Two movies in, the rebooted Amazing Spider-Man franchise continues to be deeply problematic. Although The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) had its strengths—the transfixing performances and chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone—much of the movie felt like a greatest hits package that recycled the best ingredients of Sam Raimi’s original trilogy to middling returns. Its weak villain, laughable plot and clunky world-building mystery surrounding Oscorp only served to frustrate than intrigue. Above all, the film felt like the product of corporate vision rather than artists.
That corporate stench carries forward in The Amazing Spider-Man 2— a “more of the same” sequel that inherits all the strengths and weaknesses of its predecessor and amplifies them to 10. What we get is two movies in one: a genuinely stirring romantic drama—sweet, mature and winningly-performed, and an aggressive and assaulting merchandize-ready cartoon aimed at 10-year-old boys—loud, stupid and a logic-defying waste of resources. The result is a simultaneously engaging and frustrating experience.
The sequel picks up on Peter (Garfield) and Gwen’s (Stone) high school graduation day. As she’s giving a ridiculously mature (and prophetic) valedictorian speech, he’s off saving the city from a gang of Russian mobsters (one of them is played by Paul Giamatti who will allegedly play a bigger role in a future movie).
This opening action scene, a hyperactive albeit organic blend of action, visual effects, comedy and wit, serves as a sizzle reel for a lot of what this film gets right. It proves that two movies in, Andrew Garfield is a better Peter Parker and Spider-Man than Tobey Maguire ever was. Garfield nails Peter’s growing confidence with his superpowers, and also gets both, his charm and smartass attitude right—traits that eluded Maguire’s depiction of the character. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 also hits the bulls-eye in the way it depicts the character’s physicality. From the way he moves, jumps and swings to the way the suit stretches and trembles in the wind, this is easily the best-looking Spider-Man yet.
The action sequence also works as our introduction to a nerd named Max Dillon (a wasted Jamie Foxx). Dillon will go on to harbor a dangerous obsession with Spider-Man before transforming into a glowing six foot willy capable of spouting electric charges and bad puns. Before Peter can deal with Dillon, who now goes by the moniker of Electro, he has to first work out his complicated relationship with Gwen. Remember that promise he made to her dad George Stacy (Denis Leary) at the end of the previous film? He’s still struggling with the consequences of breaking it. So much that it causes a rift in their relationship, even though they are both very much in love. To complicate things even further, Gwen is contemplating moving to England to accept an internship at Oxford.
For most superhero movies, this would be enough drama but Webb, his hack screenwriting team of Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Jeff Pinkner, and their corporate overlords feel the itch to stuff not one but two more major subplots. The first, and most frivolous one, involves Peter’s investigation of the mysterious disappearance of his parents at the beginning of the first film. He soon finds out that… surprise, surprise… all roads lead to Oscorp. Evidently, Oscorp is the SPECTRE of this franchise.
That connection eventually leads to the final thread in this over-stuffed cluster of a movie… Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan). Bitter, confused and deeply disturbed, Harry has returned to town after learning of his father’s ill-health. Taking over as Oscorp’s CEO, he soon learns that he’s inherited not just the wealth but the fatal skin-rotting disease of his father.
Harry is unarguably the most fascinating character in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 but Webb and team’s decision to relegate his arc to the background for much of the film’s bloated 142 minute running time in favor of the embarrassingly cheesy Electro prove that prove that the filmmakers are more interested in setting up sequels than building narrative and character momentum. It is credit to DeHaan’s tremendous performance that we care and root for Harry, even though he neither gets the screen-time nor the development he deserves.
It’s Webb’s luck and the audience’s relief that Garfield and Stone make such an appealing couple. The two, whose real-life relationship informs their intimacy onscreen, are a revelation together. Whenever they’re onscreen together, the movie springs to life with authenticity and personality. Their quieter scenes of playful banter and romance are the saving grace of this franchise and a much needed relief from the over-bearing childishness and convoluted world-building that plagues the rest of the film.
Director: Marc Webb
Writers: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner
Principal Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Sally Field
Editing: Pietro Scalia
Cinematography: Dan Mindel
Music: Johnny Marr, Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams
Running time: 142minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence