Earlier this year we learned that time is a flat circle, and although I’m still not quite sure what the hell Matthew McConaughey was talking about, I’m starting to think he might be right. The very first post in “Coco Hits New York”, back when I had the old blog, was a review of Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man, starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Two years later, and here I am, still on the internet (hopefully my writing has gotten better), and writing about Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, and all I can think of saying about the movie is stuff I said about its predecessor.
It’s usually said that Hollywood always learns the worst lessons, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is the best example of this. However, before I get into it, it’s worth pointing out that some of the lessons learned in 2012 aren’t necessarily bad (although none are ideal). The first lesson comes from the fact that The Amazing Spider-Man, despite its deep flaws made north of 700 million dollars in the international box office. I understand that money is what the Hollywood studios are after, and the thinking here seems to have been: “let’s make a movie just like the last one”. This is why, at its core, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is essentially the same movie as The Amazing Spider-Man.
This is the lesson that is necessarily bad, since the first movie wasn’t completely bad to begin with. Because, in case you don’t remember or didn’t watch it, The Amazing Spider-Man was actually two movies. One was about this high school kid who becomes Spider-Man, the other was about Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone showing the kind of on-screen chemistry that would make Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy jealous*. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is also two movies, and once again, one of them is good, and the other not so much. The good one is again the one that stars Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone as young kids that are in love, because god damn me if they aren’t delightful to look at.
*Speaking of which, after these Spider-Man movies, and also Crazy, Stupid, Love, I’m starting to believe it’s Emma Stone that provides the x-factor in terms of being capable of achieving crazy levels of chemistry with whatever hunky male star she is paired up with.
This half of the movie is actually better than last time, if only, because there is much more time to devote to the development of Peter (Garfield) and Gwen’s (Stone) relationship. There is no origin story about Peter getting his powers, or uncle Ben dying (there is still some stuff about Peter’s mysterious father, but it’s thankfully very little), instead we have tons of time to see these two beautifully charismatic people interact with each other. That’s the kind of thing director Marc Webb is good at (his directing breakthrough was the post-modern romantic comedy 500 Days of Summer). But the sad truth is that this can’t just be a movie about the relationship between two pretty teenagers, it has to be a Spider-Man movie too…
…And here is where the second lesson learned by the executives at Sony comes into play. You see, there was a big development in commercial filmmaking in 2012. It was the release of a massively successful movie called The Avengers, which showed just how ridiculously high the amounts of money a studio could make through the production of superhero movies really were. Suddenly every studio executive started frantically looking at what comic book characters they had the rights to in order to put them in their next movie. The consequence for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is that it is has to set up future movies, by being overstuffed with villains and stupid plotting that I couldn’t care less about. The villain stuff makes the movie feel eerily similar to the mid-nineties hotchpotch of a movie that is Batman Forever.
Since we are on the topic of Batman, let me just say that I was recently re-watching Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, and is it usually happens when I watch that movie, I was surprised at how much of a free reign Warner Brothers gave Burton to make whatever movie he pleased to make on the eve of the success of the first Batman. God knows Batman Returns is not a perfect movie, but it is at least interesting, and different, and unique (or at least it was unique at the time it was released). I can only imagine what the Spider-Man movie that Marc Webb would really like to make looks like. One that is led by the director, and not by the executives who want to establish three different franchises, and want to feature as many villains, explosions, and action sequences as possible in the movie.
The good news is that that movie I’m talking about does exist within The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which manages to not only be better than its predecessor (that wouldn’t be much of a feat), but also to be an actually good movie. The reason lies in the movie’s last act, which focuses on our two protagonists and strikes an emotional chord that the worst moments of the movie made me think it wouldn’t be able to. Even if this filmmaking by committee, I think Webb managed to tell a story that had a through-line from beginning to end, and that cohered into something solid and effective. It’s not the same as making something wholly innovative or daring, which is what I hope to get out of every summer blockbuster I go into, but if you are looking for a good time at the movies, then you could do much worse than this.
Grade: 6 out of 10