I’m a bit tired of having to tell you all to just ignore negative reviews that seem to be about an entirely different film than the one under review. But, here we go again…
I’ll keep it short and simple: The negative reviews are only correct to the extent they merely reflect those writers’ personal lack of enjoyment of The Amazing Spider-Man, but are otherwise unrelated to the reality of the quality of this film. And they’re definitely unrelated to the likelihood *you* will enjoy it, dear readers, because I’m pretty sure most of you are going to love it. But before I get into the nitty gritty of reviewing the film’s content (but avoiding any significant spoilers, don’t worry), let’s get into the nitty gritty of its box office prospects first.
We already know this was an expensive film — and you can see every dime up there on the screen, because it looks incredible — so it will have to perform big to recoup it’s estimated $250 million budget and $150+ million marketing expenses. Lucky for Sony, then, that it appears The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is indeed headed toward a big domestic debut performance.
Tracking suggests it will take in close to $100 million on Friday through Sunday, which combined with its current $132 million in foreign receipts would bring the film’s worldwide cume to a healthy $232 million so far. Then, we’d have to add this weekends overseas gross, which should be enough to push the final tally to somewhere around $300 million (give or take) by close of business Sunday.
Historically, however, this domestic weekend is among the biggest of the year, and the previous five years have seen a steady financial rise in “opening summer salvo” first weekends of May. The five-year average total take for the top five films each year on this weekend is around $160+ million (again, we’re talking strictly domestic here), with the last two years seeing numbers approaching or exceeding $200 million for the top five performers combined, driven by The Avengers in 2012 and Iron Man 3 in 2013. But that’s because of Marvel branding and Robert Downey Jr.’s face, and while The Amazing Spider Man 2 has the advantage of being a Spidey film with Marvel branding, it doesn’t have the built-in Avengers ties nor Downey’s beloved mug to give it that added box office oomph.
Still, even though the average is skewed a bit due to those last two Marvel bohemiths, it’s still the average. So, if the top four holdovers can manage to pull in $35-40 million, Spidey would theoretically do in the $120 million neighborhood for the weekend hit the average total. Dial down some to adjust for the Marvel-Downey factor of previous years, though, and it’s more likely we’d see something right smack dab in the $100 million range from Spidey to continue the more reasonable adjusted annual trend.
I’m going to be optimistic about its prospects and go with $105 million, and say the upward end is in the neighborhood of $110 million. But regardless, it’s definitely set to finish somewhere between at least $95 million and a more optimistic $105 million, which is all good news for the studio any way you slice it.
The first film in director Marc Webb’s rebooted series took a bit over $60 million on its domestic opening weekend, Friday through Sunday. But it actually had an entire week of lead-in screenings that racked up $75 million before the first weekend ever got started, giving the film a total of $137 million by the end of its first North American weekend. That was in July, though, and it was up against two holdovers (Ted and Brave) that hadn’t been out long and were still pulling down big weekend numbers. So the different month, opening weekday lead-in, and competition make a comparison difficult. But on its second weekend, that first movie then ran into the wall that was The Dark Knight Rises, but despite that Spidey was still able to pull down $752 million worldwide.
The long-term outlook, then, is pretty good for The Amazing Spider-Man 2. It’s got far more “event-status” feel this time around, it looks (here comes the pun) amazing, and it’s going to get good word of mouth from audiences, which should all help it take the $100 plus/minus opening domestic weekend and run farther with stronger legs than its predecessor had, while overseas it should enjoy a strong and long run for the same reasons plus foreign audiences’ liking 3D a bit more than folks do here in the states. But the quality of the 3D is so high in this film — easily the best I’ve seen of any superhero movie to date, and some of the best overall in years – that will help boost the 3D ticket sales, I bet.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is about to hit the $670+ million mark this weekend, on its way toward probably $700 million worldwide, nearly two-thirds of which came from foreign markets. And he’s dressed up in an American flag, in a spy thriller set mostly in Washington, D.C. Well, nobody doesn’t like ‘em some Spidey, and now that he’s been reestablished, his sequel with so many villains and incredible visuals and loads of humor wrapped up in some of the nicest looking 3D should be good enough to top the last film by a good margin. Sony should expect at least $800 million and more likely they’re looking at something approaching $900 million. IF, that is, word of mouth is good enough. Which brings us to the main review…
This started out as one of the movies highest on my must-see list for the year, but as negative reviews rolled in I started to get worried. So, I tempered my expectations a bit and walked into the theater with hopeful and eager to see it, yet equally open to the fact it might be a disappointment and that I would complain and bemoan lost opportunity if it was indeed a bad or just underwhelming production. And when it was over, I wondered just what the hell movie the negative reviewers had seen, because it sure wasn’t the one I’d just watched.
Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films were popular, and of course got a lot right, especially in the second installment. However, those films never felt entirely faithful when it came to the portrayal of Peter Parker and Spider-Man. Then came Marc Webb’s first reboot film of the franchise, which actually managed to surpass Raimi’s trilogy and get closer to the source material. But with The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I’ve finally witnessed the Spider-Man movie I’ve been waiting for my entire life.
If the previous installment was a bit darker and more somber, this one retains some of that edge but then injects a massive dose of pure comic book joy. This is what a Spider-Man movie would look like if Marvel Studios made it, basically — by which I mean the tone, the “living, breathing comic book” quality, the humor and charisma and chemistry of the cast, is all here. It’s what you get when you combine the best elements of Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 — namely, its comic book sensibilities plus quality villain portrayal and imaginative, vibrantly colorful action sequences and lovely cityscapes — with the best elements of Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man — meaning very faithful to the comics, great performances from actors who really encapsulate the characters perfectly, a Spidey who is lifted right off the comic pages in the way he looks and moves and speaks, and an attempt to actually tell a more complex story with honest emotions.
Several other reviews complain that the story was muddled, or that it’s just a CGI-fest, or that there are too many villains, or that it tries to do too much, and to all of that I just have to say, “Wrong!” I really am not sure why anyone would think the story is muddled. It’s a nicely complicated (ahem) web that all ties together in the end, there are a few good twists that add to Spidey’s origin, and it’s all going somewhere in the future, too. There are reasons, in other words, for everything that happens, and even seemingly minor elements end up mattering. Plus there’s some nice character-building going on — even Aunt May has an arc and some changes in her life to deal with.
Peter’s search for the truth about his parents progresses significantly this time around, and answers some of the questions raised in the previous film. What doesn’t progress well for him, however, is his relationship with Gwen, since the two are on-again/off-again and its hurting both of their abilities to move forward with their lives. Harry Osborn arrives in town, and we discover he used to be good friends with Peter before Peter’s parents died. Now, Harry faces a difficult situation that brings him and Peter back together. Aunt May is struggling to face life without Ben, including paying bills and raising a young man (Peter) who is embarking on adulthood and needs her less at precisely the time she most needs to be needed. An Oscorp electrical engineer named Max, meanwhile, lives a depressing life without friends and without anyone’s respect, and a chance encounter with Spider-Man simultaneously lifts his spirits while making him realize the full extent of his loneliness and how little he matters to everybody.
That’s the setup, and its all about choices and needs. People needing people who are not available to them or who are slipping away. People feeling powerless against forces in the world that deny them the things they most love. People making choices that take them away from those who need and love them. Watch as these themes play out for every single person, one way or another (even Peter’s parents, even Harry’s father — that’s how thoroughly the story serves its characters and themes). And the film rightly focuses mostly on these themes within the everyday lives of the characters, letting them interact and just talk to one another a lot for a superhero movie.
Indeed, there are actually a relatively small number of major superhero moments in this story — it opens with a funny superhero-event-in-progress sequence, and then we don’t see Spidey really doing any fighting until Electro shows up midway through. That battle is spectacular (and again I have to point out that even the jaded critics sitting around me spoke highly of the 3D in these sequences), sad, funny, and avoids getting too big or too loud. After that, there isn’t another real “superhero sequence” until the climax, which is again beautiful to behold and relatively restrained — it doesn’t go on very long, really, and the answer harkens back to a series of science-related discussions and jokes earlier in the film (a nice set of reminders that Peter and Gwen are both very smart science geeks, by the way).
There are a few smaller scenes with Peter donning his costume to swing around the city and watch Gwen. The best is a wonderful little moment involving bullying that speaks to the larger themes about choices and needs, and which surprisingly comes back around for a nice payoff late in the movie — a payoff that is going for tear-jerking, yes, but it earns it and it totally works, and every kid in the theater was grinning and clapping when it came. It might be a little cheesy, but Spider-Man is sometimes at his best with a little cheese.
The wit in the script is refreshing, because it’s what Spider-Man needs most. His goofiness and joking manner — not just verbal but physical humor — is as important to him here as it is for Downey’s Iron Man, more so in fact because it’s always been a defining characteristic for Spidey. He’s a teenager, and although he has a lot of guilt and angst, and although he realizes his heavy responsibilities, he is still mostly a kid and being a superhero feels pretty cool and fun to him. Andrew Garfield previously delivered a great performance as Spider-Man, but he tops himself this time out.
I cannot stress enough to you how much this film presents us with a Spider-Man ripped straight from the pages of the very best comic book stories. He moves like Spider-Man, he talks like Spider-Man, he sounds like Spider-Man. But he also moves, talks, and sounds like Peter Parker. And he manages to bridge that gap between Peter’s burdened ordinary self and the guy he becomes when he puts on the mask. It’s no small feat to show us how donning a costume transforms someone’s sense of self and behavior toward others, but Garfield manages it and it’s a key element of his character this time around — the contrasting and complimenting of each side of his life with the other.
Peter’s relationship with Gwen is the primary story here, and it wouldn’t work nearly as well if not for the fact Garfield and Emma Stone have the best chemistry of any couple in the history of the comic book genre. Their playful banter, their arguments, their confusion, and their love all feels authentic.
Stone’s portrayal overcomes one of the biggest problems in the “troubled superhero relationship” storyline — making the superhero’s love interest seem entirely reasonable and strong while complaining about the fact their partner is a superhero who saves lives all the time. Sure, it must be difficult to date a superhero and have to share them with the entire world a lot of the time. But it always ultimately comes across as selfish, petty, and wildly unrealistic when their partner acts unhappy to be dating a superhero, or seems unsympathetic to the hero’s sense of duty and to the hero’s physical and/or emotional trauma.
Gwen’s difficulties with Peter are rooted in the fact she does accept his role as Spider-Man and wants to be part of his world, but he keeps her at a distance. It’s Peter who keeps letting his superhero life come between them, not Gwen, and her frustrations with Peter and the things that drive her away from him are his lack of faith in their love and his lack of trust in her to make her own choices. Gwen has an entire life of her own apart from Peter. She’s a scientist, she wants — really, enthusiastically wants — to go to Oxford to study. When she gets suspicious about goings on at Oscorp, she investigates it herself and figures things out.
She loves Peter, but she won’t put her life on hold to wait for him to respect her choices, especially since she has shown so much respect for his choices. Gwen doesn’t ask to be protected when danger rears its head, she gets pissed off in fact if Spider-Man tries to protect her. And just as she was in the heat of things during the Lizard’s attacks in the first film, she steps up again this time and won’t back down despite the dangers. She knows she can help and she’s not letting Peter stop her “for her own good.” Stone makes it all work, she sells Gwen’s personality and reactions so perfectly that it really highlights the shortcomings of most other romances in the genre — and in the rom-com genre, where this film certainly has one foot firmly planted.
Jaimie Foxx’s Max/Electro is a strange man who doesn’t deserve to be alone and ridiculed just because he’s different and a bit odd. Part of what’s turned him so odd is the fact he’s lonely and mistreated. It’s not inaccurate to say Electro, at least early on after he gets his powers, is still being mistreated by people who won’t listen and would rather call him a “freak” than try to help him. Even after he transforms and shows up in public with his new powers, there’s something touching in his plea for the police to please stop hurting him and listen to his attempts to explain himself. But nobody listens, and the results are an escalating tragedy. He ends up as a lab rat, dehumanized in even more humiliating ways by the same company — Oscorp — that previously treated him so shabbily in the first place and turned him into Electro. He’s tortured, mocked, and rendered helpless again, so when he finally unleashes his full power once he’s set free, it’s kind of hard not to sympathize at least a little bit with the poor guy.
Foxx makes Max a loveably weird character. He’s awkward, desperate for attention, talks to himself, and just wants people to treat him nice someimes. On his birthday, he buys himself a cake and a card, and when Gwen remembers his name it means everything to him. Electro isn’t evil, he’s just a sad man who was hurt one time too many until he decided that if the world cares so little about him and his suffering, then he’ll let them all see what it’s like to be alone and powerless. The unspoken endgame is that they’ll all regret failing to appreciate him and will be endlessly grateful when he returns power to them as only he will be able to do. He wants to be known, to be remembered — and he wants to be appreciated, more than anything else.
Dane DeHaan’s Harry Osborn is an equally tragic sort of character, albeit more selfish than Max — but also more desperate. Harry was sent away as a child, feeling unwanted and unloved, only to return home and discover the future is even more bleak for him. He reaches out to Peter as an only friend, first for companionship and later out of very real need to save himself. Peter’s choice about how far to go in helping Harry, and Harry’s choice about how far he’ll go when nobody else will help him, set up a spiraling series of confrontations that unleash darker forces we’ll see play out in the next film as well. Because while Harry’s desperation is driving him to do terrible things, it’s obvious there was always something within Harry capable of evil deeds even without the motivation of mortality.
A word about Aunt May’s arc — Sally Field has limited screen time, but boy she makes the most of it. This is a woman who has lost so much, and who now sees this young man insisting on making his own way in the world after she’s raised him like her own son. She’s afraid of what more she might lose, she’s exhausted but forces herself to keep going, and when she finally cannot hold it in anymore, we get a scene that all by itself is possibly better than any shared moment between Peter and Aunt May in the history of Spider-Man comics and films.
And that’s what I love about this movie. It’s concerned with emotions and lives first and foremost, not fights and special effects. It’s a romance and a family drama and a comedy, as much as it’s a superhero film. Which is what Spider-Man was always like in the first place. Peter’s everyday life, and the lives of the regular people around him, defined what was best about Spider-Man, and this film gets it all right.
But yes, there’s action and visual effects, and as I’ve made clear it’s pretty awesome. These are the best Spider-Man action sequences put to film so far, by a wide margin. It’s exciting and visually delicious, and all the while Spidey cracks wise and seems like a kid perpetually in over his head either trying to hold on for dear life or having a blast because he doesn’t realize how close to death he could be at any moment. Director Marc Webb handles the action and effects as deftly as he handles the emotional character moments and relationships. As with the previous film, he doesn’t use a bunch of quick-cuts or hard to follow editing and visual overload. The action makes sense, you understand who is doing what and where they are, and you can see everything clearly while the bright colors and 3D actually serve to enhance the experience rather than just inflate the ticket price.
The costume has changed, and looks marvelous (ouch, I said it). The musical score is another exercise in experimental scoring by Hans Zimmer, and he does some remarkable things with Electro’s theme. And one more time — the visual effects team knocked it out of the park, achieving a remarkable mix of realism and fantasy.
As a young child, my favorite superheroes were Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, and Captain America. Spider-Man was unique — while most comic book characters just pretend to be normal, geeky, average people but are really superheroes, Spider-Man wears a costume and has powers like a superhero, but he’s realy just a normal, geeky, average person underneath. He appeals to many young fans for the same reason, and we’ve all waited a long time to see Spider-Man truly finally realized in live-action the way he was meant to be.
Well, the wait’s over, dear readers. Everything you know and love about the comics is here, in spades. So ignore the negative reviews and trust me, this is the Spider-Man we’ve been waiting for.