The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Directed by Marc Webb. Starring Emma Stone, Andrew Garfield, Felicity Jones, Jamie Foxx, Sarah Gadon, Paul Giamatti, Dane DeHaan, Sally Field, Martin Sheen, Chris Zylka, Marton Csokas, Denis Leary, Chris Cooper, B. J. Novak, Colm Feore. Written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner.
A mild improvement over its predecessor, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is bright, fast, and fun, boasting some kinetic action set pieces, an appealing trio of lead performances, and a genuine feel for the material from director Marc Webb. This is the best Spidey has ever looked on screen, and the closest any of the films has come to capturing that comic book vibe.
And yet, it still succumbs to the same issues as its predecessor. This is a big, bulky, over-reaching film that tries to accomplish too much in too short a running time (not that the running time is too short, clocking in at 142 minutes). While we’re breathlessly entertained by a number of story threads, the film ultimately does justice to none of them as it runs out of steam towards the end.
And it still feels redundant. 2012’s “reboot” of The Amazing Spider-Man came out just a decade after Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, and for everything it got right, there was an air of been-there, done-that about the whole thing. We know this story; I can only hope any future reboots don’t feel the need to tell it again.
And now here’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which covers a lot of the same thematic ground as Raimi’s 2004 follow-up Spider-Man 2. It has a lot to live up to: while Raimi’s first and third Spider-Man films had their problems, he struck gold with the second, one of the best superhero movies ever made (and, not coincidentally, co-written by Oscar-winner Alvin Sargent and Pulitzer-winner Michael Chabon).
Sargent co-wrote the 2012 film for returning director Webb, but the screenwriters for this outing are more familiar among contemporary blockbusters: Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci, who have two Star Treks, two Transformers, a Mission: Impossible and Cowboys & Aliens under their belts.
They work in an incredible amount of material into the film: three supervillains (Electro, the Green Goblin, and Rhino), the Gwen Stacy story arc, Peter Parker’s relationship with Aunt May and Harry Osborne, the Harry Osborne-Norman Osborne-Oscorp dynamic, and an unwieldy backstory involving Peter’s parents, which just stops the film dead in its tracks.
That backstory, left unresolved in the previous film, begins this one, as Mary (Embeth Davidtz) and Richard Parker (Campbell Scott) flee the country in a lengthy flashback – with Richard managing to upload that one all-important file that his son might discover years later. Their storyline resolves itself – I think – during the events of this film, though I can’t say it was worth the wait.
More central this time around is the relationship between Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield, who feels less comfortable in the role than he did last time around) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), who he must leave if he wants to protect her from the dangers of being Spider-Man’s girlfriend. Fans of the comic know what happens, eventually, between these two; suffice it to say that climactic events here are dramatically underwhelming – and Raimi handled the relationship stuff (between Parker and Mary Jane) much better in his second film.
And then there’s the villains, who almost make up for the shortcomings in the rest of the film. A wonderfully hammy Paul Giamatti is Aleksei Sytsevich (Rhino), who is criminally underused in a mere two sequences, though the first is one of the film’s better action set pieces, a brisk chase through the streets of New York City (and wouldja believe, there are only three sustained action scenes in the whole film?)
The bulk of the villain storytelling gets devoted to Max Dillon, a shy Oscorp electrical engineer who gets bitten by radioactive(?) electric eels (nice nod to Frankenstein) during a lab accident and becomes the electric entity known as Electro. Playing against type, Jamie Foxx is a lot of fun here, even if he becomes a glowing blue CGI creation throughout the second half. His scenes at Ravencroft Asylum – with Chilton-like Dr. Kafka (Martin Csokas) – are particularly amusing.
And I love how Peter Parker/Spider-Man uses logic, rather than brawn, to combat Electro, dousing him with a fire hose, grounding his webshooters, and overloading his electric charge. We still don’t have a great sense of what kind of damage these super-powered beings are doing to each other, but putting that kind of thought into the action is so rare for these films.
The initial Times Square battle between Spidey and Electro is the film’s highlight, but the action scenes here have strangely morphed into WWE fights, with the audience cordoned off by police barricades and the super-powered fighters exchanging taunts. So much CGI floods the screen during some of the action that we become acutely aware we’re watching a cartoon, but it’s handled better than the previous film, in any event.
And then there’s Harry Osborne/Green Goblin, played by Dane DeHaan, whose origin storyline, and participation in the Gwen Stacy arc, gets the short shrift here. That’s a real shame, because it’s a vital part of the Spider-Man mythology, and DeHaan makes for a menacing but strangely sympathetic Goblin, even though he’s done this kind of thing before (Chronicle).
And like the last film, this one has issues with villain motivation: Rhino is just a thug, but what, exactly do Electro and Green Goblin want, besides some vague sort of revenge against Spider-Man and the city of New York?
There are two good movies in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 battling for attention – one about Jamie Foxx’s Electro and Spider-Man’s role in New York City, and the other a feature-length Green Goblin-Gwen Stacy arc. Each would be a dynamite 105-minute comic book feature, and they’re both adequately set up here, but neither is brought to a satisfying conclusion, with all that Richard Parker backstory further muddying the waters.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 plays it fast & loose, bright & colorful, and will certainly please undemanding fans, particularly younger viewers (and despite some traumatic events, this is a much more family-friendly superhero film than recent Marvel/Superman/Batman outings). But given the deluge of superheroes at the multiplex, we’ve come to expect more; this likable but lumbering outing comes up short when compared to a more pulled-together actioner like Captain America: The Winter Soldier.