A Million Ways to Die in the West

Comedy is often hit or miss and Seth MacFarlane’s brand is no exception.  Add in the fact that A Million Ways to Die in the West is, well, a western that comes across as a vanity project and the movie has quite a bit going against it.  Despite all those factors, the movie is quite enjoyable.  A Million Ways to Die in the West is a good comedy that could have been great.

One such issue holding the movie back is the movie’s opening.  The pacing is a bit slow as the movie sets up all the pieces to move the story along and doesn’t kick into gear until Charlize Theron shows up.  Comedies aren’t renowned for epic plots but this one is coherent:  Albert Stark (MacFarlane) is a “sheep farmer” whose characteristics are at odds with everyone else inhabiting the Old American West.  He’s a smart, rational guy living in a time where everything and everyone wants to kill you.  He prefers to talk issues and resolve things through reason than shoot people at high noon.  This causes him to lose his girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried), who wants a more take-charge guy.  In order to win her back (and under the tutelage of newcomer Anna [Charlize Theron]), Albert becomes more take-charge and discovers a side of himself he didn’t know he had.

The run time is nearly 2 hours but Ways to Die doesn’t feel long, just that the time was misused.  There’s a bit within the first 10 minutes where Albert sums up the movie:  how everything in the west is trying to kill you.  He just lists them off like a laundry list and the joke falls flat as a result.  A better way to approach it would have been to inter-cut some scenes Family Guy-style to show the audience how everything in the west kills you, not just tell them.  Thankfully, the pacing and entertainment pick up when Albert has Anna to interact with and play off of.

Aside from singing the praises of Charlize Theron, Neil Patrick Harris also deserves special mention as Albert Stark’s foil.  Their interactions with each other and the rest of the cast are some of the movie’s highest points…along with the satirical take on the Old West.  Most of the best gags are the ones where they focus on the lifestyle and culture (why does no one smile or look happy in the old photographs?).

The jokes are classic MacFarlane.  Scat jokes are prevalent but not overtly to the point of dominating the movie.  The humor’s mostly crass, poking fun at hypocrites and bordering on offensive but most people going to see this film know what they’re going to be in for.  Some jokes cross a line (why is there a runaway slave shooting gallery in 1882?  What was the point of the “Parkinson’s is just another mysterious way of God showing us how much he loves us” jab?) but never to the point of making one regret purchasing a ticket to watch.

These issues prevent A Million Ways to Die in the West from being a great comedy.  This does not make it a terrible movie but one that only squandered potential.  This seems to be a vote against the movie but I strongly recommend it.  It’s better to come from a movie thinking “it was good but they could have done this to make it better” than “that movie was terrible and it had been better off never being made!”

Fate: Rock Concert From the Center of the Earth

As awesome as Dungeons and Dragons can be, finding enough players for a session can be a real hassle.  Optimally, a game master would be able to obtain three players (at least) on a consistent basis.  This is a lot harder than it sounds…so an alternative must be sought.  And so an alternative was found:  Evil Hat’s Fate Core.  It only needs two players and encourages a more collaborative co-operation among players and the game master.  Ideally, every game system encourages the latter but Fate is unique in how easy the game is to pick up and play.


The first step with any game of Fate is world-building.  Players and the GM have to figure out what sort of game they’re playing, what the world’s like and flesh it out a bit.  Along with character creation, this can be time consuming but not necessarily.  If everyone wishes to play a zombie apocalypse game based off the Walking Dead setting, all the world-building work has been taken care of.

The advantage Fate has over, say, D&D is how much of a collaborative exercise it is.  With D&D, players have to worry about roles and the stamp they leave upon the world can be very limited (doubly so if this is an established setting like Forgotten Realms or Eberron).  Fate, by design, encourages ingenuity and the player-generated input encourages them to feel involved and attached to something they had a hand in creating.

Our world-building exercise took only a few minutes.  What they came up with was a science-fantasy post-apocalypse setting.  It’s been 200 years since the Earth blew up but the planet was not totally destroyed.  Somehow, the remaining bits of the Earth now float together in harmony (think an asteroid belt).  These “planetoids” now house human settlers who mine for minerals and, on a few, scavenge what ruins still exist.

Our players mine the innards of their home planetoid with space rednecks.  Space Foreman Brannigan is their boss, who overworks them as much as he can (for reasons to be revealed in character creation).  Space Town is under the governing jurisdiction of Space Mayor Calrissian.  The only contact each planetoid has with another is through the Chinese space traders, who are the only legal source of galactic trade between what remains of the earth and the settler’s homelands.


Players being space miners can be interesting (in a sort of classic D&D dungeon crawl kind of way) but they need some sort of conflict.  The group generates their own conflict(s) with Fate Accelerated’s two easy questions:  (1) What’s the bad guy’s plan and (2) what’s an issue the players can’t ignore?  Our players decided Biff Tannen’s gang of space rednecks were going to to take over Space Town and the issue they couldn’t ignore was that none of the earth’s planetoids had a breathable atmosphere.  This latter point requires everyone to wear a space suit.


Character creation in Fate is less about assigning numerical values to attributes/skills and more about what characteristics they have that make the story flow  Each character comes up with a name, appearance, purpose, a trouble that complicates their life and some traits that make that person unique.  What we ended up with is our three players deciding they were a band, people who played music to escape the drudgery of working in the mines.  The authority figures within Space Town disapprove of their dubstep rock band and devise means to keep them from playing as much as possible.  The band’s name?  With The.  It’s a genius marketing ploy.

This was a one-shot session so I don’t have the character sheets they made, so what the players came up with is solely off memory.  The only things about Nick’s character I remember was that he had an unreliable iron lung (which allowed him to breathe without a space suit but it would act up and give him coughing fits most of the time), that he had an incredibly long name that included Level 70 Bard and his musical instrument was a double-necked guitar that could play both bass and lead guitar parts.  Steve’s character’s entire purpose was to use his dubstep gun (which doubled as his instrument) to bring dubstep rock to the rest of the galaxy.  The only thing preventing him from doing so was his rampant alcoholism.  Dustin was the vocalist extremely loyal to the band and his complication was his OCD.


To start, our players decided to neglect the threat Biff’s space gang posed to Space Town and decided to address the earth’s lacking atmosphere.  Chinese space traders contracted them with a mission to use their band’s awesome music (they had heard a demo tape) to restore the earth’s atmosphere…through the power of rock!  The band agreed but lacked the proper tools to do such a thing (mainly amps large enough to propagate sound on a planetary scale).  So they decide to journey through the remnants of the earth to find a ruined record store.  From there, they could scavenge some amp parts and/or use Dustin’s ingenuity to construct new ones.

After a bit of searching (and a misadventure in trying to pilot their ship through the asteroid thicket), the band finds a ruined record store that’s currently being picked over by Biff’s space redneck gang.  The players actually get Biff to leave without beating the crap out of them, although Biff swears to get even with the party at some point.  They pick through the store, searching for amps (or parts to them) that they could use…and come up with only broken ones.  Some time is spent by Dustin jury-rigging some new amps while Nick and Steve decide where to hold this epic rock concert that will restore the earth’s atmosphere.

The players decide that the center of the earth would be the best place to rock out.  They journey there, using Steve’s dubstep gun to maneuver through the planetoids.  Once at their destination, they begin to set-up the stage and perform sound checks.  Much of the next few minutes are the band member’s personalities clashing with each other (Nick and Steve are very forceful, flashy brutes…whereas Dustin’s a more careful and clever sort).  Eventually, the time comes for the concert but our band has no audience!  Steve’s dubstep gun is used to send the concert fliers (which are written on bills of money they obtained from Chinese space traders as advance payment) to all populated planetoids in order to attract a crowd worthy of what is to be an epic performance.

An audience gathers and the band is set to perform!  Nick leads off with his trademark guitar solo…but all the smoke from the pyrotechnics (and the people in the crowd) causes his iron lung to act up!  Dustin and Steve cover up Nick’s shaky performance, with Dustin invoking his loyalty aspect to aid Nick’s playing.  Nick works through his iron lung complication and the band puts on the finest rock concert the earth’s seen in 200 years.

Unfortunately, trouble shows up in the form of Biff Tannen’s space redneck gang!  Having conquered Space Town, he has turned the planetoid the town rests upon into his own personal transportation.  He sends Space Foreman Brannigan and some henchmen to arrest the PCs for neglecting their mining duties.  Steve’s dubstep gun blows them all off the stage.

Biff sees how this showdown is going to have to be:  a musical duel between two bands of opposing types!  On one hand, we have our heroes, the dubstep rock band With The.  Opposing them is Biff’s space redneck bluegrass band (since bluegrass was determined to be the opposite of dubstep rock).  What followed was a series of one vs. one instrumental duels, a vocalist challenge and each band trying to interrupt the other’s playing when Biff’s band started to sense they were going to lose…all with the restoration of the earth’s atmosphere in the balance!  Biff’s band consisted of violent rednecks not well-suited to a musical challenge…and the band With The trounces them with only minor difficulty (mainly Steve having to take a break to get a beer when he should have been playing dubstep and having Dustin cover for him).

Biff Tannen’s space gang and Space Town meet the same fate as Space Foreman Brannigan:  Being blasted off into space by Steve’s dubstep gun!  This caps off an epic concert that sees the earth’s atmosphere fully restored!  People at the concert take off their space suits and are able to breathe the same air their ancestors did over 200 years ago!  People everywhere else wonder if their space suits are malfunctioning…until they hear news of the concert and then realize those suits were telling the truth!

When our heroes aren’t being mobbed by their new legion of fans, they take time off to do the little things they enjoy.  Like, growing wheat (Steve), signing the midriffs of female fans (Nick) and working on the next album (Dustin).  They rest easy, unaware of the dangers that await them in future adventures.  Biff Tannen and his space redneck gang are still out there, plotting their revenge.  The musical style that restored the earth’s atmosphere will bring many pretenders and challengers to the band.  And that’s nothing to say of the other challenges that lay out in the vast unknown of space…but our players were fine with this being a one-off session so we’ll say they lived happily ever after!

Middle-Earth Online: A Proposal

Massively’s Justin Olivetti asked what a hypothetical Lord of the Rings Online 2 would look like.  Such a scenario has little to no possibility of happening, what with Turbine having the license for a few more years and no catalyst for a new game existing (unless Hollywood makes The Silmarillion or The New Shadow)…but we’ll still engage in this “what-if” exercise.  I’m in the camp of “wanting a new approach to the franchise entirely” and while my answers will not please everyone, they will be explained in such a way to justify them (hopefully).

What business model would it have that would be the most attractive to the community and most profitable?

In addition to a subscription model, we’ll consider payment models listed here.  Each choice (free-to-play, freemium, buy-to-play, hybrid, subscription) has its advantages and disadvantages…but the buy-to-play box model would be the most attractive and, if there’s a steady release of expansions, it could be the most profitable as well.  The Guild Wars 1 model is what we’re striving for here.  Paying $60 up front for a box and not having to worry about anything else would be the most alluring feature here.  In an ideal scenario, we’d stay away from cash shops but reality might force our hands.

Free-to-play and freemium would have the lowest entry barriers (i.e. easiest access to lots of players) but I don’t see them being profitable in the long run.  I’d also like to avoid the allegedly free game trope.  As someone who played Old Republic and felt like getting to level 30 was like getting teeth pulled, that’s exactly the sort of situation I’d want to avoid.  With a freemium game, we’d have to worry about dividing players into “premium” and “free” camps.  Those camps would eternally be at war with each other.  We want to keep our players on the same page as much as possible.

Would it be a sandbox, a themepark, or a sandpark MMO?

Sandpark, if only because I like elements from both themeparks and sandboxes while also disliking some of their components.

The sandbox’s biggest appeal can also be its biggest turnoff:  All that freedom available to the player can end up paralyzing them as they struggle to figure out what they want to do.  While sandboxes can have a lot of staying power in the MMO market (EVE Online is over 10 years old and Ultima Online’s been around since 1997), they lack the mainstream access a theme park variant will get.  Think of it this way:  A theme park will attract a lot of attention with its attractions but ultimately fall into disrepair or get supplanted by other theme parks, whereas a sandbox will last a lot longer but require a bit more upkeep (make your own fun vs. indulge in the fun the theme park supplies).

The main negative of a sandbox MMO is the kind of player-base it inevitably attracts.  I’d rather not see Middle-earth devolve into a mass griefing session.  Admittedly, such a scenario would have been appropriate giving the age the game I envision was going to be set in (see below).  One of the themes of The New Shadow (and, indeed, in all of Tolkien’s works) is that the race of Men have a quick satiety for good.  While a sandbox could be justified, people should be encouraged to play the game to have fun and not to get their time wasted by a griefer.

As for a theme park MMO, the very word “theme park” brings to mind a lot of negative associations.  For instance, to say this game would be the theme park version of Tolkien’s Legendarium would be akin to saying it’s been dumbed down.  The depth and complexity of the Middle-earth setting shouldn’t be simplified, it should be the main attraction.

While we’ll try to avoid the word “theme park”, there are several design elements I like from that brand of MMO.  The focus of combat against NPCs as opposed to other players should give the game a more friendly atmosphere.  I don’t mind the class-based system they provide nor the linearity of the quests.  A level-based landscape can serve as a handy guideline as to where players should (or shouldn’t) be and provide a nice sense of accomplishment when they return later and kick the shit out of whatever terrorized them at lower levels.

I’m not terribly attached to one model or the other, so we’ll combine them and hope this Frankstein’s monster MMO combination attracts enough people to play it.  If we really want to play up The New Shadow, a sandbox-style game could work.  Otherwise, we want a hybrid-model.

In which age or era would the game take place?

Fourth Age.  Specifically, the year 173.  172 is the last official date given in the books, the year when Findegil completes a copy of the Red Book of Westmarch.  I like to think of Tolkien’s Legendarium as a history of the world that’s been lost to time and using this site to date when the ages began/ended.  If we use that site’s date for the Great Flood, we have about 730+ years to play around with.

How faithful to the IP would it be? Would you sacrifice integrity to the source material for the sake of coolness, more options, or a different style?

As faithful as possible would be the stock answer anyone gives to this question.  We’ll see how faithful when addressing the next question…

How would you get around lore issues (such as the declining population of Elves, the subtlety of magic, and the rarity of Hobbits going past the boundaries of the Shire) that Turbine’s already addressed?

Let’s tackle these one by one.  The problem of the Elves can be solved by only making Silvan (W0od) Elves playable.  The Noldor eventually grow weary of Middle-earth and depart to Valinor via the Grey Havens.  The Sindar feel a similar inclination upon seeing the sea for the first time but not as strong (Legolas sees the sea for the first time in Return of the King and feels a desire to sail west to Valinor…but holds such a desire in for 120+ years).  The Silvan have no such baggage and they even have a colony in Ithilien.  While their starting areas would be limited, I see no issue with allowing Wood Elves to be playable.

Magic in Middle-earth may be subtle but that doesn’t mean it’s non-existent.  I’d use the E6 variant of Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 edition as a guideline for flashy magic.  This would eliminate the flashy, not-so-subtle magic (i.e. no teleports, polymorphing into dragons, conjuring permanent walls of stone or force).  Under this variant, a fireball would still be possible but not so available that it could be spammed repeatedly.

The rarity of Hobbits can be addressed via the colonization of the Tower Hills and the popularity of Bilbo’s book.  The former expands the borders of The Shire and seeing the white towers could have awakened the adventuring lust Hobbits with Took blood have.  Bilbo’s book would have also exposed many Hobbits to Smeagol, who was once a halfling from east of the Misty Mountains before the Ring corrupted him into Gollum.  There’s enough justification here to allow players to be a Hobbit, if they really want to.

Would everyone be a member of the Free Peoples of Middle-earth, or will the Enemy’s faction be represented as well?

Lord of the Rings Online already handles this pretty well.  Everyone’s on the same side in a PvE environment.  For PvP, everyone goes into a consensual PvP arena and either plays as their good character or as a monster.  One of the main themes throughout Tolkien’s work is that evil doesn’t create things, it just perverts them (Trolls are basically evil’s failed attempt to mimic Ents, etc.).  Allowing players to create their own orc seems a little counter-intuitive to that theme.  Ideally, players would be kept on the same side but if we’re in a sandbox, the opportunity should be allowed for people to create evil men.

How would this game offer enough of a new experience or better perspective than already exists in LotRO?

This game would offer a new experience and better perspective by not being limited to the War of the Ring!  Making a Lord of the Rings game based around the War of the Ring is the equivalent of making a World War II shooter.  Both are examples of games set in significant events that have been thoroughly explored and played with.  Let’s go somewhere where the player can be free of the shackles of canon and perhaps leave their own stamp on Middle-earth.

Would you want the game to hew more to the books or the movies?

Books.  The movies aren’t a terrible idea but they made Middle-earth look more like medieval Europe than it should have.

How would the game address the passage of time?

Time would be addressed over the course of expansions that would center around world-changing events.  I’d borrow Old Republic’s legacy system and expand it a bit.  Like, have the legacy actually be a genetic legacy.  If the expansion is set, say, 20 years after the base game…every player character would have the option of keeping the same guy but aging him a bit.  If they opt to remain young, he could keep the same look but be the son of the character generated from the first game.  Then, the middle-aged father could appear in the housing instance.

Is there an existing studio that you’d trust with this game, or would it need to be a completely new team?

I’d like to see what a new team could do with the IP.  If an existing team handles it, chances are we know what they’re capable of.

How could this game be successfully marketed to MMO players and the mainstream in such a way as to gather a healthy population?

The original Guild Wars is the blueprint we’d want to follow.  At its core, Guild Wars 1 was less of an MMO and more single-player game that you could play with friends.  It went on to sell 6.5 million copies and since no one really plagiarized it the way so many others followed World of Warcraft’s examples, there’s still quite a bit of material to draw from that creative well.  This is not to say we make Guild Wars:  Middle-earth but look at what made the original work and fix what didn’t.

What art style would be best? Realistic, stylized, or something else entirely?

Stylized.  Shooting for photo-realism will tax graphic cards and end up damaging the game later on as people cry for visual updates.  A stylized look similar to Telltale’s The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us is what we want.  We’d want an art style that allows designers to play around with animations without falling into uncanny valley territory…but not manga-style art where the eyes are crazy huge (like Zelda:  Wind Waker).

Dwarf women?

LotRO’s current way of handling this is my favorite.  Every race has a male/female option at character creation…except the dwarf.

D&D Classics Campaign: Queen of the Spiders I

Continued from the conclusion to Scourge of the Slave Lords…  Our players for this session are Nick (Alarik, Human Crusader 12) and Steve (Steve, Human Swordsage 12).  GM PCs include Mornrandir (Human Wizard 8/Fatespinner 4).

Two years have passed since the party defeated the Slave Lords.  In that downtime, Alarik has perfected his Mountain Dew concoction.  He uses the addictive substance to form a legion of addicts dependent on him.  This also moves him squarely into chaotic evil territory.  Steve, on the other hand, has spent the past two years curing himself of his Mountain Dew addiction in the form of intense rehab.  So intense that when Mornrandir scry’d on him with a crystal ball, he couldn’t bear to watch more than a few seconds.  Mornrandir has married the lady Dame Gold (after enchanting her, of course) and in doing so, became Lord of Safeton.

Alarik disguises his tendencies under the guise of a completely legitimate business man, as he opens a chain of restaurants across Greyhawk.  He’s granted a permit to open one such establishment in the Grand Duchy of Geoff.  Because the Grand Duchy of Geoff lies outside the lands traveled by the party so far, Alarik sends out invitations to his fellow party members to support him in this endeavor.  The party and general populace of Geoff are not the only ones interested in the opening of this restaurant.  Caerwyn Tyr has been resurrected by the Drow Goddess Lolth.  She has provided him considerable resources to destroy the party.  Lolth does not think Caerwyn will succeed but Caerwyn’s attack will ultimately further her agenda regardless of the outcome.

Opening day comes, Alarik and Steve catch up on what they’ve been doing the past two years and Caerwyn attacks with several minions including harpies.  While Steve’s distracted by the harpies and Alarik’s tied up on evacuating his customers (protecting them from Caerwyn’s minions), Caerwyn orders the men outside to begin burning the building down.  Alarik escapes before the wooden beams supporting the entry door collapse, leaving Caerwyn and Steve alone.  Steve makes his own escape by throwing Caerwyn through the wall.  Mornrandir arrives as this happens and the rest of Caerwyn’s minions are mopped up shortly afterwards.

The players find a contract assassination paper on Caerwyn, with the hit put out by the Slave Lords.  The contract tells Caerwyn to report to Isitivin, a city to the south, when he’s finished the job.  The party’s curious to see who would revive Caerwyn (of all options!) to come and assassinate them, so they decide to investigate the lead.  They head to Istivin and meet numerous refugees who are fleeing the lands surrounding that city.  The refugees talk of giants coming down from the mountains and enslaving their kindred.  Because the nobility is dealing with their own matters (rumors vary so the party isn’t hearing the full story) to deal with giant raids on such a large scale, adventurers are being hired to deal with them…with the promise of being able to keep whatever treasure they find.

The party reaches Istivin and come across the reason why the nobility there haven’t bothered with the giants.  The city has nearly been engulfed by a black, ebony sphere!  Adventurers are being sought to solve the mystery of this sphere; why it’s here and how to get rid of it…the problem is the sphere seems to be very selective of who is allowed to enter within it.  Most people touch the sphere and feel nothing but the hard surface.  Others have been able to enter it (as if it’s a portal) but the trip appears to be one-way.  The few who have entered have not emerged…

The King’s Agent, a wizard named Lashton, is in charge of dealing with the black sphere.  All who enter the city report to Lashton but hubris clouds his better judgment.  He has the party undergo bureaucratic procedure of filling out forms and indulging whatever silly answers they put down.  For instance, Alarik says his purpose in the city is to find the color yellow.  So, the King’s Agent assigns a troupe of guards to escort Alarik through the city to find all things that are yellow.  Steve and Mornrandir chat with Algorthas, the man who provided Caerwyn the information he needed to plan his assassination attempt.  The duo spare his life in exchange for information regarding Caerwyn’s masters, who are behind the giant’s enslavement raids.

With the information they need, the party begins a rampage through the lands of the giants.  Algorthas is able to give them the location of the hill giant steading and it becomes the first stop for the players.  The players slaughter the hill giants with relative ease after infiltrating the jarl’s quarters.  They make their way to the nursery and murder giant children, thus gaining passable disguises.  Mornrandir polymorphs into a hill giant, posing as a single parent with some very unruly children.  Said unruly children destroy the hill giant steading.  The jarl and most of his subordinates die at the hands of one of the giant children’s flame strike.  After freeing some prisoners, the party finds clues to the frost giant’s hold and achieve similar results (minus the disguises, since they no longer work).

Before heading to the fire giants (the last of the giant strongholds), the party teleports back to Istivin to rest and acquire a new party member (hopefully)…

Amazing Spider-Man 2

Disclaimer:  I went in fully expecting to hate The Amazing Spider-Man and found it to be very enjoyable.  Enjoyable enough, in fact, that the sequel might be worth checking out.  Not enough to see it opening weekend but maybe at a later date.  Then Amazing Spider-Man 2 was released and was critically panned.  Is Amazing Spider-Man 2 the awful movie the Sony reboot was expected to be?  No.  It’s just not very good.

A viewer can tell within the first 15 minutes if they’re going to like the movie or not.  It starts with Richard Parker recording a video message to explain his disappearance, dropping Peter off at Aunt May and Uncle Ben’s before segueing into the private jet that he and his wife have chartered.  The jet crashes after a nebulous well-dressed figure murders the pilot and has an action scene where he tries to kill the Parkers.  From there, we go to the present day sometime after the first movie where Spider-Man is in the midst of thwarting a Russian mob from stealing Oscorp materials…on the day of Peter’s high school graduation ceremony which he is nearly late for.

Within the first 15 minutes (roughly), we’ve gone from an action thriller set-up (Richard’s video message) to a sad scene where Peter’s parents leave him with his aunt and uncle before the action sequence on the plane.  When we get to the present, we shift from action (Russian mobsters hijacking Oscorp materials and Spider-Man attemping to stop them) to drama (Gwen calling to wonder why Peter hasn’t arrived at high school graduation ceremony) to comedy (Spider-Man’s quips, Peter’s denial of sirens when talking with Gwen).  That’s a lot of tone shifts for a movie to juggle and Amazing Spider-Man 2 doesn’t do a terribly good job of it.

Nor does it do a good job of handling multiple plot threads.  We have Peter still trying to figure out the truth behind his parent’s disappearance, which is suitably fleshed out although it feels like there’s more information to come later.  Peter’s conflicted between his duties as Spider-Man vs. his love for Gwen.  He’s haunted by Gwen’s father, who’s dead and didn’t want Gwen to end up like him since heroes attract enemies.  This latter point is not suitably addressed.  Peter and Gwen break-up early in the film, go through a few spells including Peter’s stalking of her while he’s dressed as Spider-Man (which is more creepy than romantic) and then they get back together rather unceremoniously before the film’s climax.

A whole movie could be made about the conflict between the hero’s desire and wants vs. his duty and responsibility.  In fact, that conflict was the whole crux for Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2.  Peter had told Mary Jane at the end of the original Raimi Spider-Man that they couldn’t be together for their own safety.  Spider-Man 2 is then about Peter and MJ trying to figure out how to make the relationship work.  It’s an issue that’s not resolved until the end of that movie.  In AMAZING Spider-Man 2, this plot point feels rushed…and even unnecessary since Gwen says her and Peter have had this talk before.

All these threads and we haven’t even got to the villains yet.  Electro’s the main villain and he’s superbly played by Jamie Foxx.  His character is essentially summed up with “what happens when you give socially awkward nerd who’s scorned by his superiors super-powers”.  Electro’s characterization isn’t something I’d have given Jamie Foxx but he makes it work.  Paul Giametti also shows up as a Russian mobster who will become the Rhino but that’s not enough action to get the billing of “supporting villain”.

The supporting villain then is Harry Osborn.  Harry returns to New York to run Oscorp after his father dies.  He also learns that the disease that killed his father is also genetic and that’s he begun to show symptoms of it.  Peter and Harry were also friends when they were younger but difted apart after Harry got sent to overseas boarding school.  They re-unite soon within the film’s opening but come at odds when Harry learns that the only cure to the disease is Spider-Man’s blood.  Peter’s unwilling to help Harry since the blood transfusion could make Harry insane or worse.  This makes Harry resort to striking up a partnership with Electro, although he ends up getting radioactive spider blood through other bullshit means.  Turns out the radioactive spider venom was extracted and placed in a prop department vault containing the costumes of other Spider-Man villains to set up the Sinister Six appearing in the next movie!  Harry manages to get the venom injected into his veins and then puts on the Green Goblin costume before flying off to fight Spider-Man.

Peter and Harry’s relationship here is not given enough time to develop, especially when it’s inevitably compared to the one in the Raimi movies.  By the time Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 rolls around, we understand why Harry doesn’t like Peter.  His father took more of a liking to Peter than his own son.  Peter ended up marrying Mary-Jane, who was dating Harry in the first movie before Harry caught Mary-Jane and Peter holding hands in the hospital.  From Harry’s perspective, Peter stole Mary-Jane from him.  He stole his father’s affection from him.  So when Harry finds out his father was the Green Goblin and that Spider-Man killed him, he has more than enough motivation to hate Peter.

In AMAZING Spider-Man 2, while Harry’s understandably angry at Peter, his descent into villainy feels rushed and what friendship they had is only contrived enough for the sake of the plot.  Why not have Harry and Peter be best friends in the first Amazing Spider-Man?  Or have Harry already running OsCorp and appoint Gwen Stacy as his secretary (after being an intern in the first movie).  Have him and Gwen bond over their mutual interest in discovering a cure for Harry’s disease when Gwen and Peter’s relationship is on the rocks.  Have Gwen’s discovery of what the radioactive spider blood will do to Harry coincide with her patching up her relationship with Peter.  Have Harry know about that patch-up so when she tells him the symptoms of the cure, he ignores it because he’s emotionally enraged at Peter “stealing” his girlfriend from him.

Amazing Spider-Man 2 repeats the sins committed by Spider-Man 3:  Having more villains and plot threads than your movie can feasibly hold.  It doesn’t do a good job at managing these villains and plots so rather than having multiple elements have their own movie (or suitably develop over the course of the series), all the development feels rushed.  The best way to compare Amazing Spider-Man 2 is that this is close to the result we would have gotten had Sam Raimi and Sony been able to co-exist on Spider-Man 3.  Neither movie could juggle multiple plots and villains well but at least none of Amazing Spider-Man 2‘s villains get the Venom treatment (i.e. underdeveloped and only appearing in the last 30 minutes of the movie before being unceremoniously dealt with…Harry’s Green Goblin may fit the bill but he’s at least alive to see the sequel).

I did like the movie, though.  When it comes to narrative and writing, Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a mess.  The acting is great, though.  The only blemishes in that category are Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker (although he’s still pretty good at portraying Spider-Man) and Dane DeHaan’s Green Goblin portrayal that’s like a poor Jack Nicholson Joker impression.

As a mindless summer blockbuster, Amazing Spider-Man 2 fits the bill.  Too bad this movie has to clear not only the bar set by the Sam Raimi movies but the one set by The Avengers as well.  The Avengers took elements from each of its respective character’s movies and brought them together in an epic.  Amazing Spider-Man 2 does the inverse of that:  Having too many plots/villains that could have been spread out over a series instead of crammed into 142 minutes.  Spider-Man doesn’t have the luxury of The Avenger‘s ensemble cast but the Sam Raimi movies developed similar plots and villains over the course of its trilogy just fine.