Thursday, November 20, 2014

Amazing Spider-Balls 2: The Quest For More Cash

  • causing great surprise or wonder; astonishing.
  • e.g., "an amazing number of people attended the community orgy"
  • startlingly impressive.
  • e.g., "she takes the most amazing dumps"
synonyms: astonishing, astounding, surprising, stunning, staggering, shocking, startling, stupefying, breathtaking

Putting the word "amazing" in the title of, well, anything will inevitably invite a certain level of criticism based on the incredibly high bar of quality that you set for yourself.  Indeed, it is a descriptor that should be used sparingly lest it lose its impact.  And you had better make goddamn sure that any product bearing that moniker can--if not live up to--then at least aspire to such a lofty ideal, a paradigm of excellence.  
The seemingly premature rebooting of the Spider-Man franchise back in 2012 was met by many through a wearily skeptical lens, and it could effectively be argued that this was rightfully so.  By now, the licensing issues surrounding major comic book properties have come so much to the forefront of public consciousness that they have become practically taken for granted.  It's become part of our core understanding of the movie industry that Sony has to make a Spider-Man film every couple of years in order to maintain the movie rights.  Come hell or high water and sometimes in total disregard to standards of quality or basic human dignity.

The first movie in the culturally unnecessary yet legally required rebooted series was solid, but THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN retread a lot of the same ground from Sam Raimi's wall-crawling trilogy and didn't do too much in the way of innovation or trailblazing.  Were it not for the charisma of the leads, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, much of the otherwise middle-of-the-road script might have fallen flat.  It was also super frustrating watching them tiptoe around and have Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) say, "With great power comes great responsibility," without actually literally saying, "With great power comes great responsibility."

This Take Your Kids to Work day took a
tragic turn when Spider-Man discovered the
hard way that his superpowers were not
In retrospect, it's difficult to see where the new Spider-Man franchise has gone wrong: an untested director, reboots and sequels pumped out to meet legally mandated deadlines, massive amounts of Sony product placement.  THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 had all that going for it, yet still managed to squander any and all goodwill and credibility earned, tooth and claw, by the first instalment of the series.  If the Third Entry of a Trilogy movie myth has even the tiniest shred of basis in truth, then THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 3 is basically set to be the cinematic version of AIDS.

I am, however, a firm believer that an ounce of prevention is worth substantially less than the street value of an equal volume of pure, uncut cocaine.  It is possible, after performing an autopsy of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, to determine what went so terribly, terribly wrong and and make a much more informed choice about whether or not to abort the next cinematic Spider-fetus based on a rigorous and highly scientific analysis of associated risk factors.  The tests came back positive for several, potentially intelligence-insulting abnormalities, but fortunately, with the proper treatment and a strict high-protein diet, future Spider-Man movies aren't necessarily doomed to be giant piles of rhinoceros shit.  Sony has the money; they can rebuild him.    

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 Comprehensive Diagnosis

TRANSFORMERS Diminishing Return Disorder (AKA: Raimi SPIDER-MAN 3 Disorder )

This is perhaps the most troubling of all of the problems because it sometimes manifests itself with symptoms such as submarines full of cash making deliveries to your yacht in international waters outside of the jurisdiction of any civilized country where the drugs flow freely, the women spread like butter, and the social taboo against bestiality is more like a guideline than an actual rule.

This disorder is the one most people have trouble coming to terms with because there are examples like Michael Bay and his sad TRANSFORMERS progeny have seemed to flourish despite living with this chronic condition.  And while it is true that some sufferers seem to be able to live long, pointless lives, for most people and franchises it can become completely debilitating.

The TRANSFORMERS Disorder typically manifests itself in a sequel and can be easily spotted through the amplification and spread of everything that was wrong with the previous instalment.  For example, the completely extraneous subplot about Peter Parker's (Andrew Garfield's) father, which could have been excised completely from THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 script and they would have lost nothing.  Because having it in there actually contributed nothing (I guess size does matter...).  It would have been easy too.  All they would have had to do was cut out a couple pages at the beginning of the script and a couple pages in the middle, because it is completely self-contained.  The narrative thread involving Parker's dad (his mother is a complete nonentity) is a dangling one and was not woven into the rest of the film at all.  And his father's "revelation" is never mentioned again or shown to have any impact on Parker whatsoever.

(Also, just so we're clear here: Richard Parker's (Campbell Scott's) "plan" involved sabotaging various scientific experiments at his former place of employment; abandoning his son, his brother, and his sister-in-law forever (who, if his former company was as evil as he seemed to think, might have been used as leverage to draw him back); and then, instead of going to the authorities with any kind of evidence, which he definitely had by way of at least the formula from the first movie, he instead decides to book a chartered flight out of the country and record a heartfelt message (but, again, no actual hard evidence to exonerate himself) to his son which he then uploads... to a computer in a secret laboratory (the existence of which is never explained and which still, again, contains no exonerating evidence as far as we know) elaborately hidden in a subway car on a hydraulic lift below a random section of abandoned(?) track, a laboratory situated, presumably, so that nobody would be able to find it and so secret that any random idiot with a standard subway token would be able to access it in the hopes that it would be found by... somebody(?) who would then relay the message to his son?

Or was his intent that the mysterious briefcase that he left behind would eventually be discovered by his son (because, as evidenced in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, Aunt May and Uncle Ben obviously had no intention of ever giving it to Peter) who would start pawing through its meager contents, eventually find his old calculator that didn't work and, instead of putting it in the garbage, smash it against the wall to discover a hidden stash of subway tokens from which he was supposed to deduce the location of the aforementioned incredibly well-hidden yet bafflingly security-free secret laboratory of unknown origins, hoping that some ten-year-old computer would still boot up with no problems and automatically play that one video of him saying how much he missed his son and how sorry he is for abandoning him forever (with no evidence to exonerate himself)?

Oh... it-it was?  That was the actual plan? OK then.)

Another symptom was the incredible cheese factor involving Spider-Man's relationship with the public.  In the first movie the cops hated Spider-Man, but he managed to earn the grudging respect of at least some of the citizens who then helped him to the climax (like a $230 million hooker) with a bunch of cranes that happened to be perfectly set up down the exact street that Spider-Man needed in a completely unsubtle and very cringe-worthy scene.  THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 took that concept and ran with it, making the police love Spider-Man and the public really love him.

The police in the first movie were wary of this masked vigilante, and rightfully so, because there is no system of checks and balances--flawed though it may be--to keep him in line.  Spider-Man seems to generally be good-intentioned, but there is no accountability.  In the first AMAZING SPIDER-MAN film, at least the constant threat of police intervention helped to keep the wall crawler honest.  In THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, the cops They might as well have been forming a conga line to suck Spider-Man's dick every time they saw him.

You think that's big?  You should see the size of my Spider-hose.
(Also, why the fuck was he wearing a fire fighter's hat and helping out with a fire hose?  What, is he a fucking volunteer fire fighter now?  Why does some cop throw him a megaphone? There are plenty of regular, ordinary people who spray water and talk really loudly. Spider-Man has extraordinary abilities, he should be doing the shit that literally nobody else in that movie universe can do. Why does Spider-Man waste so much time talking to the bad guys, especially in yet another cringe-worthy scene with Rhino at the end?  He's facing a much larger opponent of unknown capabilities, you'd think he'd want to get the drop on him.  Maybe get the element of surprise.  Or, I guess, he could stand there talking, making the perfect target, and then just rush straight towards his enemy who is firing all manner of ordinance.)

Even more baffling were the crowds of people standing around watching any time Spider-Man would get into a fight with some random (and they were pretty random) supervillains?  Here are these two superbeings with extraordinary powers that were evidently far more dangerous than your average firearm, and they just sit around watching?  It was almost as if this kind of spectacle was common in New York City, like gladitorial combat in the streets was an everyday occurrence. I felt like at some point Peter Parker would rip off his mask and start shouting "Are you not entertained?!"  Well, really only intermittently at best.
STAR WARS Prequels Shoehorning Syndrome

This often debilitating ailment is evidenced by an unnecessarily condensed or nonsensical timeline.  It also becomes apparent when characters who are meant to have some kind of a collective back story are sort of thrust haphazardly together ignoring previously established narrative components.  The sad truth about this syndrome is not only that it is entirely preventable, it's also incredibly easy to prevent.  (Really? Three movies and it takes Anakin twenty minutes to become Darth Vader?  Just... fuck right off.)

The most glaring example of this in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 is the relationship between Peter Parker and Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan), which was kind of the definition of coming out of left field.  It was some kind of strange narrative reverse grand slam.  In the movie, Harry comes back from something like ten years of boarding school to have on last dramatic scene with his estranged, diseased father, Norman Osborne (Chris Cooper), before he dies rather undramatically.  Peter learns of this death on the news, then immediately looks concerned and goes to visit Harry.  The same Harry who has basically been in child prison for ten years.  Now, at the beginning of the movie, Peter et al. have just graduated high school, so they're all approximately eighteen years old, which means that the last time Peter ever saw Harry was when they were both at the tender age of eight.

It's also heavily implied if not outright stated that they have had literally no contact during that time.  So Peter goes to visit a childhood friend that he hasn't seen, talked to, or even mentioned so far as the audience is aware since about grade two.  Peter sites as one reason for showing up the emotional support he got from Harry that was so helpful when his parents disappeared "mysteriously" all those years ago.  How much emotional support an eight-year-old might be able to give another eight-year-old is debatable, but lets say for the sake of argument that the two children formed a strong connection that could easily be rekindled.  The truly perplexing thing then becomes: how come we've never heard literally any goddamned thing about him until halfway through the second movie of the series?

This "development" constitutes a complete lack of planning on the part of the director, Marc Webb, and all of his fine collaborators over at Sony, which wouldn't be so bad if it weren't so glaring.  Despite some desperate adherence to mediocrity from Marvel and Disney, one thing that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is doing right is actually planning ahead, which is evident in how all of their movies are becoming increasingly intertwined in a larger, overarching narrative.
Oh, so the screenwriters literally gave you Green Goblin
disease?  Wow, I... just... I really need to get a hold of my
agent and get the hell out of here right now.

In THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN franchise there appear to have been exactly zero shits given as to any kind of continuity, as Harry's incredible and most likely painful shoehorning into the second movie clearly illustrates.  The really frustrating part was that it would have been so fucking easy to alleviate this problem.  Even just a couple throwaway lines would have eased THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 and the audience's suffering alike.  In the first movie, when Peter went to Oscorp, he could have said something like, "I used to be friends with the son of the guy who owns this place.  He helped me through some hard times."  Or when talking to Gwen Stacy, he could have reminisced: "Remember Harry Osborne?  He left in grade two, but I still remember how kind he was to me after my parents..."  Or even with Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima May, through all the conversations about his missing parents: "You remember Harry?  A friend from school, he was really there for me when my parents disappeared." Or "At least Harry was there for me when I needed him!" in his argument with Uncle Ben.  Or you could even have had somebody ask him, "Hey, didn't you used to hang out with Harry Osborne, the famous millionaire slash supermodel, when we were kids?"  and Peter could reply with something like, "Yeah, sure, of course, we were pretty close until his dad shipped him off to boarding school."

It would have been so fucking easy if they had any idea at all that Harry Osborne was A) going to appear in the sequel and B) was going to be Peter's BFF.  Also, we in the audience are meant to believe that in this day and age of social media, cell phones, and fucking email that two childhood friends who had bonded over a childhood trauma and had such an impact on each other's lives would have had absolutely zero contact.  Shit, I've had assholes who used to beat the shit out of me in high school send me friend requests on Facebook.  People who taught me the true meaning of the word "hate" take the time to look me up years later, but Peter and Harry don't take ten seconds to type each other's names and then click a button?

The core problem with this easily avoided discrepancy is that while it tries to force some sort of emotional connection between two main characters for some later pay-off, it only serves to highlight just how disconnected these characters really are.    


This is perhaps one of the most vile contagions to hit the movie world in recent years.  Doctors were sure that they had eradicated the disease forever after BATMAN AND ROBIN was carefully designed to kill the Schumacher franchise and end its horrifying spread.  Unfortunately, the disease has seen a troubling revival, with a particularly horrifying case being IRON MAN 3.  Researchers are hard at work trying to find a cure, but if ever there were an insidious and completely ineffective movie trope, BATMAN FOREVER Fever would be it.

This disease is characterized by a complete lack of any relevant, engaging, believable, or contextually logical motivation by one or more characters, usually villains.  The most pernicious version of this is the obsessive, abused nerd who turns against the hero due to some bizarrely mundane and inconsequential perceived insult or offence made on the part of the hero.  It's important that this perceived disparagement happens only once to maintain the already extremely tenuous relationship between the hero and the villain, once again emphasizing just how little is at stake emotionally for either adversary when their inevitable showdown comes.

Unfortunately, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 is plagued by multiple cases of this resilient infection.  Max Dillon AKA Electro (Jamie Foxx) suffers from the same intellectual aptitude and social impairment as Edward Nigma in BATMAN FOREVER and Aldrich "I am the Mandarin" Killian in IRON MAN 3.  None of these characters have any real beef with the hero outside of a totally rational ethical criticism of reading people's minds, a forgotten rooftop meeting that could easily be rescheduled, or a forgotten name from that dude you met once for ten seconds.
How to write character motivation for onscreen
comic book villains, apparently...

The moral of the story here is basically that people who are both smart and socially awkward are all just supervillains waiting to happen.  Thank the Stan Lee that Peter Parker had his skateboard, his shy, school-boy charm, and, like, totally wicked good looks or else he definitely would have turned out out to be a villain.  There's this weird sort of uncomfortable vibe in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 that stems from the validation of the exclusion, suspicion, and general mistreatment of those who are deemed as socially undesirable.

In TASM2, Max Dillon seems to be a (sym)pathetic character: he's been made to be almost comically unattractive, he's incredibly socially awkward, he's exploited by the superiors at work who explicitly and unremorsefully stole and profited from his intellectual property, and he's basically treated like shit by his coworkers who display a total lack of regard for even the most basic safety protocols that even BP or Exxon wouldn't touch them with an oil-soaked ten-and-a-half-foot pole.  His supervisor--in an even more comically villainous move--makes him work late on his birthday for Christ's sake.  All of that should have been enough to get us on Max Dillon's side so that when he becomes Electro, there's a weird sort of internal logic behind it.

But it's all reversed and twisted.  Max Dillon isn't socially awkward; he's mentally ill.  He's shown obsessing unhealthily over Spider-Man and then having violent fantasies involving his dickish supervisor.  All it takes to send him over the edge is Spider-Man forgetting his name and some random strangers not liking him.  It's implied that he was essentially a villain all along, and all of the accountability is placed solely on Dillon.  If only he had been more socially well-adjusted when he underwent that horrific genetic mutation, he would have been fine.  With absolutely no attention being given later to the fact that his employers stole his work without credit and no dialogue whatsoever as to the effects that his social exclusion may have contributed, the onus is basically on the mentally ill person to stop being mentally ill.  Or, at best, it's expected that the socially excluded and marginalized simply stop being excluded and marginalized.

Harry Osborn didn't fare much better with his transformation into the Green Goblin.  His motivation for hating on Spider-Man boils down to the fact that Spider-Man refuses to give him a blood sample... that he can then inject into himself to somehow cure his goblin disease?  It's not exactly clear.  It seems, though, that this was Harry's plan as he later displays a propensity for injecting himself with random substances when he injects himself with some leftover genetically altered spider venom from Richard Parker's early experiments.  He was willing to inject actual poison directly into his bloodstream, so it seems a safe bet that he wouldn't mind doing the same with some (as far as he knows) stranger's blood.  Harry never tries to tell Spider-Man that he has a team of scientists who are going to analyze his blood to try and isolate genetic markers to work out some sort of a cure for Harry's made-up hereditary disease and Spider-Man never really explains what he means when he says that it's "too dangerous" to give him any blood.

Even though the purpose of Spider-Man's clandestine visit to Harry seems basically to taunt a dying teenager with false hope, Harry's villainous motivation directly relating to Spider-Man seems to boil down to a spoiled rich kid not getting his own way.  It's not as bad as Electro, but still extremely weak.

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 seems to have been infected with a particularly terminal strain of BATMAN FOREVER fever, but thankfully we have top men working on it right now.  Top.  Men.      


THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 presents with perhaps one of worst cases of SUPERMAN IV-itis since the first recorded case 1987.  Tragically, even the Last Son of Krypton himself was not entirely immune, what with the sudden implementation of his wall-building vision.

Symptoms of this disorder include an increasing number of grab bag powers implemented to service narrative necessity instead of the narrative flowing freely from established character traits and abilities.  Electro in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 is basically the poster child for every grab bagger out there who ever grabbed a bag.  First there was electrical energy that seemed to be able to interact with material objects as though it were composed of physical material itself.  Then there's the ability to dematerialize and rematerialize at will, Dr. Manhattan-style.  Then there's the ability to dematerialize and rematerialize his clothing and the cybernetic implants in his skull (which literally served as a video game meter so you'd know when he was defeated.)  Then he could travel through electrical conduits such as wire.  Then he could fly.  Then he could make music out of some random rods at a power generating station.

It wasn't that Electro's powers were fantastic, it's that they seemed nonsensically applied within the context of the movie.  There were no real guidelines established as to the limitations of Electro's abilities, so it all just felt haphazardly thrown together with no rhyme or reason.  It felt random enough that manatees were just picking random powers written on a pile of balls.

Thankfully for the manatees, this disorder only effects the central nervous system of human subjects.  The most effective cure seems to be fire, and lots of it, though some leading experts believe that hiring writers with more than a third-grade education can help to reduce some of the risk factors involved.  


Spider-Man can get his groove back.  Despite a veritable plague of issues with THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, there was still some salvageable stuff in there.  The moral and emotional conflict that Spider-Man/Peter Parker seemed to be having about keeping his promise to Gwen's father (Dennis Leary) was a promising development that disappeared about twenty minutes into the movie.  The not-really love story where for the majority of their "relationship" they appear to actually have not been an official couple (at least not what you'd term "Facebook official" at any rate) actually contained some pretty engaging material, due mostly to the talent of the actors, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, more than anything else.

It sounds shitty, but one of the best parts of the movie was Gwen's death.  Not because Gwen was annoying or a rabid cocktease (*ahem* Mary-Jane *a-hem*), but precisely because her character was likeable.  That was a really jarring moment, even strongly suspecting that it was coming, and it had the potential to drive character growth.  But, instead, taking a cue from the IRON MAN movie franchise, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 chose to completely forgo any and all character development in favour of nonsensical plot elements and a main character spewing clever quips.  The Spider-Man at the end of the movie doesn't seem all that much worse for the wear than the Spider-Man at the beginning of the movie despite having had to suffer through his girlfriend's death (and his apparently complete obliviousness to the utter devastation that Gwen's family is suffering having lost her father maybe only a year or two before).

There's a montage where Peter Parker mourns Gwen for like a year or something, supposedly visiting her grave on a daily basis.  It would have been more engaging to see Peter actually develop, maybe get angry for a while, take a no-nonsense approach bordering on brutality before he comes around and starts cracking jokes again.  From what was presented onscreen, though, the moral of the story seems to be that if you're Spider-Man, shit never sticks to you.  You live in a consequence- (and logic-) free zone where all of the bad shit is directed at people around you while you come through unscathed.

The truly frustrating thing about watching THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 wasn't that it was complete shit, but that there was so much potential for it to have been completely awesome.  I really, truly do hope that these trends are not as infectious as they seem if and when Sony decides to make THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 3, or reboot the whole fucking thing again.  I'm going to have to give THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 a 4/10 = A Newly Costumed Vigilante Shooting Magnetized Wrist Jizz Alone In His Room on a Friday Night.


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