooters could retract the web he shot provided it was still attached. He could have pulled Gwen toward him immediately or at least placed her on the walkway clearly shown on the inside of the clock tower.

The entire scene including Gwen's death is problematic. First, Peter yells to Harry that Harry should let Gwen go. Peter is definitely smart enough to know better than to tell someone to let another person go from a great height. There are also multiple times during his ensuing fight with Goblin where he could get the upper hand and fails to do so. Yet the strangest part of the scene is that it isn't entirely Goblin's fault that Gwen falls to her doom. It's his glider. Nonetheless, the stripped-down, ringing rendition of Gwen's musical motif as she falls, the idea that Peter perceives the fall as taking a much longer time due to his Spider Sense, the web forming a hand shape in his final reach, and Andrew Garfield's astounding performance as Peter realizes she has died are utterly heart-breaking. One only wonders how much more effective it could have been in a more streamlined film. Much of the sorrow only resonates when the viewer remembers how delicately sweet the couple was in The Amazing Spider-Man. The way he catches her by the waist is also a call-back to the first movie, as he grabs her that way from a much lesser height when he throws her out through the window to keep her away from Lizard.

There is also a dearth of foreshadowing, some that is fairly subtle and much that is not. Comic book followers flinch at seeing Gwen Stacy in a mint green coat and purple skirt, tensing in anticipation of her demise. Even worse, she and Peter are standing on a bridge and one waits for something bad to happen. That comes later but the bridge scene is a brilliant way to heighten anxiety, making the more heavy-handed foreshadowing grating in comparison. Gwen Stacy's graduation speech is loaded with double meaning and rides the line between telling just enough and going overboard. There is the odd Phillip Phillips montage, ostensibly about the love Peter has for his lost parents, yet obviously pertaining to his imminent loss of Gwen. The lyrics are clearly those of losing a romantic love.

Just those moments would be sufficient...and then Peter starts having visions of George Stacy. There is even a flashback to the first film and it is jarringly the only such scene in 2. It would have been great if Marc Webb saw the opportunity to insert a flash to the previous film when Peter is recollecting moments of his time with Gwen. All of his memories commit the cardinal flashback sin of including the person remembering within the shot, so a much smarter shot would have been that of Gwen retreating down the hallway after Peter sort-of asks her out in 1. It is the moment he first feels the draw to her that will become love and it is perfectly shot as being from his point-of-view.

In the end, such an important and tragic installment in Peter Parker's history deserved to be encompassed within a smarter, cleaner film. Cut down on the Electro, add more characterization for Harry, and decide what the timeline even is for the events of the movie. Gwen changes clothes an unnerving amount of times, making it difficult to determine if scenes are taking place on the same day, days later, or even weeks later. Aunt May is straining to make enough money to send Peter to college, and photos reveal that he has textbooks for classes, yet there is no indication that the film does not end somewhere around the middle of summer. And if Peter is second in his high school class, and a dependent of a financially-struggling widow, shouldn't his tuition be paid for? Also, why does everyone wear so many layers in July? Gwen mentions that she's competing against a freshman for her Oxford scholarship as if she has an edge, yet isn't she also a college freshman? Has a whole year gone by?!

 That's it, everyone. I'm off to re-edit The Amazing Spider-Man 2 into the film it should have been.

Bonus Factoid:
Though Shailene Woodley's performance as Mary Jane was excised from the movie, she does make a brief appearance in the final scene. That's her on the left of the frame behind the counter, sporting a braid. MJ was meant to figure into things as Peter's neighbor and confidant, and as a barista apparently.

No comments:

Post a Comment