Over the last few decades, comic book movies have reached heights of storytelling and spectacle that readers could never have DREAMED of. But for every triumphant high—The Dark Knight, The Avengers—there have always been a good number of stinkers… some bad enough to become punchlines or talking points, but most mediocre and ultimately forgotten…
Until they end up here.
The Discount Spinner Rack is where you’ll find the worst, the weirdest, and the most puzzling of comic book movie misfires. We’ll take a look at the things that actually work and the parts that absolutely don’t, and decide whether it’s worth your time and your dime. In the end, movies will be marked down on a scale from $1.00 (a surprise gem) to $0.05 (better used for kindling). For this spin of the Rack, we’ll thank Heavens that Spidey is back in the MCU (for now) as we recall Sony’s last stab at a solo Spider-Man film, The Amazing Spider-Man 2!
Once upon a time, Columbia Pictures (a subsidiary of Sony Pictures Entertainment) produced a live-action, feature-length motion picture about Spider-Man. And it was good.
After nearly two decades of rights disputes and bizarre false starts1, Columbia managed to wrangle director Sam Raimi into bringing Marvel’s flagship character to the silver screen in 2002. Raimi, an accomplished visual stylist and a huge fan of the wall-crawler, created a film that was dynamic and colorful, but which stayed true to the spirit of the character and the central moral tenet of the books since day one: that “with great power, comes great responsibility.” It was as cheesy as it was sincere… and after 9/11, it was exactly what American movie-going audiences were looking for. $407 million domestic and $825 million worldwide later, Spider-Man proved not just to be a big hit for the studio, but the final spark that ignited a superhero movie renaissance that’s still going strong today.
Inevitably, the studio tapped Raimi and co. to make a sequel, giving him even more freedom to shape the movie as he saw fit… and the end result was even better than the first. Spider-Man 2 raised the bar for comic book movies to new heights—featuring a complex and compelling villain, stunning action set pieces, a juicy moral dilemma for the hero, and a tantalizing hook for the next film. The movie was once again a critical and commercial success…
… but it didn’t make quite as much money as the first Spider-Man.
And Sony started to get nervous.
After a brief hiatus2, Raimi returned to direct a third installment… but this time around, the studio mandated that the director would have to include fan-favorite supervillain Venom as one of the central antagonists. Raimi, totally unfamiliar with the character and seemingly not very fond of him, was uncomfortable with the inclusion but plowed ahead regardless; the resulting Spider-Man 3 DID gross $890 million worldwide, but it was also met with mixed reviews from critics and bitter dissatisfaction from fans. “Emo Spider-Man!” they cried out in disgust. “Too many villains! Dance numbers! This is the worst thing ever!”
Oh, how little we knew then.
Before long, Sony began development on a fourth Raimi Spider-Man film—this time with the Vulture as the main antagonist, to be played by John Malkovich. Raimi—still wary after his experience on the third film—was frustrated by mounting interference from Sony executives, whose story contributions began to take a turn for the baffling3. Catching wind of his growing resistance, Sony decided to commission a competing script for a new Spider-Man film—a reboot, based loosely on the popular Ultimate Spider-Man comic book series which had reimagined the character with a more contemporary bent. With TWO movies now in active development, Sony leveraged the franchise’s future on speed: whichever script was completed first, the studio would give the greenlight to. With a deadline rapidly approaching and a script that he just wasn’t satisfied with (and didn’t have the time to fix), Sam Raimi eventually dropped out of the project, and Spider-Man 4 died with a whimper.
So we got The Amazing Spider-Man instead.
Helmed by prolific music-video director Marc Webb4, The Amazing Spider-Man was, stylistically, an attempt at a “gritty, realistic” revamp of Spider-Man in the vein of Batman Begins (or rather, one of its slew of knock-offs). It goes into painstaking detail to explain the origins of his outfit, the lenses in his mask, and his webshooters5; it retreads his classic origins with a more somber, serious tone and a desaturated color palette, tying his creation in with the film’s main villain; and it broadens his backstory by introducing a new, mysterious (read: unresolved sequel bait) subplot involving Peter Parker’s parents disappearing and their connection to OsCorp.
The film was at its best when it was about the budding romance between Peter and Gwen Stacy (played by Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, whose chemistry was so palpably genuine that they ended up dating in real life), but the superheroics lacked Raimi’s verve and energy, and the film’s themes and messaging simply felt… off. In an effort not to simply repeat the beats of the original film, Webb’s reboot hems and haws about delivering the basics of Spidey’s origins—seeking out the most roundabout, indirect ways to approach the material (most egregiously by never allowing Uncle Ben to utter the words “with great power comes great responsibility” aloud). Peter doesn’t become Spider-Man to protect people initially; he does so out of a desire for revenge, seeking out the criminal who killed his Uncle (there’s no indication WHATSOEVER that he feels responsible for letting the guy get away after he robbed a convenience store beforehand). It’s not until halfway through the film that he saves a young boy from a falling car and gets the inkling that maybe, maybe he should be protecting people with his powers rather than seeking retribution for a personal wrong.
The film did okay business—$755 million worldwide, which, while a big haul, was less than ALL of the Raimi films had managed. But it had dropped in July 2012—and earlier that year, the cultural landscape had already been dominated by the Marvel Studios juggernaut that was The Avengers. There had been a shift in the Hollywood superhero paradigm: gritty, dour realism was out, and suddenly colorful cinematic universes seemed to be the newest, hottest trend.
… And Sony, never one to miss chasing a trend, decided that they would mold Spider-Man into a colorful cinematic universe of his own.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was intended to be ground zero for a Spider-Man franchise explosion—to be followed by an Amazing Spider-Man 3 AND 4, a culminative Sinister Six supervillain team-up movie written and directed by Drew Goddard6, a Venom film7, and, most astonishingly, tentative plans to develop an Aunt May solo prequel film, reportedly featuring a young May as a secret agent8. Much of this would have been written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Star Trek Into Darkness “fame”), who were being positioned by Sony as the new architects of this tangled web of spin-offs and sequels—but first, they would take the reins for the second film, picking up the many, MANY loose threads from The Amazing Spider-Man and trying to weave them into a sturdy foundation for an entire interconnected UNIVERSE.
Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone were back as Peter and Gwen, joined by Chronicle’s Dane DeHaan as Pete’s childhood friend, Harry Osborn. The main villain of the film this time around would be Electro, one of Spidey’s regular second-stringer adversaries, played by Jamie Foxx (hot off playing the title role in Django Unchained). But on TOP of that, Paul Giamatti was brought aboard as Aleksei Sytsevich, a.k.a. the Rhino9—broadening the villain pool from which a Sinister Six could eventually be drawn! Spidey’s suit—a leathery eyesore in the previous film, with the texturing of a basketball—underwent a significant redesign: turning back to the spandex-and-raised webbing look of the Raimi films, but with bolder, more vibrant colors and big, round eyes. Trailers gave glimpses of a more colorful, pop-y aesthetic and explosive action sequences. By all outward appearances, this was going to be the biggest Spider-Man film yet!
IN THIS ISSUE: The apotheosis of soulless corporate filmmaking, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a glossy, visually-spectacular, meticulously polished turd.
By the admission of the film’s writers, Orci and Kurtzman, the creation of the film’s story was reverse-engineered from a single, pre-determined plot point: the shock death of Gwen Stacy (lifted from Gerry Conway’s classic story from 1973). After all, they reasoned, the introduction of Gwen as Peter’s love interest (rather than his eventual one-true-love Mary Jane Watson) suggested that the filmmakers HAD to kill that character off, right? Because Gwen Stacy has only EVER been known as “the girlfriend that the Green Goblin killed”, and had no real value as a character outside of that…10 Gwen’s whole deal is that she had to die. To make Peter sad. Because God knows that Andrew Garfield’s Parker wasn’t ENOUGH of a sad sack as it was.
Another girlfriend destined for the refrigerator.
But to justify this moment, they had to work backwards—build the themes of the movie with the end goal in mind. There’s a recurring motif of time; the first shot of the movie is a zoom-out from inside a watch, and the final battle takes place in the inner workings of a clock tower as it’s smashed to pieces and “time runs out” for Gwen. The implication of the theme is inevitability—the idea that we only have so much time on this world, and when it’s out, it’s out. This is, by far, the most insidious choice the movie makes, and its ultimate message undermines everything that Spider-Man stands for…
… but, uh, we’ll get back to that, shall we?
So yeah, did you know there are FIVE ONGOING PLOTS in this film?
- Peter and Gwen’s make-up/break-up game.
- Hey everyone—it’s Electro! (Applause)
- The return of Harry Osborn, who inherits OsCorp (and is dying).
- Pete’s mysterious missing parents that no one cares about.
- Aunt May goes to nursing school!
All but one of these storylines (Aunt May’s medical adventures) is a full-blown A-plot… and strangely, none of them stand out as the clear “main plot” of Amazing Spider-Man 2. They’re all awkwardly woven together into a vaguely cinematic shape despite the fact that they have almost nothing to do with each other. They each play out in their own little bubble, with little-to-no overlap until the last act… and when they start coming together, it’s in the most arbitrary and coincidental of ways. Gwen Stacy conveniently runs into BOTH major supervillains of the film in an OsCorp elevator, each before their transformations11. Harry Osborn just happens to stumble upon the cover-up of Electro’s origins moments before he’s ejected from OsCorp and needs Max to help him break back in. And Pete’s parents… well, they really have nothing to do with anything. Or DO they…?
The awkward structure is all about… stalling. See, Harry needs to become the Green Goblin so that he can kill Gwen (since that moment is what the whole movie is building up to), but he can’t just start the movie as the Goblin because we need to establish his friendship with Peter, and give him a valid reason to hate Spider-Man. (We also need to come up with a new, convoluted origin for the Green Goblin persona and all his trappings, because his “Halloween gremlin” gimmick is too goofy for this self-serious iteration of the franchise…) So while the Harry origin stuff is playing out, we keep the Peter/Gwen romantic tension going, playing a “will they/won’t they” game as Peter reconciles his love of Gwen with the promise that he made her father not to be with her so that she could be safe12. But that’s all just drama, man… there needs to be something to keep the energy up, a bad guy for Spidey to punch—hence, we get Electro, a random Spidey rogue dumped into the middle of this clusterf%$# who is neither dramatically nor thematically connected to Peter or his struggles. He’s a broad, cartoonish figure, delusional and unstable even BEFORE he gets… uh… bitten by genetically-enhanced eels.
And since all that isn’t QUITE enough to flesh out a feature-film runtime, the writers also bring back the Richard and Mary Parker mystery—even opening the film with a prologue and action sequence showing us just what happened on the night they left Peter with his aunt and uncle. In the end, we learn that OsCorp was planning to use Parker’s cross-species genetics research to create bioweapons to sell to “a foreign military organization”13, but that the spiders were coded with Richard Parker’s DNA—meaning that without a Parker’s blood to complete the DNA sequence, the spider venom would be deadly (or something. It’s not 100% clear, ESPECIALLY given what happens later on). But to get to this relatively minor exposition dump, we get several scenes of Peter mulling over his father’s leather bag, questioning May about what happened to his parents, doing research on clues left in his dad’s belongings, and putting up a massive conspiracy wall-collage in his bedroom. And all this when we already know that his parents were assassinated by OsCorp—something which we see happen in that opening prologue, but which we’d all pretty much guessed from the first movie already. In the end, the parents themselves contribute NOTHING to the story being told.
… Or DO they…?
But to truly understand the depths of this film’s failure, there is a very important question you have to ask: who, exactly, is the MAIN ANTAGONIST of The Amazing Spider-Man 2?
As I intimated earlier, it is definitely NOT Electro. Max Dillon is a loser, a pathetic put-upon schlub whose work is stolen and exploited by OsCorp, and a delusional obsessive whose adoration of Spider-Man curdles into rage at the realization that it’s not reciprocated. When he finally becomes empowered as Electro, he lashes out… but his attacks on Spidey and on the people of New York are a response to perceived slights, not to anything that Peter or the citizenry actually did. Because Spider-Man’s actions essentially had no bearing on Max’s aggression, then Electro is really just a megalomaniacal lunatic—an OBSTACLE, not a true antagonist. He doesn’t cause Peter to question his actions or his motivations, his battles with Spidey don’t change Peter in any profound way…
… Oh, and then there’s the fact that, after his first fight with Spidey in Times Square, he drops completely out of the film for something like forty whole minutes. Hell, he only HAS two big action scenes with Spidey, and for the rest of the film he’s virtually powerless—he has next to no influence on the events of the story. So despite being the marquee bad guy in the film, Electro is little more than a sparkly distraction from the rest of the “narrative”.
Now, you might be thinking that the antagonist is actually Harry Osborn. And why not? He’s responsible for the big, climactic moment that the movie is built around, and he DOES get Peter to question his actions.
From his first scene, we find out that Harry is dying of “retroviral hypodysplasia”—a progressive, degenerative disease passed down through the Osborn family that gives you sickly green skin and clawed fingernails, and which kills Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper) shortly into the film. Harry soon realizes that Spider-Man, having all the powers of a spider, would also have a measure of cellular regeneration14, so he asks Spidey (through Peter) for a sample of his potentially life-saving blood15. Pete thinks it over, weighing Harry’s life against the potential dangers (this IS supposed to be right after Curt Connors used this genetics technology to try to turn all of New York City into an island of lizard-people, remember), and ultimately… Spidey says no. Harry, understandably, flips his sh*t—ultimately tracking down the last of the cross-species spider-venom and injecting himself with it, which accelerates his condition and forces him to don a green cybernetic battlesuit (with some kind of emergency “healing” technology built into it) to stay alive16. And thus, the Green Goblin was born! Total main villain storyline, right?
When Harry asks for the blood (a full hour into the film)… there is no indication that he plans to use the blood for anything dangerous, underhanded, or evil. From what we see of him, Harry is a decent guy—a little egotistical at worst—who is scared for his life and clutching at a desperate hope. Pete has no reason not to trust him—hell, he doesn’t even have a concrete reason not to trust OSCORP yet (aside from his default twitchy paranoia). But he just outright refuses to save his friend’s life, under the pretense that “it’s too dangerous” and that he’s “trying to protect” Harry17. The closest we get to a justification is the film’s notion that Spidey’s abilities and the biotech behind it are some terrible, potentially world-changing power akin to the A-bomb, and that they must be kept out of the wrong hands… but there’s never a point where the film suggests that Harry’s ARE the wrong hands. Furthermore, Harry is an innocent life to be saved, and Peter has the power to save it… doesn’t that make it his responsibility to save it?18 But instead he makes a choice that is as cruel as it is nonsensical, which pushes Harry to use more dangerous and extreme methods to save his own life, and eventually warps him into a bitter, murderous shell of himself. PETER ultimately antagonizes HARRY.
… Also, Harry doesn’t even interact with Peter again until their Spidey/Goblin fight at the very end of the film, which only lasts about five minutes. He’s only there to vindictively kill Gwen, after all—he’s not involved in Peter’s story in any meaningful way. Hardly “main antagonist” material.
But when you get right down to it, the movie DOES have a clear central antagonist… a villain propelling every thread of the story… pushing against the hero at every turn, prompting every tragedy to befall him.
Yes, the main antagonist of the movie is actually a nebulous corporate entity, which is responsible for all the evil doings that move the story forward. They steal Max Dillon’s power plant designs without crediting him; then the callous apathy of their employees results in Dillon’s transformation. First they try to cover up his “death”, and THEN they imprison and experiment on him in Ravencroft and create a paper trail implicating Harry Osborn for the cover-up, allowing them to oust him. They killed the Parkers and stole their research; they created secret weaponized suits and armaments; they freed an imprisoned Russian mercenary and gave him a giant mecha-rhino suit. They are behind EVERYTHING.
So, erm… who exactly RUNS OsCorp?
It used to be Norman Osborn, sure, but Norman dies in the first half-hour of the film; his objectives, which seemed to be little more than “find a way to cheat death”, stop mattering after that point. Then there’s Colm Feore’s Donald Menkin, a sneering corporate suit whose only interest seems to be in maintaining the company’s stock prices; he’s a stuffed shirt with no overall agenda of his own. Then, after Harry goes off the reservation and ends up in Ravencroft, he has a meeting with Gustav Fiers19, the mysterious “Man in the Shadows” from the last film’s post-credits stinger, who sneaks into OsCorp FOR Harry and starts priming battlesuits so that he can recruit a Sinister Six. Obviously this guy is high-level with the company, possibly from some kind of a governing board above Menkin and his cronies…
So who are these people? What do they WANT? Financing a Sinister Six makes no sense from a basic business standpoint… so what exactly is the motivation for OsCorp, or ANYONE working there, to repeatedly attack New York and go head-to-head with Spider-Man?
Well… OsCorp is the Boogeyman. OsCorp is “them”. OsCorp is the same irrational overmind you find at the center of ALL ludicrous conspiracy theories. Their motivations don’t have to be logical, because conspiracies are built on the promise of secrets inside secrets inside secrets; if it doesn’t make sense, you just haven’t dug DEEP enough yet. And that lack of clarity is GREAT if you’re trying to sell people on an endless mystery, of sequels on top of sequels promising tantalizing hints at the shocking truth.
… But it’s kind of terrible if you’re trying to tell a satisfying story.
Making the main antagonist of the film a faceless corporation completely muddies the narrative. If we don’t understand where the antagonism is coming from or why it’s happening, then there’s no way to get any MEANING out of the hero overcoming it. Even Bond movies give their evil organizations a figurehead, someone with a clear philosophy we can root for the hero to defeat; it’s kind of hard to cheer on a hero when all he has to fight is managerial incompetence and a corporate logo.
So with all of this crazy crap going on all around him, what does Peter Parker actually learn—what’s the MORAL of this grand, operatic tale?
Well, to begin with, he learns that he’s always right, even when all the evidence says otherwise. He digs and digs into the mystery of his parents’ disappearance—even grilling Aunt May for info, who tells him that the FBI claimed that he took a payoff from a foreign power and just skipped the country. But Pete never flags in his determination that there’s a grand mystery at play, that his dad was an honorable person, and whaddaya know—he stumbles upon an OBSCENELY overcomplicated hidden laboratory in a subway station, with a video confessional proving just that! Add on to that Peter’s inexplicable reluctance to give Harry his spider-blood (which is later vindicated by his discovery of OsCorp’s malevolence and Harry’s descent into madness), and you have a hero who’s primed to deny the basic facts available to him and refuse to trust other people in the face of his own irrationally-held convictions20.
His second major lesson—and probably his biggest one—is that, in the end, he doesn’t actually have to take responsibility for his actions. Because every terrible, reckless, WRONG choice he makes in the film creates a consequence that retroactively validates it to make it seem more heroic. For instance, when he refuses to give Harry his blood, he has no reason not to trust Harry or to think that harm will come from helping him out. But by the end of the movie, a desperate Harry has turned to a far more dangerous attempted cure, transformed into a frothing monstrous lunatic, and murdered Gwen… which, by the film’s twisted logic, PROVES that Harry was never trustworthy and that Peter was right to withhold the blood. This, of course, completely ignores the fact that Harry wouldn’t have been driven to try the more dangerous treatment if Peter had helped him to BEGIN with.
But worse is how the film plays out the death of Gwen Stacy.
From the ending of the previous film, we’ve had the stakes made clear to us: if Peter is in a relationship with Gwen, he’s putting her life in danger. He knows it. He promised her dying father he wouldn’t do it. And he’s spent the entire movie grappling with his love for Gwen vs. his responsibility to keep her out of harm’s way. In the end, Pete gives in to his selfish need to hold on to her… and just as Captain Stacy predicted, Gwen dies as a direct result of Peter’s enemies trying to hurt him. Trite and awful as the moment is, it COULD have been a major turning point for this version of Peter, wherein he grows and matures into a real hero by experiencing the consequences of his selfishness… except the film spends the last hour or so practically SCREAMING at us that Peter is NOT responsible for Gwen’s demise.
For one thing, upon Gwen’s arrival at the power station at the end of the film, Peter starts freaking out about Gwen being there, and she puts her foot down, declaring that she’s responsible for her own choices and that he needs her to stop Electro (because, FOR SOME REASON, she is well-versed in the power grid specs and knows how to start it back up). And that WOULD be a solid rebuttal (she’s asserting her agency! She’s not just a prop!)… that is, if Gwen’s big contribution wasn’t just pressing a big red button at the right moment, AND if the villain that ends up killing her wasn’t a different villain than the one she pitched in to stop (who murders her out of sheer vindictiveness to hurt Peter). Her calls to personal agency are a post-facto smoke-screen to absolve Pete of culpability for putting a target on her back by simply continuing to BE with her21.
But then there’s that “time” motif—the clock tower falling apart, time running out. In the epilogue, it’s tied in to Gwen’s early valedictorian speech about how “life is precious because it ends” and how you have to live the best version of your life while you can22. And together, these two ideas suggest the notion that Gwen… well, Gwen was DESTINED to die. Peter was always going to lose her; her time was running out. So in the end, it was BETTER that he stayed with her, wasn’t it? Pursuing her was the right decision, because it made both of their lives happier, even if it ended in tragedy—because the tragedy was unavoidable. INEVITABLE. And therefore, her death wasn’t Peter’s fault.
… Well, until you realize that every single factor that led to her death was created by Peter’s two big decisions: not giving Harry his blood, and still trying to be with Gwen. If Pete had given Harry the blood, then Harry would work on using it to cure himself—he’d never need to snoop around the OsCorp Special Projects files, never learn about Electro, never FREE him, and he wouldn’t turn into the Goblin. No final battle, no clock-tower fight. And even if all of those things somehow DID happen… well, Gwen wouldn’t be in any danger. She wouldn’t even know what was happening with the blackout. She’d just be… in a taxi. Trying to get to the airport. So she can go to London. And live a full, happy life being a super-scientist who studies cross-species genetics AND hydroelectric engineering, for some reason. This whole, twisted mess of a MOVIE is Peter Parker’s fault23.
It’s okay, though. Because it was FATE. So he doesn’t have to take responsibility for it.
But if you want to know the REAL moral behind The Amazing Spider-Man 2… well, you have to dig into the deleted scenes on the blu-ray, and watch the alternate ending that, quite cleanly, would have TIED THE WHOLE MOVIE TOGETHER:
Yes, the original ending to the film would have featured the shocking return of Richard Parker, who somehow TOTALLY survived the flaming plane crash at the start of the film and has been in hiding all this time—thus justifying the absurd amount of screentime spent investigating the “mystery” of his disappearance. Andrew Garfield sells the HELL out of the reunion—his anger, his confusion, and his sheer grief. And hey—Richard even gets to impart those classic words to Peter as a call back into action: “with great power, comes great responsibility”! That means that it’s the moral of the story, right?
Well… listen to what he’s saying UP TO that point. He tells Pete that “the Osborns of the world” are evil. He points out that Pete was the only person with the right DNA to unlock his father’s research and create a Spider-Man. He asserts that… maybe it’s Peter’s FATE to do great things and to save the world.
…Motherf%$#er’s talking about DIVINE LINEAGE. Bloodlines. Ordainment by a higher power. He’s talking about Peter as if he’s bloody King Arthur or something.
And you might think I’m reaching with this interpretation… except it perfectly dovetails with Harry’s arc, wherein he discovers that his genetic disease (which Norman even CALLS the “Osborn Curse”) will twist him into a gnarled, monstrous wretch before he dies. His story is about an impure bloodline—about the corruption of usurpers, unscrupulous people trying to steal the noble work of the pure-blooded scientists to prolong their degenerated lives. Hell, the McGuffin Harry needs to live is Peter’s pure, self-healing Parker blood—and without it, the very same spider venom that turned Pete into a goddamn superhero turns Harry into a snarling, hideous monster.
Richard writes off the Osborns as implicitly corrupt, evil, villainous. And after admitting that he was arrogant to think of himself as a hero because of his work when he was younger, Richard encourages his son to think of being a hero as his destiny, something that he was BORN to achieve. It’s a mindset of entitlement and privilege, of self-absorption and ego, that encourages Peter to get back out there and just keep doing what he was doing, because he ultimately did nothing WRONG. He CAN’T do anything wrong, after all—because fate says he’s the good guy.
It’s a rejection of responsibility and consequence. It is the complete and utter antithesis of everything Spider-Man stands for as a character, and it is absolutely sickening to me.
… Oh, and also, the dubstep Electro theme is, like, really dumb.
IS IT WORTH YOUR DIME?: Are you kidding me? Sony should be paying YOU to see this fetid, dramatically inert, intellectually bankrupt, morally repugnant pile of slime. This is the worst thing to happen to Spider-Man since… well, since the LAST time Gwen Stacy died.
DISCOUNT PRICE: $0.05 (RUN!!!)
- “SAY ‘HELLO’ TO ALEKSEI SYTSEVICH!!!”: Paul Giamatti is having way, WAY too much fun in this film. His Russian gangster only appears in two scenes—plowing through Manhattan traffic in a tanker truck at the beginning, and then piloting his dumb, clunky mechanical Rhino suit at the very end—but the man DEVOURS every inch of scenery he can get his hands on, with his Yakov Smirnoff accent, ill-fitting track suit, and barbed-wire tattoos. The guy’s hammier than a Christmas dinner, a veritable live-action Looney Toon… and he’s my favorite thing in the whole movie!
- Spidey’s Superhero Montage: After Gwen breaks up with him in the first act, we’re treated to a… well, a rather cool and genuinely fun montage of Pete being Spider-Man. While TV news anchors debate in voice-over the age old question of “Hero or Menace?”, we see Spidey swing around the city doing his thing: helping a bullied little boy put his science fair project back together; coming home covered in soot, ashes, and feathers; and putting a stop to a convenience store robbery while fighting off a head cold (making sure to correct the guy behind the counter about his name: “I’mb Sbider-Mband!”). The whole thing is only ruined at the very end, when we see Spidey perched atop a skyscraper… watching Gwen Stacy go about her day. Stalking her, if you will. I think that definitely goes in the “menace” column…
- Electro’s Snazzy New Suit: After getting broken out of Ravencroft by Harry near the end of the film—during which he’s wearing nothing but boxer briefs and a little current monitor on his head—Electro shows up in the very next scene wearing a fully kitted-out, rubberized super-suit with irregularly-placed electrical ports on it (each with a little lightning logo on the end of it) that seems to have been explicitly designed as a containment suit of some sort24. But since this is BEFORE they go down into the OsCorp “Sinister Six” vault, the question then becomes… who made this suit for him? Did he make it himself? How? When? WHY? It doesn’t seem to enhance his abilities at all, nor would he need physical protection when he can literally dematerialize at will. Did… did he just put it on so he would look cool?25
- SPIDER-MAN’S Snazzy New(ish) Suit: Speaking of unexplained, stylish costume upgrades, in this film Peter has traded in his basketball-suit for possibly the most perfect Spidey costume ever made: a revamp of the Sam Raimi, “raised webbing” spandex suit, but with more vivid colors and HUGE curved white eyepieces that look like they’re copied straight from the artwork of Mark Bagley. Frankly, it’s a gorgeous suit that looks iconic in every single shot, especially on Garfield’s lanky, wiry frame26… but it does raise the silly question of when Peter Parker managed to become an expert tailor. I’ve watched the costuming featurettes on the blu-ray; those suits aren’t easy to manufacture! (Hmmm… if only he had a wealthy superhero mentor to produce a slick, iconic costume FOR him…)
- Gwen’s Death and Peter’s Wake: Okay… as much as I ragged on the writers for building the WHOLE MOVIE around the inevitable, inexorable death of Gwen Stacy that Peter is totally not responsible for… I do have to admit, the execution of her death scene is really, really affecting. Garfield and Stone’s chemistry was the emotional anchor at the center of this sh*t-tornado, so watching Peter’s desperate sobs as he holds Gwen in his arms… it hits pretty hard. Even MORE heartbreaking is when we see Gwen’s funeral, and all of the mourners walk away from the grave except for Peter, who stands motionless, frozen… and then we cut, and the grass has grown over the earth, and another cut brings fallen leaves, and another brings snow, as Pete is frozen in grief and unable to move forward. It’s… powerful.
And then you remember when Peter’s web-line turned into an outstretched hand, and you can’t quite take it so seriously anymore.
NEXT ISSUE: While we’re on the subject of superhero stalkers, I think it’s about time we took a good, long look at the mediocre misfire that was Superman Returns! Surely the hero’s privacy-invading, home-wrecking behavior will be the most uncomfortable thing to talk about in THAT movie, right?
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