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Review: The Amazing Spiderman 2: Too Much Set Up, Too Little Payoff

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On the Cabin in the Woods DVD commentary, Drew Goddard talked about screen writing and that it was all about set up and payoff. While The Amazing Spiderman 2 has a lot of factors to praise, it just isn’t a solid, satisfying film. Some films can set a lot of thing in motion. Captain America The Winter Soldier, for example, contained a number of characters and subplots; but everything paid off in the end and left audiences (in general) excited for the Avengers: Age of Ultron. Sony tried to use The Amazing Spiderman 2 to set up for Sinister 6, but judging from the buzz online, most people (the writer of this article included) didn’t get too excited about that set up. Rhino was just plain silly and the Green Goblin’s appearance felt shoe-horned. Even though a lot of events in Captain America, The Winter Soldier were setting up for the next Avengers films, they did not disrupt the story of Steve Rogers and his team. The film itself was also pretty awesome. The same praise just can’t be applied to the Amazing Spiderman 2.
Actors like Jamie Foxx and Chris Cooper were severely underused (Felicity Jones was very good with the extremely limited part she was given). To the film’s credit, when Electro was on the screen, loose on the streets of New York, and angry; he was menacing. It just felt like his story arc served the purpose of a token climatic battle. He even makes a speech in a scene that feels like (in the context of the rest of the film) its sole purpose was to be in the trailer. There are set-ups early in the film before his accident where they show a handful of people he may want to later take revenge on, but nothing came of it so those scenes ended up being pointless time filler.
Harry Osborne is another character that fell flat. Imagine that the Sam Rami trilogy, every cartoon, and comic book series never happened. The friendship between Peter and Harry just wasn’t established. A scene remembering the days of their childhood just doesn’t get the audience invested. Harry Osborne’s story arc in this film would have been much more effective if he had shown up in the first film for the audience to see his friendship with Peter Parker.
There is also the secret about Richard Parker. It is set up in the opening scenes of the film. The best possible way this writer can describe how that paid off is the pop can metaphor (soda can for people who live outside the Great Lakes states). There was an episode of Beavis and Butthead that aired in the mid-1990s. In that episode, the dual spent most of the time shaking a can of pop. At one point they even tied it to the back of a car. At the end of the episode, they finally opened up the can and it merely emitted a tiny hiss. Beavis and Butthead thought it was cool, but most people would feel a bit disappointed in such a small outcome after a large build up. That was how the resolution of Peter learning his father’s secret felt. Maybe it was meant to set up for future films. It seemed to be motivating Peter’s next course of action. If that is the case, they could have used something else. It’s an unsatisfying payoff for the intrigue the story tellers were trying to set up.
Now there is plenty to praise about this film. Andrew Garfield is a fantastic Peter Parker/Spiderman. Now this writer is a huge fan of the Sam Rami trilogy and Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker. Where Tobey Maguire portrayed Peter Parker as an awkward nerd, Andrew Garfield shows the character’s more snarky side. Both are likeable, entertaining performances. Spiderman is one of the most iconic comic book characters ever. As with classic folklore characters like King Arthur and Robin Hood, there is plenty of room for multiple interpretations of iconic comic book characters. Both 21st century cinematic interpretations of Peter Parker have been quite good.
Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy was another bright spot for this film. She was an intelligent, resourceful young woman who didn’t wait for things to happen and didn’t just stand on the sidelines. There were some bumps in her arc in this film, but in the end her arc is possibly the only thing that did not fizzle in this film. She and Andrew Garfield had great Chemistry, as did Sally Field (Aunt May) and Andrew Garfield. The interactions between Aunt May and Peter were both funny and touching. The story really established that they had a strong mother/son and truly loved each other (if only it could have done as well for Peter and Harry). Aunt May did have her own minor subplot that fizzled in the end, but she was still a great character in this film.
There have been complaints that films like Return of the King (2003) had too many endings. In the case of Return of the King Peter Jackson was resolving the stories of several characters and even left out some of the final conflicts of the book. The too many endings criticism can be applied to the Amazing Spiderman 2. There were a few moments when the film could have ended and left audiences intrigued about the Sinister Six film. Perhaps it was a desire to end on a happy or funny note after a certain iconic scene that was a shocking never before done when it happened in the original comics (and still managed to feel shocking and intense in this film, so it’s something to praise). The final scene in this film felt silly and unnecessary to this writer. It can’t be thoroughly explained without spoilers, but it killed the excitement one may have felt for the Sinister Six set up.
Over all this film is alright. If people are not familiar with Spiderman, this film won’t make them fans. If people are familiar with Spiderman and its characters, this film will make them want to nitpick a lot of things. It does not feel like a waste of money, but this writers won’t be pre-ordering the DVD/Blu Ray combo pack when it comes out, though she may pick up a used or discounted DVD or watch it on TV in 2 ½ years.

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