What I love most about superhero movies is the visceral way that imagination is made “solid.” It’s why most people prefer movies in general over books or something– to see and hear and sometimes even FEEL every blast of superhero power, every explosion, the crunch of fists into concrete (or villains’ faces) is experienced on a different level.
If that’s your test, then this movie does rise to that challenge and even succeeds, as I said in my previous post on “What’s Good.” So I would recommend the film purely in terms of summer blockbuster moviegoing experiences. If you feel that narrative structure and clear development of main characters are important, then this film won’t be for you, however. I can certainly sympathize with your decision and won’t fault you if you want to skip it entirely.
Spoiler Alert: Orange
There are no plot holes, necessarily, but neither is the plot logic very strong. In other words, there’s no reason that character’s decisions MUST necessarily follow from their choices, and the result is that these characters are strange to us. This is happens not only with our leads but it’s even moreso a problem for the villains, who seem to exist in a weird, B-plot alternate reality that somehow finds its way into the main storyline at a couple of points. Also, while I’m indeed a fan of non-linear storytelling, having Peter and Gwen be together, then break up, then be together, then break up, then be together, is really an example of that. The through-line of the narrative is just a mess, with the exception of the very final decision at the end of the film– Spoiler alert! Peter Parker chooses to be Spider-Man. In this case, to be fair, it felt like an appropriate decision of the character and did help to establish a theme for our story.
Other parts to the story seem like they were meant to be as purposeful as that, but like jokes that fail to “land,” they ultimately feel completely arbitrary. Harry is meant to be Peter’s friend, but also one that they hadn’t seen for over ten years, so why should Peter suddenly go check on him? Harry’s dad was meant to be behind all the horrors of OsCorp, so why not have him the victim of a medical condition turning him into a Goblin creature, conveniently explaining that to his son so that he can turn into an evil Spider-Man villain, too. And I’m not sure if we are meant to think Harry is smart for figuring out Spidey’s secret identity, or if it’s just a hand-wavey shortcut to get to the final sequence.
I’m not sure about the logic behind having Parker’s parents shown in this story, either. The very first sequence of the film is spent in flashback as Peter is left behind with his parents so they can escape some OsCorp evil henchmen who are after their research, and they even get an action scene! Then, in a weird kind of C-plot, Peter occasionally glances at the reminder of his parents, his dad’s leather man-bag, and grows increasingly angsty about it, maybe even crazed, until he uncovers the clues to lead him to a hidden lair that contains a mysterious lab for some reason, one completely operational and with a message already downloaded and ready to go from 15 years ago/our initial flashback. You’d be hard-pressed to really connect this to any part of the overall story– maybe it helps explain something going on in Harry’s story, and maybe it helps thematically for Peter to “keep calm and carry on,” but isn’t that when Gwen’s supposed to be doing? This is just a weak addition to an already flawed story structure.
It’s too bad that I have to spend all this time before coming to who is supposed to be the main villain of this film, Electro. The film itself kind of forgets about him, too, which is doubley ironic (meta-irony?) since his main characterization is how he just wants to be recognized. He shows up amid the opening sequence that serves as Spider-Man’s introduction/reestablishment of character, abilities, setting, etc., and has a couple of cut scenes in that jumbled, zig-zag plot pattern I already talked about. Great care is made to give this character a lot of pathos, and Foxx does his best to really emote a genuine connection with the audience, so it’s kind of tragic, maybe even oversimplifyingly so, that he degenerates into a more cliche villain and finally into simply being a force of nature by the end of his appearance. Once again, there appears to be some purpose for hammering his origin and its emotional resonance so hard, but in the end the audience would really have to stretch to make a thematic connection to Spider-Man’s own journey.
Overall, the filmmakers seemed very interested in how to set things up, and they also seemed really interested in how the film ended. But in-between, everything is too muddled and disjointed to really say it’s an overall “good” story. Let’s hope all the “What’s Good” I talked about in the previous post is enough to satisfying movie-goers.
In fact, I can report that the audience I saw it with, in Taiwan, felt most of the important story beats, and I’m pretty sure that they were all unaware of the Gwen Stacy story from the comics, judging from their reactions. That scene came off surprisingly well, from the performance to the camera to the music. I even heard some sniffles.
I’m not sure the theme came through, however. My friend told me he didn’t like the movie because of what happened in that scene. I tried to explain the great tragedy of being Spider-Man, but he wasn’t convinced.
I guess he wanted something a little bit more typically Hollywood in the ending.