REVIEW: ‘Amazing Spider-Man 2’ And The Trouble With Outline Filmmaking

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
is a perfect example of what happens when a movie is no longer just a movie, but a small component of some cross-platform media franchise strategy. I imagine it’s hard to write a coherent script when your every creative decision has a synergistic butterfly effect, where a twinkle in Spider-Man’s codpiece in Amazing Spider-Man 2 can become a full solar eclipse in the Sinister 6 Nestle Grabass Hour, coming to Amazon Fire in 2019. Duuuude, you can’t kill off Clitterestro, he has to lead the Frigid Four against Venomous Vadge in season seven! Won’t someone think of the tie-ins?!

And that, kids, is how we get Dane Dehaan’s bangs teaming up with black Emperor Palpatine for a city-wide dub-step rave.

That isn’t to say that AmSpi 2 is terrible, or even a particularly bad movie. It’s not. Or at least, it didn’t have to be. It has a lot of things going for it. The cast is terrific, from Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone (so pretty…) on down to Jamie Foxx and Paul Giamatti, who’s only in the film for about five minutes total (I’m gonna go out on a limb and say he’ll be back later). You don’t need an Oscar nominated actor to play an insane Russian with barbed wire tattooed on his head anymore than you need an Oscar-winning one to play an electrified dub-step monster, but I do applaud the hustle.

And after the frenetic shot-reverse editing of the fight scenes in Cap 2, the slowed down wide shots and bullet-time effects of Amazing Spider-Man 2 are a breath of fresh air. You can actually tell what’s happening! Neat! That is, aside from the opening plane scene, where the camera operators are literally shaking the cameras around to create the illusion of chaos. Who knew Jerry Springer was going to influence a generation of stunt coordinators? It’s shot so differently from the rest of the movie that you wonder if a second unit shot this part at the last minute. The whole movie feels like a lot of really talented people coming together to create a thrown together mess.

Pretty much everything ‘Zing Spi 2 does well is crushed under the weight of Sony’s future plans and the script’s oppressive obligations to the greater Spidey universe. It may represent a new low in “outline filmmaking,” depending how you weigh it against the extended trailer that was Iron Man 2.

There are benefits to having an outline when you’re telling a story, but too-specific outlines can act as a limiter on creativity, forcing the writer(s) to make leaps in logic and create vague plotting in order to hit every bullet point. Like your sister, storytelling tends to snowball. One decision leads to another leads to another, sparks some new, even crazier idea, and then you go back and tweak the first few, over and over, and eventually you get something even better.

There were only two years between Amazing Spider-Man 1 and 2, which isn’t a lot of time in the first place, and add to that the necessity to tie everything in to this larger universe that includes The Sinister Six and whatever else (all in the name of that sweet, sweet ancillary revenue). All of which adds up to Sony’s creative brain trust not having much time to create a wildly complex outline that Mark Webb and his softball team’s worth of screenwriters have to stick to pretty religiously to keep from screwing up the larger universe.

It’s competently made in so many ways, but the bulk of 2 Spidey Deuce just feels like the filmmakers having to drag around every vague idea they had during the outlining phase. There are bits you get to throw out or alter during the editing process when you’re making a movie. But when you’re fashioning a log flume ride inside a massive ancillary revenue stream, you’re sort of stuck with them. A messy movie can be fun, when it’s the product of one person’s messy attempt to explore an idea (Noah, say). Not so much when it’s the product of 25 people not knowing quite what they want to make a movie about.

Credit where credit’s due, the film works for about 20 minutes. Peter Parker is just a young bro livin’ his life, trying to balance his relationship with his special lady and his responsibility saving the world from every psychopath trying to hijack plutonium in Midtown Manhattan, all while struggling to keep the promise he made to the ghost of Denis Leary, to stay away from this girl for her own safety. So far so good. But then you throw in Peter Parker’s search for his parents, the rise of Harry Osborn, corporate shenanigans at Oscorp, a secret train station that runs on secret tokens for some reason (??), a lab for experimenting on mutants Wolverine-style, and origin stories for the Rhino, Green Goblin, and Electro, there’s just too much ground to cover for any one storyline not to be vague and unsatisfying†. If Peter Jackson had made this movie, it’d be 37 hours long.

It takes so many complete character reversals to make these villains happen that you get a lot of “yadda yadda yadda, he hates Spider-Man now.” I swear, Spider-Man could make somebody a latte that was too hot and that character would dedicate the rest of his life to building a giant disemboweling machine or nuclear-powered scrote ripper. It’s not just their motives, even their powers are vague. Take Electro (please!). Does he suck power out of things, or shoot power into things? Is he a giant battery, or composed entirely of electrical currents? Considering this is the central macguffin of the film, you’d think it’d be a little more clear. Moreover, ill-defined powers like shooting magic lightning bolts just aren’t as interesting to watch as specific, clearly-defined ones, like, say, Dr. Octopus’s giant, sentient metal arms (God damn do I love me Dr. Octopus). Electro basically just shows up and stuff explodes because dub-step, and you’re not really sure what he even wants. Meanwhile, Harry Osborn’s descent into evil is communicated almost entirely through Dane Dehaan’s hair, the hardest working bangs in show business.

I guess this is all a long way of saying, if you were wondering whether The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a big, overstuffed mess, yes, it’s a big overstuffed mess. It’s not a movie so much as it’s a casualty of a mass-marketing campaign.


Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. You can find more of his work on FilmDrunk, the Uproxx network, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.

†Slightly more spoilery critique to follow:


My favorite moment of “yadda yadda yadda” style writing was when Gwen demands to come with Spider-Man for his showdown with Electro. “Only I know how to shut down the power grid!” she says, she being the school valedictorian and an employee of Oscorp and all. Then, when it comes time to actually shut down the power grid, she does it via, you guessed it, a gigantic red switch underneath a plastic shield reading “EMERGENCY SHUT DOWN” in enormous letters. Phew, thank goodness she studied the power grid, she never would’ve figured that out.