Sorry, true believers. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 falls far short of it hyperbolic title, though it does, thankfully, manage to improve on its 2012 predecessor. Director Marc Webb devotes more time this time out to letting his charming leads actually act and further develop their chemistry on-screen, and the special effects sequences have an effective theme park thrill ride quality to them.
But the film is still poorly paced, heavy-handed, unnecessarily convoluted, and features too many moments that retread territory explored in previous Spider-Man films. Younger fans of the character will most likely be pleased with what cast and crew give them here, but those who recall the Sam Raimi-Tobey Maguire Spidey movies of a decade ago may once again feel like they’ve seen all this before all too recently, and find it highly debatable as to whether or not the formula has been improved upon here.
It’s been a while since Peter Parker (Andrew Garfleld), a.k.a. your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, made his debut by saving New York City from a bio-weapon that would have turned helpless Manhattanites into lizards, and since then he’s become a bona fide hero to the masses, despite the efforts of The Daily Bugle and a certain news editor named Jameson to label him as a dangerous vigilante.
But of course the life of a superhero is never all sunshine and slanderous newspaper headlines. Things in Peter’s personal life are, as always, complicated: he continues to struggle with his love for Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), knowing his double life and their being together puts her in danger; and he still has no real leads on the mystery behind why his parents, Richard and Mary Parker (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz, respectively), left him as a boy in the care of his Aunt May and Uncle Ben and then disappeared all those years ago.
In the midst of trying to juggle all that personal turmoil while also being the Big Apple’s favorite wall-crawling superhero, Peter finds facing off against Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), an electrical engineer in the employ of Oscorp, the company that once employed his father and also the scientist-turned-reptilian villain from the last film, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). Once a fanatically loyal fan of Spider-Man’s, an accident while working on the hydroelectric turbines he himself designed turns the awkward, timid Max into Electro, a living, breathing battery of electrical energy who simply crackles at the thought of getting back at the hero he thinks betrayed him.
And if Electro wasn’t enough trouble for ol’ Webhead, he also has to contend with the return of his old childhood pal Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), son and heir of Oscorp’s founder Norman (Chris Cooper), who’s following in his father’s footsteps in the worst possible way. Like Peter, Harry has a few secrets of his own, ones that have to do with the disease that was slowly killing his father in the last film, and that will lead him on a path to perhaps becoming Peter’s most frightening enemy yet.
In some ways, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 functions in a similar fashion to the way Quantum of Solace, the 2008 James Bond film that served as a sequel to that franchise’s very successful reboot, 2006’s Casino Royale. Quantum, it can be argued, isn’t so much a standalone film as it is a continuation and resolution of Casino Royale‘s unresolved plot threads. Similarly, this new Spider-Man film’s many plot lines, with the exception of the introduction of Electro, are in fact holdovers from the previous film. Peter’s fear about dating Gwen, his guilt over betraying his promise to the dying NYPD Capt. George Stacy (Denis Leary) to stay away from Gwen in order to protect her, his angst over the mystery of why he was seemingly abandoned by his parents, and his father’s ominous connection to Oscorp, are all issues that were left unresolved two years ago. The movie also serves a similar marketing function to Marvel Studios’ Iron Man 2, which back in 2010 was not only a sequel but also served to plant the seeds for the “shared universe” that would later bring to audiences Thor, Captain America, and the Avengers. Sony’s made no secret of their plans to launch their own series of spin-offs from the Spider-Man movies, and certain visuals and “blink-and-you-missed-it” hints at those future films are all over The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
Does all that add up to a good movie, though? Not especially, no.
If anything, this film feels weighed down by all the plots that it’s forced to resolve and hints at the future that it’s meant to convey. Yes, the action can be pretty breathtaking, in particular the many shots where the camera follows Spidey from behind as he dives from the tops of buildings only to spin a web and swing around, above, and in between skyscrapers. When seen in 3D, the experience will rival just about anything you’re likely to experience on the most modern and sense-shattering of today’s theme park simulator rides. But those sequences come too few and far between in a film that runs almost 2 and 1/2 hours — if you’re sitting in that seat because you love action in these superhero movies, you’ll probably enjoy what you get, but lament that there’s just not enough of it.
Easily, the film’s greatest strength is the chemistry and talent of its leads, in particular Garfield, Stone, and DeHaan. Garfield once again shows he’s equally comfortable being the quippy Spider-Man one minute and the pensive, angsty Peter Parker the next — he’s better at the balance than Tobey Maguire ever was in the role. And whereas the first film’s poor editing made Peter and Gwen’s attraction and eventual devotion to one another feel rushed and artificial, this time the pair get many opportunities to be “the cute couple” and to earn a connection with the audience that ups the emotional stakes for the film’s concluding act, and they do it well. DeHaan, as the new kid in the saga, makes a big splash as the conflicted and creepy Harry, as big a departure in portrayal from James Franco’s version of the character as Garfield’s Peter is from Maguire’s. DeHaan plays Harry as the kid you knew in school that knew he made your skin crawl and enjoyed having that power over you, and he does it splendidly. Oftentimes these three look like the only members of the ensemble having any fun here.
On the other side of the spectrum, Jamie Foxx may find himself up for a Golden Raspberry, or “Razzie” award come next Oscar season for his work here, which especially early in the film, makes one think he studied up on Jim Carrey’s painfully over-the-top turn as the Riddler in 1995’s Batman Forever. Its not all his fault, obviously; Electro’s beginnings and the way the character is written follow the most worn-out and cliched of supervillain origin stories, as though they couldn’t be bothered to think of anything more original because they were too busy storyboarding how his powers would appear on screen. But Foxx, a gifted, versatile performer whose made odd role choices of late, does little to lift the material he’s given except to ham it up and annunciate his lines with Shatneresque stops and starts to fill them with menace. Yeah, it doesn’t work. At all.
Finally, the film’s climax and resolution will certainly have people talking, and folks unfamiliar with Spider-Man lore dialing up their fanboy and fangirl friends and neighbors to find out, “Is that how it happens in the comics?” If you’re not ready for it, if you don’t see it coming from the first few minutes of the film, then that resolution may genuinely take you by surprise, and it is, all criticism aside, a game-changer for this franchise. Maybe now that all those plots they set up and left unresolved in the first film are, more or less, put to rest, the next time around Webb and his writers can actually tell a fun and fluid Spider-Man story.
Score: 2.5 out of 5
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Colm Feore, Felicity Jones, Paul Giamatti, and Sally Field. Directed by Marc Webb.
Running Time: 142 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence.
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