The un-amazing sequel The Amazing Spider-Man 2 arrives onto home video looking and sounding…well…amazing.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the Fox and Sony acquisition of Marvel’s superheroes, it’s that they can talk a big game about doing the characters and story right, but what we actually get is another thing entirely. While closer to the source material, the 2012 reboot lacked deeper character development and left audiences only cautiously optimistic of the sequel. And while there’s a lot to like about The Amazing Spider-Man 2, it’s over-stuffed, sadly rushed, and feels more like a bridge to larger comic universe than a connected and cohesive story. Its release this week onto home video gives us a chance to revisit a franchise clearly at a crossroads and even more unsure of itself than before.
Spider-man (Andrew Garfield) is the newest hero of New York, a web-slinging smart-ass fresh from his defeat of The Lizard in The Amazing Spider-Man. He’s a better hero now, more adept and mature in his crime-fighting and utilizing those enormous powers to nearly fly through the bustling streets as the movie opens. But some people don’t know what to make of him: are his actions that of a concerned citizen, or that of a vigilante? One of those who openly supports him is the under-appreciated Oscorp electrical engineer Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), whose constant submission to others is equaled only by his blind faith and adoration for the web slinger, having saved Dillon during a deadly uranium heist by the Russian thug Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti).
While he loves the city he so brazenly defends, Peter’s one true love continues to be Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), who soon learns of Peter’s battles to learn more about his father’s death and his promise to distance himself from her. Soon their relationship will be tested with the arrival of Peter’s old friend and new Oscorp leader Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), who learns that his father’s genetic disease will soon overwhelm him, too. Osborn is also battling hostile infighting within Oscorp, leaving him desperate for answers. Taking matters into his own hands, Osborn morphs into The Green Goblin and pledges to release the now-incarcerated Dillon, whose recent accident has left him horribly disfigured but able to channel the city’s grid energy through his body. Peter’s life is about to become a lot more complicated, and not even his alter-ego superhero can save him from what comes next.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is wonderfully executed in parts and incredibly frustrating in many, many others. Star Trek penners Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci join Jeff Pinkner here to create a story that’s way overfilled to fully enjoy. It’s really three films, with two different endings that are sandwiched in for maximum effect. It starts with an unnecessarily violent opening featuring Parker’s parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) that only proves 1990’s private jets apparently had super-fast Internet speeds. Worthy of at least half of a film, Peter’s contact with his past is reduced to a hidden lab deep under the city, with a convenient message left for him. The scheming at Oscorp could have made for a deeper corporate thriller, and the death of Gwen Stacy is shoved down our throats like a water-boarding party at Gitmo. More shoe-horning arrives in the dull love story between Peter and Gwen, revealing that both Garfield and Stone do make a great couple, even when the script doesn’t deliver the goods. Much like a Sunday buffet, the choices presented are often tantalizing, but the cornucopia of flavors never result in anything standout.
And then there’s the multiple and mostly flat villains: why Spider-man had to fight three neither works out on paper nor on screen, adding further weight to a script that didn’t need it. For the most part, comic villain backstories have never really been handled particularly well, showing off their superiority in print rather than on screen (see Doctor Doom in House of M, or Thanos in Annihilation). It’s not that Foxx is bad as Electro, but Director Marc Webb makes all the mistakes he did in ASM: the transition from knocked-around Joe to madman feels too quick, as Electro seems to instantly ditch all of his morals and values for the insane power he now possesses. He becomes more of a nuisance for Parker rather than a first-class hero that Spidey can’t beat with his fists. It’s not an especially deep role, and the Oscar winner treats the role more like another day at the office than a memorable villain with evil intents. The same goes for Rhino, who’s reduced to a simple Russian thug in a mech suit. We’re sure to see more of Giamatti in Sinister Six in 2016, but that should have been the place to properly introduce him, not here. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 feels more like a placeholder for Sinister Six, rather than a smart or poignant movie about the price we pay for our convictions.
The only villain worthy of our time is Green Goblin, whose hatred for Spider-man and Peter feels like a friendship utterly destroyed. DeHann is very good here, caught between a man dying from a hereditary disease and a company trying to undermine his recent coronation. His seemingly miraculous cure via the Goblin suit feels totally forced, thanks to an all-too short sequence of a display panel on the suit saying so. But it’s his icy glares and general creepiness that makes us worry for Parker and Gwen, leading to the film’s gripping ending. Here, Osborn is a damaged soul, and his spat with dying father Norman (Chris Cooper) could have easily been added to a separate film. Norman is a central figure in the Spider-man universe, and to dismiss him so quickly is just another example of a shoe-horned element that needed more time to grow.
What does work more consistently is the action: Director Webb uses Spider-man’s web-slinging to its fullest potential, as if both he and Parker have matured their powers into a greater force for good. Parker relishes in that role, from the wise-ass comments to an overwhelming desire to save as many people as possible from collateral damage during the first big action set piece. But it’s Webb who delivers some of the best action of any superhero film we’ve seen, slowing things down to show us a destination or a goal, and pulling back just enough to allow the action envelope the moviegoer without overwhelming us. In many ways, Webb gets Spider-man , employing Garfield as the encapsulation of Spider-man from the moment he dons the suit. Stone and Garfield have tremendous chemistry, perhaps a by-product of their real-life relationship, and their smooching sometimes makes you want to direct them to a room. But when that (second) ending arrives, it makes Webb’s very smart direction incredibly poignant. But which ending represents the film’s true one?
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is filled with thrills that check off all the boxes for a typical summer flick. Its heart-wrenching ending elevates the price that Peter must pay for being Spider-man. And yet it’s nearly crushed by its own weight, making us wonder why they continue to sacrifice story for iconic Spidey moments. Considering the somewhat flat box office numbers, it seems like moviegoers are experiencing similar overload. Sony’s about-face on the franchise – as of this post, the studio pushed back plans for ASM3 to 2018, and are searching for a female hero – proves that they themselves are worried that their expansion of the universe is off to a poor start.
If the movie itself is disappointing, Sony’s home release sure looks and sounds good doing so. Shot with film and then transferred to the digital realm, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 sports a MPEG-4/AVC transfer that retains just enough grain while delivering crystal clear video. The skyscrapers of NYC are well-defined, as is both the real and imagined Times Square. Skintones are lifelike and make up from Electro to Harry Osborn as the Green Goblin never look hokey. The greens in Goblin’s suit and the trees surrounding the cemetery are rich and robust, as is Spidey’s dark blue/red suit. There, we can see the fine detail behind the mesh material, which comes off almost like chainmail. Blacks and shadows play very well together, proving that the value of this track each time we switch from day to night. It’s clear that each scene was evaluated and adjusted so that every aspect was accentuated. Finally, there’s no evidence of banding, aliasing, or edge enhancement, leading to award it one of the top video tracks of the year.
From the moment this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 gets started, we know we’re in for a ride. This is a true surround track, with audio clearly and cleanly separated, rather than the normal duplication of sounds front to back. Starting with the front speakers, we get a mix of music and sound effects, with dialogue limited to cross noise and restaurant chatter. Sounds move effortlessly between them, such as the chase scene in Chapter 2 – Alexi’s truck and the pursuing police cars start in one speaker and move according to the visuals. Our dialogue track is neatly securely in the center channel, boosted to dominate everything else. Then there’s the surround speakers, which also deliver music but adds an entirely new set of environmentals and even bits of dialogue like shouting. Listen to chapters 2 & 3 for street noise, graduation photos being snapped, and water flowing from the Hudson River. Not willing to stand idly by, the LFE pulses and pounds from Electro’s lightning bolts to Rhino’s mechanized suit. Gunfire, explosions, and even time keepers play freely through the LFE, completing the experience. The anthem from Composer Hans Zimmer rings proudly throughout the track, inspiring us to invent web slingers of our own. This is reference-grade audio at its finest, and Sony should be commended for the result.
- Audio Commentary: Producers Matt Tolmach and Avi Arad and Writers Alex Kurtzman and Jeff Pinkner sit down to discuss the film in ways both big and small. They cover almost every conceivable part of production including those wonderfully dynamic anecdotes that add greater color to a production. Even if you’re not a Spider-man fan but are curious about what happens behind the scenes of a big-budget movie, this track definitely entertains.
- Deleted & Alternate Scenes (23:01): Much like the film itself, the deleted scenes contain a menagerie of worthwhile and unneeded submissions. Luckily, we get to listen to Director Marc Webb talk about each one. Scenes include Peter Meets His Father (5:10), Cockpit Discovery (1:31), Flash Forward (1:09), Max’s Mother (1:41), Mayhem in the Morgue (1:26), Missing Each Other (2:15), Peter Visits Harry (4:21), Oxford Acceptance (1:04), Is Peter Home? (0:49), Chasing Gwen (1:48), Birth of the Goblin (1:27), Felicia Sees Her Boss (0:46), and Goblin Kills Menken (0:30).
- The Wages of Heroism: Making The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (1:43:42): This is the kind of supplement we deserve for major releases. A terrific six-part feature that much better than the film. Each segment is outlined below.
- Lessons Learned: Development and Direction (18:59): This looks at several broad categories regarding the film’s genesis, from Peter’s character, building the story around Gwen’s death, Dane DeHaan’s and Jamie Foxx’s characters and performances, shooting in New York, and shooting on film rather than in digital.
- Heart of the City: Shooting in New York (12:34): One of my favorite cities – The Big Apple – stands front and center as a majority of the film, reflecting Webb’s desire to shoot everything in-camera. We learn about the challenges of shooting in The City, as well as some of the incredible real stunts that were performed in cities like Rochester.
- Triple Threat: Attack of the Villains (20:56): We learn about the specifics of reconstructing Time Square, the shooting of the power plant and clock tower sequences, Garfield’s poignant reaction to Gwen’s death, and the making the bookended action scene of Rhino.
- A More Dangerous World: Transforming Goblin and Electro (10:10): We dig into Electro’s makeup and Foxx’s reaction, as well as the various versions of Green Goblin’s glider. It certainly shows how many hands are needed to bring these creatures to life.
- Bolt from the Blue: Visual Effects (17:42): This one discusses the need for the perfect combination of believability and epic cinematic poses without looking contrived. We see how various animation styles are utilized (both practical and digital) to bring the movie to life. There are a lot of reused behind-the-scenes parts from other features, as well as several revisited elements.
- Spidey Gets His Groove Back: Music and Editing (24:09): As a fan of film music, I appreciated such a deep discussion of Composer Hans Zimmer’s score. We learn how Zimmer’s desire to give Spider-man an iconic theme led a sort of Dream Team of collaborators including Pharrell Williams and Junkie XL. We see construction of the score in its purest form, in scenes from Zimmer’s studio, and the molding of what I’d consider the best theme ever made for Spider-man. We also learn how Editor Pietro Scalia stitches various elements (sound, effects, etc) while keeping the budget within reason. These elements (when used correctly) can elevate a film far beyond the script.
- The Music of Amazing Spider-Man 2 with Director Marc Webb (8:09): Director Webb sits down to discuss his vision for the score and the way Composer Han Zimmer carried that out. Again, it’s great to see music taking such an important role in a home release.
- Music Video (3:49): Why we didn’t get all of the trailers and this video by Alicia Keys instead is beyond me. Regardless, it’s here.
Our evaluation copy arrived as a 2d 50GB Blu-ray/Combo Pack and a Digital HD copy of the movie. The slipcase is embossed and attractive, but there is no interior artwork. At the time of this posting, there are several upgraded packages availble, including the Amazon exclusive with light-up Electro head and Best Buy’s ‘magno’ packs for both the 2d and 3d. Thanks to Sony Pictures for providing us with so many terrific options.
Considering the mess that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has created for Sony, it’s appropriate to ask whether it can survive on Sinister Six and an unannounced female superhero film in its near future. Should it prove true that Sony gives back the Spider-man franchise to Marvel at some point, this would be the place where the train came off the rails. The home release is far superior than the film itself, sporting reference-quality audio and video, while the supplements could be the best we’ve seen in 2014. Our score takes into account our reaction to the film, thus the reason for a ‘4’. With the franchise clearly at a crossroads, who knows if we’ll see Spider-man look and sound so good again. Pick this one up, if no other reason than to own a superior product.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence.and has a runtime of 142 minutes.