It’s been two years since the release of The Amazing Spider-Man, which last saw our beloved web-head releasing with flying colors… Or, perhaps the better word would be muted colors. In spite of its solid critical success and strong box office revenue, this reboot to the Spidey storyline never could escape justly deserved skepticism that it was little more than a cynical attempt for Sony to keep the rights to the character, and even some who enjoyed it felt quite apathetic about it afterwards, myself included.
Of course, a sequel was to be expected, but the studio went even further, announcing that not only would three sequels be in production, but also a few spin-off films for other characters in the series. With so much hype built around it, and with Captain America already making a big splash this year, you may expect this film to be just as entertaining.
Unfortunately, you would be proven wrong. While not without its moments, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a weaker, heavily less focused follow-up to the original.
One of my main issues with this movie is the story and characters. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) continues to prevent crime in New York as Spider-Man, but amidst all this, finds his relationship with girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) tested, as he is haunted by visions of her deceased father constantly reminding him of the danger he places Gwen in. Peter also tries to get back in touch with old friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), who is facing his own personal crisis due to a potentially life-threatening genetic condition.
However, we’re only barely scratching the surface here. Peter also faces trouble in the form of Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), a man that becomes obsessed with Spider-Man when he is saved by him early in the film, and after an unfortunate accident in Oscorp’s lab, is transformed into the menacing Electro. This isn’t even including the overload of other details to the experience, including surveillance on Peter, a conspiracy theory involving his late, former Oscorp scientist father, the shifty company executives sweeping sensitive information under the rug, a whole ordeal involving Harry and his father Norman (played by an underutilized Chris Cooper), Gwen being offered a position at Oxford, Aunt May (Sally Field) being shoehorned in for no other purpose than one big scene, and that’s exactly what they do for Paul Giammatti as well, cast as soon-to-be-used in future movies Rhino, and let’s not forget to cram in Felicity Jones as Feli-
My point is that if you thought Spider-Man 3 had too many subplots, this movie definitely starts to run on fumes by the time the third act gets going. These elements aren’t a problem because they’re hard to follow in any way, but they’re a problem because this movie is ironically too interesting for its own good, by which I mean it’s stuffed full of so many potentially interesting subplots and characters that the script eventually gets spread too thin, and can’t give them all the attention they deserve. With four credited writers, the film is always incorporating new ideas and new twists, but with this, relationships feel rushed by (in spite of a lengthy 140 minute running time), sometimes even done so through awkward exposition, and several moments meant to elicit great emotion instead fall flat. I do get the nagging feeling, despite all the wisecracks, sight gags, and even some subtle fourth wall jabs, that these movies tend to take themselves too seriously as well. By attempting to go darker with this one, this does tend to clash quite a bit with the more campy side of the film, something I always thought the Raimi movies (save Spider-Man 3) managed to balance better. Even the movie’s action beats suffer from this. Save for a few moments here and there, the staging of the action is average for Marvel standards.
However, if there’s anything to redeem the film, it’s in the casting and direction. Andrew Garfield once again plays Peter Parker to brilliant effect, nailing the lovable blend of charming geekiness and sarcastic wisecracks. He continues to share excellent chemistry with co-star Emma Stone, whose scenes talking about their plans for the future are some of the most affecting in the film. One of the more interesting relationships in the film is that of the friendship between Peter and Harry, the latter of which is played excellently by Dane DeHaan, as their very first scene is one of the most genuinely played and perfectly paced moments in the film, but after that, those moments that I craved are too few. There are other supporting roles and cameos in the film which are also solidly played, but feel sidelined for too much of the film.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the film is Jamie Foxx as Electro, a villain I had always wanted to see in a Spider-Man movie. The character itself is a tragic one, one with an obsession and desire to be noticed and remembered, but is later reborn into unforgiving circumstances, including citizens of New York who treat him with cruel words of derision, all of which push him to the point of insanity, which Foxx plays very well, I should add. There’s also an interesting musical accompaniment to all of this, as composer Hans Zimmer teams up with Pharrell Williams to create a theme for Electro which implies a schizophrenic edge to the character (The music itself being Zimmer’s best score in a while, and a significant improvement over his subpar Man of Steel and The Dark Knight Rises efforts). However, on paper, Electro is still so under developed, his tragedy is glanced over, and despite being advertised as the main villain (he’s the subtitle of the main title in other countries, for crying out loud!), he feels incredibly secondary, relegated to a glorified henchmen by the end of it.
Despite the best efforts of director Marc Webb, and some pretty solid technical work now that I think about it, you get the feeling that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is nothing more than an overlong, overstuffed set up for future events. I understand it’s a tricky task to be telling a fully satisfying story when you also have to set up these big, future stories to be told, but that doesn’t act as an excuse for lazy writing, as a film shouldn’t need a sequel (except for very specific cases) to stand on its own merits. It pains me to say this about my favorite superhero, but on its own, it’s just an average affair, not only bloated with too much material, but once again failing to live up to its “Amazing” title. If you felt it was unnecessary to reboot the series in the first place, this sequel will only further confirm that feeling.
**1/2 / *****