The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is one of the most bizarre blockbuster movies ever made, for a number of increasingly predictable reasons.
As a character, Spider-Man was the beating heart of superhero blockbusters of the 21st century. His first three Sam Raimi-directed movies set the standard for what superhero movies were capable of, and in the case of the third one, what their limits were. Then that 21st century supertrend happened to Marvel’s premier hero: the reboot. The Amazing Spider-Man movies showcase how quickly a character can go from setting the trends to chasing them. In this regard, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is absolutely shameless.
The first movie is a disaster, a cobbled-together mess of old scripts and the reluctance to do anything original as long as Sony could copy Christopher Nolan. This gave us the dark Spider-Man movie; though when I say dark, I mean I could barely see him half the time. Still, it made money, and a sequel was fast-tracked. With much of the same personnel, I’m sorry to say that Andrew Garfield and director Marc Webb couldn’t convince Sony that their ideas for the sequel were viable, not when Sony had a hard-on for what was happening over at Marvel.
The Spiderverse cannot be stopped, but it was defeated for a time. The Amazing Spider-Man 2, instead of trying to make a better movie than the previous one, was packed to the brim with set-ups, hints, fan service, and easter eggs that promised us that Sony were going to build their own cinematic universe around Spider-Man. In the right hands, this could have worked. Spider-Man, with his rouge’s gallery, his cultural familiarity, and popularity, is a good choice for this kind of plan. Unfortunately, Sony, like Warner Bros. with the DCEU, like Universal’s Dark Universe, and all the other attempts to “do a Marvel” didn’t understand that the key aspect of Marvel’s success is patience.
Because all of these studios have been blindsided by Marvel’s success, they think that they can skip ahead and catch up by eliminating the need for a phase one. You can see this in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, they cram as much set-up as possible and drop it from a great height onto the story the movie should be telling thinking that the shattered pieces of a coherent movie are less important than a rushed marketing campaign.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was never going to be a great movie, but it could have been a good one. There is a story here that could be interesting. This version of Peter Parker is flawed and selfish, with his relationship with Gwen putting her nearer danger than her dead father wanted her to be. Take out fucking Rhino and the King-of-Comedy version of Electro, and there could have been a place for Gwen to enact her own agency within the relationship. Peter is wrong to be with her but not because of the decision about a woman that two men agreed to before one of them broke it. You’ve cast Emma Stone, for fuck’s sake, give her a chance to question the role of the superhero’s romantic partner. At least that way her death would be more tragic, instead of as formulaic it feels in the finished product. The most famous thing about Gwen Stacy is that she died – why put her in two movies if you’re not going to do something new with it?
Then there is Harry, the Green Goblin of this version who wants Peter’s blood. What was the obsession with superblood at this point in time? Star Trek did it, Bond did it, and now Spider-Man. Harry is pretty rubbish here (but at least he’s been upgraded from James Franco to Dane DeHann). Perhaps it’s because it all feels so predictable. If you have any knowledge of comic book lore (I’m far from an expert) you would know that Green Goblin plus Gwen Stacy equals death. This was known from the point that Gwen was revealed to be the love interest in these movies in the first place. It’s so disappointing that the movie played things out almost exactly. Gwen was set up to die, Harry was set up to make it happen, and Peter was set up to fail. You don’t even need to watch these movies to guess this. I can’t think of a bigger failure of imagination than that.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is likely to be the most important movie of the series, in terms of its future trajectory. Due to its failure, Spider-Man is now recast and a prominent part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the Spiderverse not only exists in a wonderful animated movie (Into the Spiderverese) it is also the basis for Spider-Man: No Way Home. The lesson here seems to be, if you can’t beat them, join them.
By Kevin Boyle
(header image via Letterboxd)