Everyone else has been talking about it, so why shouldn’t I? I’ll avoid what everyone else is talking about, how ASM2 is Sony’s blatant attempt at building their own version of the Marvel Universe (and making that sweet, sweet Extended Universe money). Instead, let’s talk about some of the more obvious flaws in the screenplay.
Holy shit does this movie suck at exposition. I hesitate to say this, because as many people seem to think, there are no set rules for writing screenplays. However, ASM2 dies break one of the earliest screenwriting rules I learned. When we are first introduced to Harry Osbourne it’s during a scene in which he is seeing his father for the first time in something like eight or nine years. At one point Harry says, I shit you not, “I was eleven when you sent me to that boarding school…” He goes on to explain the entire backstory between him and Norman.
Is that necessary information for the audience to understand the divide between father and son? Sure, I guess. But when writing dialogue (and believe me, I’m not particularly good at writing dialogue but even I know not to be this lazy) you shouldn’t have characters say things to one another they already know. A lot of the movie is like this and it comes across as if they filmed the first draft of the script, before the writers had a chance to refine certain elements.
If you can call it that. Nobody cares about Peter Parker’s parents, and the resolution to that “mystery” actually undermines his comic book origins and clicheifies (patent pending) everything in an attempt to make everyone interconnect. The bigger issue with it is that it’s not compelling. We’re never given a reason to care about Peter’s parents outside of the fact that Peter seems to care. But even then he spends the majority of the film avoiding learning more about his parents’ disappearance. Hell, one of the most effective scenes in the film is when Aunt May explains to Peter why he shouldn’t care what happened to them because they essentially abandoned him. In other words, the film doesn’t seem to give much weight to the central mystery so why should the audience?
As a storyteller if there is a mystery, the audience needs to want to see it solved. The way you get the audience to want to see it solved is by giving the characters a huge stake in its solving. ASM2 fails in both counts.
Lack of Narrative Focus
This is the biggest complaint with the film from most parties. Because Sony is attempting to expand the Spider-Man Universe in order to create spin-off films they attempted to fulfill the origins of three villains in this film. The next film might handle three more (in order to complete the Sinister Six spin-off). Not to mention the central mystery discussed above, Peter’s relationship with Gwen, Peter’s relationship with Aunt May, and everything revolving around Spider-Man and his daily exploits. That is just a ton for a narrative to handle, not that it can’t if smart choices are made. But they’re not here.
For example, a major issue is that the film is trying to handle two major villain origins. They are tenuously tied together in theme and setting, but only tenuously. If the villains were tied together in a more concrete way – friends before they became super-villains, for example – the movie wouldn’t carry such a burden in trying to bring them together. As a matter of fact, the film fails in bringing them together. Instead we get two major action set-pieces spaced a minute apart.
As I learned with The Time Bubble, sometimes less is more. A streamlined story can do wonders by keeping the focus on the characters at the heart of the story. If ASM2 were 100 minutes of Peter and Gwen going on dates, Peter and Harry broing out, and Peter and Aunt May fretting about bills, plus 20 minutes of fight scenes, I think I’d have been happy. Instead the relationships get lost in the more marketable aspects of the film.
There is a lot wrong with this version of Spider-Man. However, there is also a lot they got right. The casting is spot-on. The chemistry between Peter and Gwen is palpable. The quiet moments in the film have a lot going for them. And sometimes it’s enough to elevate the material around it to something enjoyable.
However, if the rest of the series is going to feel as rushed and haphazard as this particular film feels, it will be a greatly wasted opportunity.