Continuing with the second part of our look at the second movie of the second iteration of Sony’s Spider-Man franchise. One problem that sequels have is what to do with the first act. In a normal story, the first act is all about scene-setting: here’s the world, here’s the time period, here’s the hero and the villain and what they each want and why they’re in conflict (though it’s true that the villain’s true identity or motives are often held back for mystery or suspense, we usually get something: “He calls himself The Phantom and he’s been stealing common coal, though we don’t know why”). We spend some time getting to know everyone and learning the rules and the stakes.
People forget that it’s almost 30 minutes into Die Hard, for instance, before the first shot is fired. We spend a lot of time getting to know John McClane and the dismal state of his marriage and learning the geography of the Nakatomi Building before we ever see a single terrorist.
But in a sequel, we often know a lot of that stuff already, so sequels are presented with the problem of what to do in that first act. It’s tempting to think that, with the problems of introductions already finished, you can just jump straight into the action in the sequel, except that presents several problems. What about people who didn’t see the previous film? What crucial facts might people have in the interim that they might need to be reminded of? How have things changed in the interim between the first and second story? If not handled correctly, the first act of a sequel might feel as if its rushing ahead too quickly, leaving its audience behind, or conversely, that it’s spending a lot of time throat-clearing while waiting for something interesting to happen.
Amazing Spider-Man 2 manages to have both of these problems, throwing lots of complications into what should have been a fun opening action scene and then spinning its wheels for a long time after, introducing its new villains and manufacturing new problems for Peter Parker’s personal life.
We were left last time with Peter agonizing over his break-up with Gwen, Harry Osborn dealing with his father’s death and the revelation that he has inherited his father’s fatal medical condition, and electrical engineer Max Dillon having a workplace accident, falling into a vat of electric eels that then shock him to death.
So Harry Osborn is having a come-to-Jesus meeting with his board of directors over his inheriting the company, and taking his father’s pretty female assistant Felicia as his own (and I’m guessing she’s supposed to be Felicia Hardy, also known as the Black Cat in the comics, aka Sequel Bait). A servant comes in and says that Peter Parker is there to see Harry.
There’s this really awkward scene where Peter meets Harry for the first time in what we learn is eight years, It’s not just strange because we never heard about their friendship in all the Oscorp-related doings of the first film, but because of the inconvenient timing. Harry just inherited this huge fortune and out of nowhere, here comes an “old friend” to make sure he’s all right. But after some initial hesitancy, Harry opens up to Peter and they go out walking around the city to catch up, watched by nefarious agents of Oscorp.
Meanwhile, Max’s body is lying in a morgue someplace, when he comes back to life, glowing from within. Lights overload, electrical appliances turn on in his presence, and he is able to zap away a saw that would have dropped on him.
Peter gets a call from Gwen and goes to meet her, and instead of the angsty stuff of their last break-up meeting, they’re all flirty and funny again, at least until Peter reveals that he’s been stalking Gwen and Gwen tells him that she might be moving to England for a scholarship. I like the chemistry between Garfield and Stone here, but I don’t like the scene much. There’s a whole “ground rules for being just friends” bit that goes on way too long, and the whole “Going to England” thing feels weird.
Meanwhile, Max is stumbling through the streets making car alarms go off by his mere presence. He absorbs the power from a car battery and is drawn to Times Square, full of lights. He opens a grate in the street and begins to draw power from the electrical cables there, gaining the attention of the police and triggering Peter’s Spidey-sense.
So the cops arrive AMAZINGLY quickly, and we finally get our first really good look at Max’s transformation.
It’s an impressive effect, but I’m not sure what it’s supposed to be. He was zapped by eels, but he looks like a jellyfish maybe, so… I don’t know. It’s kind of cool, I guess, but I’m not sure what they were going for here.
The cops aim weapons and shout a bunch of orders, so Max gets pissed off and blasts the cars away from him. One cop looks done for, but suddenly, Spider-Man appears and catches the car, which may be a callback to the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #306, which was itself an homage to Action Comics #1.
Spider-Man tries to talk Max down, and Max keeps saying it’s his birthday (because this is all still the same day? It felt like Max was in the morgue for a while, but he may not know that), but a police sniper decides to screw with that plan, which causes Max to lash out. There’s a fight which is weirdly unbalanced, combining some action almost too fast to perceive with a drawn-out bullet-timey spider-sense moment that takes way too long to play out.
Spider-Man ends up using a firehose to short out Max’s powers, but not before Max manages to destroy a lot of Times Square. Funny that water would be his undoing, since he got his powers from electric eels and looks like a jellyfish, but what do I know?
So Peter goes home and to distract himself from thinking about Gwen going to England, he starts investigating the stuff from his father’s briefcase again. I would have thought that he already investigated it pretty thoroughly in the first film, but somehow there’s now suddenly a new set of clues that jump out at him, in the form of a note about “Roosevelt” and a subway token. He makes one of those big investigation collages on his wall, but doesn’t receive any new insights.
Unlike Harry Osborn, who accidentally drops a plastic cube his father gave him onto his desk, activating a surface computer. At Oscorp, they have seen the future, and it is a big-ass table.
Several Easter eggs in the listings here, including shout-outs to Ravencroft, Venom, and Morbius. Harry checks out some of the files and sees a video of Norman Osborn and Richard Parker, talking about how special hybrid spider-blood might be able to cure diseases. So Harry calls Peter, who has been spending all night trying to figure out how to use his webbing to absorb electricity or something. It involved a lot of zapping, anyway.
Harry has figured out that Spider-Man got his powers from the special hybrid spiders his company bred, so he asks Peter to tell him how to find Spider-Man so he can get a blood transfusion to cure his disease. Peter says he’ll “try.”
Meanwhile, Gwen is getting into trouble because she searches for Max on the company computers (and they have seriously the shittiest search algorithm ever). Gwen flees security and ends up running into Peter. They hide in a security closet and make out while discussing about three different topics simultaneously. Then Peter distracts security while Gwen escapes in the elevator, only to run into Harry, who emphasizes to Gwen that she needs to help Peter make the right decisions.
At Ravencroft Institute for the Criminally Insane, a crazy doctor named Kafka tortures and interrogates Max, who names himself Electro.
Peter comes home to find that Aunt May has discovered his wall of crazy. Peter asks her what she’s hiding from him about his father, and Sally Field gets a nice moment where she gets angry that Peter is so concerned about the father who was never there for him when she is the one who has raised him all these years. It’s not as good as the scene in the first film where Peter expresses his own hidden rage, but it’s the same type of thing.
Peter visits Harry as Spider-Man to tell him he won’t give his blood because of possible side-effects or something, then interrupts Gwen as she’s arriving for her Oxford interview to give a rambling speech about how everything is messed up. It feels like Garfield and Stone do a lot of improvising in their scenes together, which makes for some cute chemistry, but also means they meander a lot.
Frustrated, Peter goes home and rips down his wall of crazy and smashes his father’s scientific calculator, revealing lots more subway tokens. So he researches “subway” and “Roosevelt” and discovers that there was a secret subway station built for FDR (which was apparently a real thing).
At Oscorp, Harry talks to Felicia and mentions the spiders all being destroyed, apparently in response to lawsuits following the Lizard’s attack in the first film. So that means no more biocable? What will Spidey do when he runs out of webs? Harry learns of something called “Special Projects” and sees video of the torture of Max Dillon. Then like Gwen, his user access is revoked and the slimiest board member comes in to tell him he’s being forced out of the company due to falsified evidence of misdeeds.
Peter explores the subway and finds the hidden Roosevelt station. He uses one of the special tokens on a turnstile, and suddenly, the track opens up, and a special subway train rises from the ground with a super-secret genetics lab inside.
Even if you grant that the station–no.
I mean, I can sort of see how–but no.
How the hell was Richard Parker supposed to have built all this? The answer is “no.”
Peter watches the”I’m a monster” video we saw being recorded way back at the beginning, an hour-and-a-half ago (among this movie’s many sins is that it’s way too damned long), where he says how much he loves his son, but he has to keep his work from being misused by Oscorp, and it’s supposed to be a cathartic moment, but this subway bullshit has just body-slammed my suspension of disbelief like the Undertaker doing a Tombstone Piledriver, so fuck you, movie. Go back to blowing things up, please.
Which is what it will do in a big way (but not necessarily a good way) in the final part of our recap, coming next week.