The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has been one of my least favourite films released this year, drawing almost equal ire from me as Transformers: Age of Extinction. You can read my original review of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 here. And so it was with great interest that I read Andrew Garfield’s interview with The Daily Beast this week, which included him answering some questions along the lines of “what went wrong?” Garfield was quick to diplomatically point the finger at the studio and politely argue that they interfered too much. Now while I can agree that, that was one of the film’s failings, there was something else that hugely bothered me about it and made me see it as a pile of dung, but first:
The bane of studio interference
ASM2 (I’m not typing the full title each time) is not the first comic book movie to show signs of having studio heads come in and change things up for what seems to be the worse. X-Men: The Last Stand (the third film) and Babylon A.D. have acquired rumours, sometimes interviews, that point towards the films having too heavy a hand smothering them. The evidence for the third X-Men film is hugely evident in the deleted and alternative scenes that can be viewed on some DVDs and Blu-rays of the film. I’ve watched those missing/alt scenes and their inclusion would have made the film easier to understand, more dramatic and would have improved the representation of the motivations of characters.
From reading Garfield’s interview, it is possible to discern that something similar to The Last Stand happened to ASM2:
“I think what happened was, through the pre-production, production, and post-production, when you have something that works as a whole, and then you start removing portions of it—because there was even more of it than was in the final cut, and everything was related. Once you start removing things and saying, “No, that doesn’t work,” then the thread is broken, and it’s hard to go with the flow of the story. Certain people at the studio had problems with certain parts of it, and ultimately the studio is the final say in those movies because they’re the tentpoles, so you have to answer to those people.”
But often it’s needed
There are many stories to be found in Hollywood of directors given carte blanche. Heaven’s Gate (1980) is the tale that keeps studio heads awake at night, how it destroyed United Artists as it bled money. Sorcerer (1977) almost had a similar effect on Universal and Paramount: films like these serve as reminders about what happens when directors are given too much control and aren’t answerable to anyone. And it’s this that the big studios are constantly trying to avoid and why films can seem rather bland at times, as safe bets (sequels, remakes) waltz onto our cinema screens again and again.
And so I understand why studio control can have a great impact on a film, as they really don’t want to end up losing money, but I don’t think Garfield has been able to identify the element of the the story in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 that I found severely lacking. Because despite studio interference, the film played out for longer than was needed, but they had somehow missed one of the biggest problems with the main villain.
There are spoilers for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 from this point.
The film’s main villain Max Dillon/Electro (as played by Jamie Foxx) has got to be one of the most insensitively written and directed villains I have seen in a recent mainstream film. The way Max evolves from being an engineer into being a full-time villain as Electro was one of the, if not the, worst parts of the film. The delusions that the character suffers from prior to becoming Electro and while as the villain are so intense and noticeable that it’s ludicrous that no reference is made by any of the other characters to say, “Gosh, that man is suffering from a psychological illness, we need to get him help.”
I don’t think it was studio interference that stopped characters from speaking up or anyone while promoting this film. I can forgive not showing every single piece of exposition in the final cut of the film, but what happens with Max is horrible. None of the other characters ever clearly acknowledge that the character has a genuine problem. They just throw more and more violence at him. There have been films like this in the past and certainly comics, but even Batman tends to acknowledge that the Joker needs help of a sort. It’s cliché to have a bad guy who has psychological problems that are used as a motivation for them to commit horrible acts, but it’s even worse to watch this and not have the heroes of the film react appropriately as an educated society would. It makes for a shallow piece of fiction that is ultimately a pile of dung.