Amazing Spider-Man 2, The (United States, 2014)May 01, 2014
It takes something lackluster like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to remind viewers why movies like Captain America: The Winter Soldier are considered superior. In the superhero genre, it's too easy to become sloppy and fall back on clichés. The fifth Spider-Man feature, which is the sequel to the unnecessary reboot, is all over the place, an undercooked cinematic casserole that blends some genuinely touching moments and well-presented action sequences with bad melodrama, overlong exposition, and overexposed CGI. There are too many negatives to keep the experience from being the kind of giddy adrenaline rush one hopes for with a Big Summer Flick.
Sitting through The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I had the feeling that screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner and director Marc Webb were throwing everything they could think of at the audience to see what might stick. There are some good moments in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, especially toward the end, but the whole thing seems to have been assembled by filmmakers tone-deaf to what constitutes compelling cinema. Key relationships are given short shrift. The central villain (to the extent that there is one) is all bluster and no menace. The "resolution" to the mystery of Richard and Mary Parker is an anti-climax. Spider-Man is too obviously the product of computer graphic artists as he swings around New York (an oft-heard complaint about the webslinger from back in Sam Raimi's first installment). And the 3-D recalls the nadir of the technology. For a $3 surcharge you can get blurry images, washed out colors, and very little "pop."
A majority of the movie focuses on events in and around Oscorp, the omnipresent New York City tech corporation that employs Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), the platinum blond girlfriend of Peter Parker a.k.a. Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield). Gwen is delightful but the same can't be said of Peter, who comes across as a smart aleck. At least early in the proceedings, Peter isn't likable, although the screenplay eventually humanizes him a bit. Worried that his relationship with Gwen might be putting her life in danger, he breaks it off with her. Loving her means letting her go.
Meanwhile, we discover that Peter's childhood best friend, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), is back in town, having taken over Oscorp following his father's untimely death. After an awkward reunion scene, it's just like old times for these two, but the artificial manner in which Harry's bosom friendship with Peter is forced upon the audience makes this relationship a non-starter. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I accepted that the title character and Bucky Barnes were once close buddies. Not so here.
While Harry and Peter are busy rekindling their bromance, one of Oscorp's loyal electrical engineers, Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), has an accident. After being electrocuted, he falls into a tank of mutant eels and is repeatedly bitten by them. Instead of dying like any self-respecting overzealous worker, he becomes a supervillain called "Electro." The screenplay never bothers to establish the "rules" governing him nor does it do a good job of explaining his limitations. His motives are also poorly defined; what is his soul's desire beyond killing Spider-Man? Electro recalls The Sand-Man in Spider-Man 3: an imposing bad guy who's just around to add some variety to the battle sequences. I suppose the real villain of the piece is The Green Goblin, but he doesn't show up until near the end. There's also The Rhino but his debut comes even later than The Goblin's. Truth is, for about half the running length, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 doesn't have any villains, which results in a meandering screenplay that tries to stay afloat by tricking viewers into thinking they're watching a superhero soap opera.
As one might expect from a real-life couple, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone display some nicely modulated chemistry, although they never quite match Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst for generating sparks. And, while events conspire to knock some of the petulance out of this too-cocky interpretation of Peter Parker, Garfield never completely loses the "too cool for school" air. Spider-Man's enemies are an underwhelming lot. Dane DeHaan, who was effective in Chronicle, fails to find his footing here. His transformation is more inevitable than tragic and his Green Goblin comes across as a generic homicidal comic book bad guy. Electro is probably about 50% Jamie Foxx and 50% CGI and it doesn't help that Foxx seems to be channeling Richard Pryor from Superman 3.
It's no stretch to say that the final 15 minutes saves The Amazing Spider-Man 2 from being a disaster. In borrowing a storyline from the comics, it does so with the proper level of reverence without becoming slavish. This segment of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 feels a little more real, a little more unexpected, and little more honest than what we have come to expect from otherwise by-the-numbers superhero movies. It gives meaning to an otherwise scattershot production that could have benefited from a less spectacle and better writing.
Amazing Spider-Man 2, The (United States, 2014)
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Colm Feore, Paul Giamatti, Sally Field, Embeth Davidtz, Campbell Scott
Screenplay: Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci & Jeff Pinkner
Cinematography: Daniel Mindel
Music: Johnny Marr, Pharrell Williams, Hans Zimmer
U.S. Distributor: Columbia Pictures