I absolutely loved the first Amazing Spider-Man. Not a perfect movie by any stretch, but a faithful, deeply romantic, and thrilling take on the character nevertheless. As such, my expectations for this sequel were high.
We pick up where we left off, and find Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) completely settled into his role as the crime-fighting, wise cracking Spider-Man. However, he feels conflicted about his strengthening relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) after his promise to her dying father to leave her out of his crusade. Meanwhile, a parade of villains start to come into play. Max Dillion (Jamie Foxx), is insecure, borderline psychotic tech specialist obsessed with Spider-Man, who saved his life while acknowledging him in passing. As Spider-Man villains tend to, he is the victim of a horrible electrical accident that gives him, you guessed it, the power to harness electricity. Also, Harry Osbourne (Dane DeHaan), a childhood friend of Peter’s, returns to New York. While blessed with infinite wealth, he is also cursed with a fatal disease that will kill him if he doesn’t get his hands on Spider-Man’s genetically enhanced blood. Needless to say, things don’t go his way, spiraling him into becoming The Green Goblin.
Is it sad that all of that is about half of the plot threads in this film?…but more on that later.
This movie is, at it’s core, a goofy Marvel comic come to life. This works both for, and against it in spectacular ways. While it does lead to a very enjoyable experience, it’s definitely a bit of a mess.
The absolute biggest plus continues to be Andrew Garfield’s spectacular work as Peter Parker. Through his movement, speech, and mannerisms, he has managed to create a Peter Parker that Toby Maguire could not even dream of. He’s eminently likable and relatable, not in a ‘golly gee’ sort of way, but in a real, honest one. He’s a good person, but he has serious emotional flaws left by the scars of his life. The film also really embraces the boisterous, wise cracking personality of Spider-Man. Not only do we get some comedic set-pieces that seem ripped straight from the page, but Garfield’s quick wit in and out of the suit completely sell it.
What sells even more is his chemistry with the wonderful Emma Stone. Their romance has been a combination of all of the exact right elements. It’s very easy to tell that these actors are dating in real life though the hyper-natural ease to their conversations, which are all comfortably navigated by director Marc Webb, who’s experience on the wonderful romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer has come to beautiful fruition in these scenes. This feels like a real romance, with two people who genuinely love each other.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t credit the work of Dane DeHaan as Harry Osbourne. While his character development comes off a little undercooked, particularly as the Goblin, DeHaan sells every second of it.
Webb does a good job balancing two conflicting tones. This is a much sillier film then the first one by a long shot, but most of it is fantastic, character based humor that really aids the proceedings. However, there are still plenty of moments that retain the more somber tone of the original, and those manage to bring everything back down to earth whenever things get to farcical.
Also, all of the set pieces are absolutely stunning on every level. Marc Webb is clearly a lot more comfortable in the director’s chair this time around. He melds some truly eye popping visuals, framed exactly as if they were ripped from a comic book, with some classic Spider-Man humor, and some fascinating musical choices by Hans Zimmer, who gives the music a vibrant and experimental energy that was sorely missing in James Horner’s score last time around. Especially impressive are a couple moments where the action slows down, and we get a vivid picture of what Spider Sense feels like, immersing us in Peter’s thought process like never before.
Ok…now let’s get to the messy parts.
Electro is truly a weak link here. While Jamie Foxx does his best with what he’s given, the writing for this character is borderline embarrassing. He feels akin to Jim Carrey’s Edward Nigma from Batman Forever. Everything from his comb over hair, to his atrocious dialogue is just way overdone, and while he’s a cool villain in a visual sense, he really ultimately just comes off as a prissy fan who needs a stint in rehab who takes time away from DeHaan’s far more interesting character.
There are too many plot threads here that are all vying for attention, and they all cannibalize each other (although it is still far superior to the mess that was Spider-Man 3). While many of them do tie into each other by the end, the sheer amount of time devoted to switching between them takes away from the really strong ones. I’m sorry, but after two films, I still don’t care about what Peter’s parents were up too, even if it does tie in to what will ultimately be the main backbone of the series. So much time is thrown into these expository plots that by the time we get to the big emotional punch at the end, the audience has very little time to let it process, because the movie has to rush to an end.
Also, about The Rhino (Paul Giamatti), he’s just a bookend…expect nothing more.
Overall, while definitely severely flawed, this is a loveably goofy ride. It is definitely the strongest characterization of Spider-Man we’ve seen so far, and that certainly goes a long way towards making the more painful elements bearable. It’s not always robust, but it is always fun, and if you’re willing to sift through some less then stellar moments, it’s more then worth the trip.