No director is perfect. Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, Tim Burton, and Martin Scorsese have had their bad days. But when I look at The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I am befuddled by the idea that Marc Webb is the man who directed one of my favorite movies of all time, (500) Days of Summer. Plugging in too many wacky, unconvincing villains while juggling many big ideas with little-to-no payoff, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 can sadly be put on the same playing level as Joel Schumacher’s Batman films.
In this follow up to Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man, we find our hero still wracking his brain over the mystery of his parent’s deaths, all the while saving New York City from threats against its citizens. But that’s not all, oh no, we cannot forget that Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) made a promise to Captain Stacy (Denis Leary), to stay away from his daughter Gwen (Emma Stone) for her own safety. And don’t worry, Peter completely forgot about searching for his uncle’s Killer while he let’s his poor Aunt May (Sally Field) work double shifts at a diner while taking night school nursing classes.
Are you with me still? I haven’t even gotten to the best part: the looney tune, throwaway big bads. First we have Aleksei Systevich aka The Rhino (Paul Giamatti). Although useless to the story, The Rhino appears in the opening action sequence, which is incredibly fun and visually spectacular. It is playful and feels like this is the Spider-Man we’ve always wanted. Garfield truly embodies the character perfectly with his sarcastic delivery and joking demeanor with the villains.
Up next we have the main villain, Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), a squirrelly, neurotic, underappreciated electrical engineer at OsCorp who just wants to be noticed. After being saved by Spider-Man from an oncoming car, Max believes he has become bestfriends with the wall crawler. Unfortunately for Max, he falls into a pool of genetically modified electric eels. He survives to find himself transformed as a blue skinned Powder, and calls himself Electro. Never explained and very unclear, it would appear he may need electricity to enable his powers. As he stumbles into Time Square for the ultimate charge, he stirs up a panic in the crowd. Spider-Man is on the scene, and takes away the spotlight from Electro. Furious, Electro cranks up his hatred for Spider-Man to a head-scratching eleven, because how dare he? Foxx’s Electro is one of the goofiest, oddball portrayals of a villain I’ve seen in a long time. The action scenes with Electro, though, are very well done. Spidey’s movements look very natural and the slow-mo, bullet time scenes are beautiful. But like The Rhino, Electro serves little to the plot or is put in a juxtaposition to compliment Peter’s arc.
Which brings us to the final villain, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan). You might remember Harry from Raimi’s trilogy played by James Franco, and that’s exactly what they want you to believe so they don’t have to spend two whole movies turning him into the Green Goblin – they do it in less than thirty minutes. It’s as if the writers, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci – the duo who brought us Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Cowboys & Aliens – were too lazy to introduce Harry to this universe reboot and assumed you saw the first Spider-Man trilogy. (I wish I had known they wrote this movie before I walked into it because my expectations would have been a lot lower, and I might have enjoyed it more.) Harry’s motivation to end Spider-Man is absolutely bonkers. And the fact that we are to believe that Harry is all chummy without Peter despite the fact that they have gone eight years without seeing or speaking to each other is truly unbelievable. However, the brief time the two spend together is very honest. DeHaan does the dark and brooding thing very well, as he did so in Chronicle, but his hair has more personality than what he is given to work with from a character standpoint.
And if the villains aren’t enough, Gwen and Peter’s relationship ties up a good portion of the overly long screen time. Whenever we have a moment to slow down the plot for a dramatic scene between the two it works very well – and I’m so glad they decided to cut the scenes with Mary Jane (Shailene Woodley), it would have been even more than enough than what we already have to deal with. As we’ve seen in (500) Days of Summer and the previous Spider-Man, Webb knows how to build excellent relationships between characters. The chemistry of Garfield and Stone is just as strong, and no matter how much foreshadowing the dialogue lays thick, the end of this film rewards comics fans for the defining Spider-Man moment they’ve been waiting for. Peter and Gwen’s story should have been the main focal point, but the sequel has one plot thread it needed to tie up that was left lingering from the first movie – the supposed “untold” story of Spider-Man’s origins.
Throughout the course of this overstuffed sequel, the mystery of Richard Parker (Campbell Scott) and his involvement with OsCorp looms in the background of everything else. This should have been the big reveal in the first film, but was left unresolved. And when it is all said and done there is absolutely no mention of it again because the movie overshadows that subplot with Peter’s involvement with Gwen. If the movie didn’t have any of the Richard Parker/Spider-Man origins mess to distract from the rest of the story it wouldn’t have been missed and would have been a tighter movie. It throws off the pacing really bad. The one benefit to this derailment is that it gives us a really touching moment between Peter and Aunt May, who is given practically nothing to do here other than this scene.
Sony’s attempt at catching up to Marvel Studios is very apparent. With a numerous bounty of Spidey characters at every turn – Alistair Smythe (B.J. Novak) and Felicia Hardy (Felicity Jones) show up for a few lines of dialogue, but could have easily been nobodies – they’re just throwing in characters just so they can say, “Hey, comic readers, we’re just as cool as Marvel Studios because we have all of your favorite characters too.” That’s great and all, but you don’t have to do it all in one movie. It becomes useless fan service that does nothing to build the world when the characters are not used to provide more depth to the story.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is an apparent attempt, and failure, to build a franchise without a clear vision of the road ahead, and that’s why Marvel Studios is streets ahead. Cramming in and glossing over characters and subplots that are a part of the Spider-Man universe to the thinnest level is a desperate, sloppy move that will hurt the series in the long run. Fans will eventually not care about anything going on. The Amazing Spider-Man 2, for all the good it does in terms of action and fulfilling one of the most dramatic set pieces in comic history, is pummeled to death by all of the terrible things the film does wrong. Which is why The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is such a let down because it is in the hands of a director who has sacrificed whatever style he could have developed for himself in exchange for an over bloated, big budget franchise.
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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was directed by Marc Webb with a run time of 142 minutes. This film has been rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence.