What is and what should be — it’s a concept that resonates with Spider-Man movies in general. There’s always some terrific aspect to them that keeps us coming back and more than one flaw that keeps them from being great movies.
Watching The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is like observing a ripped up Mona Lisa or a Debussy piece with breaks every three minutes. The pieces are right in front of you like a shattered mirror and you can see the greatness lying in the work as a whole but things don’t pull themselves together to reach that point.
Spidey’s second outing has so many great moments to it that it’s impossible to dismiss as a failure. In fact it’s the best portrayal of Spider-Man on screen ever and a complete blast of a summer blockbuster. But with a little retooling here and there, it could have been the best Spider-Man movie ever and, to boot, a terrific film.
Picking up shortly after movie one, Peter Parker is loving being Spider-Man but can’t quite get over that promise he made to Captain Stacey to keep Gwen out of it. Overcome with guilt, he decides its best to call it off. But we all know they’re too cute to not be together, so cue the will they, won’t they routine. In the meantime, Peter’s old friend Harry Osborn returns under a desperate new purpose, secrets about Peter’s dad emerge and an uber Spidey fan has a bad day and becomes a dangerous menace.
As stated, the Spider-Man we see here is a true joy. Marc Webb brings to life the high-octane fun of being Spider-Man with eye-popping web swinging scenes, wise cracks and and a vibrant, color-saturated aesthetic that ditches the more grounded look of the previous film and embraces the hyper-real aspects of the material. Every scene, from the opening truck chase, the Times Square showdown and a profound scene of Spidey confronting an omnipresent Electro manipulating the electricity in a blacked out building had me saying “this is what watching a Spider-Man movie is supposed to be like.”
While the film ditches the grounded look of movie one (a worthwhile choice), the grounded, relatable characters of this new Spider-Man universe remain in full force. Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker is as endearing and brilliantly watchable as his costumed counter-part, something that can’t be said for the Raimi’s trilogy’s star. He is funny, touching, adorable, wounded, smart and capable all in one.
The terrific thing about the character of Peter Parker in Webb’s series is that he has, well, character. He is a quick-witted scientist who has some actual traits and skills outside his powers (specifically his problem solving when it comes to his malfunctioning web shooters and his experiments to make them more electricity-proof).
Likewise, Emma Stone is completely charming as Gwen Stacey. With her we have a female character who has goals and ambitions outside of just domestic instincts and is just as brilliant and capable as her male counterpart. No wonder Garfield and Stone’s chemistry on screen is so palpable. As much as I would re-watch the action scenes of ASM 2, I would just as easily revisit the “ground rules” scene between Peter and Gwen. While their back and forth over being together may become tiresome quickly due to its inevitable conclusion, the story they share on screen is the meaty heart of the film and a touching, adorable heart at that.
With great casting and chemistry, ASM 2 shows us that you don’t need a shoehorned love triangle to make a blockbuster’s romance angle work spectacularly.
Taking another sizable detour away from previous Spider-Man movies is the music of the film. Some may find the music by Hans Zimmer and his super group (consisting of Johnny Marr and Mr. “Happy” himself, Pharrell Williams) too new age but for me it only helped the overall aesthetic. Maybe it’s just that I grew up with the rockin’ ’90s guitars of the Spider-Man animated series or the wild tunes of The Spectacular Spider-Man, but Zimmer understands the youthful, reckless sound that better fits the wall crawler. The only aspect that was unnecessary was the choice to use whispered lyrics in Electro’s theme, which just became redundant for the character’s overall motivations.
But like so any big films these days, the script by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci was not solidified enough. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 suffers from more of the same fragmented, heavy-handed Hollywood script writing that goes through rewrite after rewrite. Many have said that the film is overstuffed with villains, ala Spider-Man 3. It’s true that the film has one too many plates spinning but it’s not due to the antagonist’s influence: it’s due to all the Peter Parker dilemmas that are going on.
Between Gwen, Harry, Electro and the truth about Pete’s dad, there isn’t enough time to devote to any one storyline to make it truly satisfying. Wrapping up Richard Parker’s storyline just came off as obligatory and could away with truncating the whole thing to two scenes to stop drawing so much attention toward such an uninteresting area (including choosing a better opening for the film). Meanwhile, if Gwen and Peter had stopped playing cat and mouse, it would leave more room open to spend more needed time developing another area.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2‘s villains never reach the point of apathetic embarrassment that 4/5 Marvel movies do, but we still could have used more time with them. Jamie Foxx’s Max Dillon has an interesting enough backstory and Foxx works well with the material but Electro exits the picture for a good chunk of the story to make room for Harry Osborn and his plight.
In an interesting move, we pick up Harry’s story at a point where he is already a bit of a sick puppy (literally). It helps to start off having Harry in a desperate place to buy into his pre-determined transformation into the Green Goblin, but his arc still ends up feeling rushed. Worst of all, the Green Goblin himself ends up being little more than a plot contrivance so that the filmmakers could deliver the ending they wanted (and a complete punk plot contrivance, at that). Thank god for Dane DeHaan’s natural charisma in the role. He manages to be both charming and creepy in that slimy sort of way. Seeing him in future Spider-Man movies will be nothing but a benefit to the series.
(In case you’re wondering, fuck the Rhino. He was utilized as much as he needed to be, but yeesh, some of his material near the end is cringe-worthy.)
But what an ending we got. In a complete gut-punch, Marc Webb gets ballsy and pulls the rug out from under us. The last 15 minutes (apart from the one groan-tastic area of the film) are a thing of beauty and do really redeem the entire film that set it up.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 could have been a near-perfect film, but instead it is just a fun one. No, it is the fun one. The action of the film is infectious and gorgeous to witness and the performances by Garfield, Stone and DeHaan are excellent. Obvious story failings aside, the thrilling positives are enough to justify admission price. IMAX 3D is an absolute must (just be wary if you’re afraid of heights). While not a masterpiece, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has its heart in the right place and, with the right guidance, can hopefully pull it’s tangled web together for next time.