Let’s just get this out of the way, in case you don’t feel like reading the full review:
The Amazing Spider-Man was a terrible film. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a better film. It is not as good as Spider-Man 3, which I liked, and will defend far longer than is probably wise to do so.
Now then. In some ways, I find it difficult to consider The Amazing Spider-Man 2 a movie at all. The more I think about it, the more it feels like an extended trailer for the rest of the Spider-Man franchise Sony has plotted out. Sony’s ambitious plan to pack in the Sinister Six (a group of supervillains comprised of Kraven the Hunter, Doc Ock, Vulture, Green Goblin, Rhino, and potentially Mysterio), Venom, and who knows what else into their next four films has put a significant amount of pressure on this installment to set everything up. And it shows. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is packed to the brim with teasers for the expanded universe, and yet there is almost no payoff, feeling closer to Batman Forever or Iron Man 2 than it is to its Raimi-era counterpart.
Now, onto the finer details:
*********WARNING: SPOILERS ABOUND*********
Webswinging – If there is anything that Webb’s Amazing series has improved from the Raimi films of the 2000s, it is the acrobatic ability of Spider-Man as he moves throughout the city. In terms of physicality, going from Spider-Man 2 to The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is like moving from the Xbox to the Xbox One. Movement is crisper, camerawork is more dynamic, and Andrew Garfield’s digitized body moves in ways that Tobey Maguire’s never did, especially while flying high above the city.
Special Effects – The CGI in this movie is beautiful. Electro’s energy attacks are vibrant and crisp, the destruction of the city is brutally explosive, and the sound design behind the action sequences is top-notch. Some people weren’t too high on the dubstep soundtrack that accompanied Electro, I was pretty into it throughout.
Dane DeHaan – All aboard the Dane Train! Dane DeHaan kills it in his first major studio film, despite being given a paper-thin arc. DeHaan’s Harry Osborne is devilishly slick yet with a constant hint of something sinister underneath, a perfect fit for the universe being established by Webb and co. If only his script had been better, he could have been an instant classic. Bold prediction: Dane DeHaan will win an Oscar before Leonardo DiCaprio.
Humor – Outside a few cringeworthy one-liners that sounded like they were quickly ADR’d in after-the-fact, the humor of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is legitimately entertaining. Spider-Man’s carefree encounters with the random thugs on the streets of New York are some of the highlights of the year, and the film manages to capture a bit more of the bungling mannerisms that Peter is known and loved for in the comics.
The Death of Gwen Stacy – I saw it coming. Everyone in the theater, assuming they were paying attention to the entire film (what kind of high school valedictorian gives a graduation speech all about death? One whose about to die, that’s who) saw it coming. And still, some part of me thought that they would hold back and keep her alive for one more movie. Not that I necessarily wanted that to happen, but it was a choice I could definitely see a studio making. And even given my distaste for Emma Stone, the scene works. It is beautifully shot, expertly paced, and brutally scripted (maybe too much so). While the majority of the film schizophrenically bounces between sappy teen drama and cheesy action comedy, this sequence had a laser focus and an emotional resonance far above anything else around it. It was a great scene, and it belongs in a better movie.
Villains - Leading up to the release of this film, many critics were speculating that the number of villains would bring down the film. And they were right…sort of. Now, the number of villains in a film does not necessarily dictate its quality; Batman Begins crammed in Ra’s al Ghul, Ducard, Scarecrow, Falcone, and some lesser thugs in, and it in no way detracted from the pacing or structure. The Amazing Spider-Man 2, really, only features two villains: Electro, and Green Goblin. Yes, Rhino is thrown in at the end, but he offers no real impact on the narrative. Norman Osborne, Gustav Fliers, Donald Menken and Ashley Kafka, the poor man’s Dr. Strangelove, are more quirky bit-players than anything else.
And still, with only two main villains, Webb & Co. still couldn’t pull off either a compelling arc or a coherent structure. Electro is a woefully flat character, whose origin is uninspired and whose resolution is virtually nonexistent. Goblin, on the other hand, is undoubtedly the stronger of the two but still lacks anything resembling a satisfying payoff. Spider-Man 3, while no masterpiece itself, is a far tighter film in regards to its villains. In retrospect, a version of the film that eliminated Electro altogether and simply put the Harry/Goblin subplot on a slow-burn while Peter tried to balance crimefighting with his relationship with Gwen could have turned The Amazing Spider-Man 2 into a fantastic film.
Andrew Garfield – Two films in now, and I am in no way convinced that Andrew Garfield is a better Peter Parker OR Spider-Man than Tobey Maguire. His portrayal of Peter is less timid everyman and more Edward Cullen. His Spider-Man is appropriately witty and aloof, but still holds no candle to Maguire. Yes, Garfield is funnier and arguably fits the costume better, but unless you’re a Tumblr fanatic, you have no good reason to think he’s an improvement.
Subplots – This movie is 142 minutes long. Regardless of its “summer blockbuster” status, that is just unacceptable. On the first pass, I noted at least half a dozen scenes that should have been excised completely and left on the cutting room floor, and several others that could have been reduced to a fraction of their final length. Dr. Kafka’s theatrical introduction was lame and totally irrelevant to the rest of the film. Andrew Garfield’s tedious dialogue with Gwen Stacey dragged out the runtime excessively; we needed far better dialogue, and far less of them eye-fucking the shit out of each other in a maintenance closet. Which brings me to:
The Plane Sequence(s) – I am, of course, referring to the air-traffic control sequence during the citywide power outage, although you could make the case that Richard Parker’s opening heroics during the most tedious fight sequence of all time is equally unnecessary (you know a movie is in trouble when someone mentions that the 5-minute airplane action sequence should be cut from the film, and you have to ask “which one?”). I will admit, at this point in the film, when Electro had drained the city dry and was looking like an unstoppable force, I was buying into it. Dialogue and pacing aside, the film had done a decent job of at least setting up engaging fight sequences that I looked forward to. And we got exactly that in the power grid battle, intercut with…air traffic control drama? In the middle of a vibrant, engrossing fight, we are forced to watch what could amount to B-roll footage from Flight? I couldn’t stop myself from repeatedly thinking, “why are we watching this?!”
It has no bearing on the main narrative thread. It introduces characters that we never see again in the film, and it has no effect on any existing ones. The planes in question (which should NEVER be on an intersecting course like that regardless of power loss in the tower) are not carrying any relevant characters or are in danger of crashing into the city in a way that Spider-Man or Gwen Stacy could consciously prevent. Nobody involved in either story is even remotely aware of the circumstances of the characters in the other. It BAFFLES me that any sane person, much less the dozens who had to have seen this film before it was shipped to theaters with their names on it, could watch this sequence and not think, “You know what this two and a half hour film about a superhero whose powers literally limit him to the area of New York City under skyscraper level could use LESS of? High-altitude plane drama.” God forbid we get a little more time explaining why the hell anyone is doing what they’re doing. We need more planes!
Sally Field – Someone really needs to tell Sally Field to tone it down a bit, and if someone has already they should tell her again because she clearly isn’t listening. Every word out of Aunt May’s mouth is overwrought with melodrama and ringing with a spine-chilling timbre that makes me want to throw her off a roof and see if she can still fly.
Spider-Man’s Origins - This is the thing I think is most troubling about the new interpretation of the character. Part of Spider-Man’s appeal is the fact that he’s just a normal kid who, by pure chance, is granted extraordinary powers and must find a way to deal with those challenges on top of everything else a normal kid would have to. There is nothing special about him, there’s nothing that sets him apart from the others. He’s just like us. If we were on that class trip instead of him, we would have gotten bitten by that spider and become Spider-Man or Spider-Woman instead. And The Amazing Spider-Man series erases that crucial aspect from Peter Parker’s canon in favor of a bland, uninspiring “chosen one” trope. By doing this, they are fundamentally changing the character in a way that is far more impactful than altering his ethnicity or gender. By making Peter the only person destined to become Spider-Man, they are stripping away the thing that makes him so relatable to every young boy and girl who falls in love with the character.
How can Spider-Man get sick? Wasn’t Goblin’s entire motivation centered around the fact that Spider-Man’s blood could cure his diseases? The filmmakers very clearly disregarded any internal logic in favor of a cheap gag
What exactly is the issue with Harry’s disease? Norman very clearly lived a full life and was able to found and run a multi-billion dollar empire before succumbing to the disease in his bed, as an old man. So what’s the rush with Harry?
Why did Richard Parker hide ordinary subway tokens in his calculator instead of just carrying them around like a normal person?
Had Gwen Stacey done any sort of preparation before trying to leave for England? You know, packing/saying goodbye to loved ones/quitting her job?
How does the power to all of New York City come on so quickly and easily after Spider-Man and Electro had destroyed half of it during their fight? And for that matter, why aren’t the hospitals and airports on backup generators?
How did Oscorp not know about Richard Parker’s secret subway lab, which they presumably funded? And why does it look like a train car, when it is glaringly obvious what it actually is (considering, you know, it has windows)?
Why are the cops at the end of the film simply standing around casually guarding the roadblocks as if the civilians are watching a parade? And why doesn’t Rhino just shoot Spider-Man with his machine guns while he’s busy talking to that dumb kid?
After all this, I still have to admit that I enjoyed watching The Amazing Spider-Man 2. It contains an energy that the first one simply lacked, and on a purely visual, popcorn-movie level the film passes with flying colors. But it also cements in my mind the fact that Webb’s franchise has no hope of reaching the heights that Raimi’s trilogy attained even considering the latter’s lackluster third act.