When The Amazing Spider-Man was released in 2012, many cried foul the fact that it had only been 5 years since the last Raimi/Maguire. It was too soon, people said. Regardless, that uneven movie managed to entertain, mostly based on the performances by Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man/Peter Parker and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, Peter’s first true love from the comics. I remember thinking that the movie was rough (possibly due to last-minute edits that excised a lot of backstory), but that it ended with a lot of potential for the future. Sony clearly agrees, hoping to build an entire Avengers-esque mega-franchise around the character. Does The Amazing Spider-Man 2 deliver on the promise that the studio has (and more importantly, that I have) built up for it?
Eh, not really. There is a whole lot going on in ASM2 – it is tough finding a place to start. Well, I guess it’s not that difficult: Peter and Gwen are newly-minted high school graduates, and for some reason Peter has waited until the cameras started rolling to begin feeling guilty about breaking his vow to Gwen’s late father (Denis Leary in full-on GhostMode) that he would stay away from her. And so begins the relationship drama part of the film. Meanwhile, Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), a electrical engineer at Oscorp with a pretty obvious personality disorder is involved in a serious accident, leaving him with electricity powers and the highly appropriate codename Electro. Also meanwhile, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), Peter’s emotionally unstable childhood best friend who was never mentioned before, returns to New York to take over Oscorp for his ailing father, Norman (Chris Cooper in a combined three minutes of screen time). Further meanwhile, Peter begins digging into the research of his own dead dad (Campbell Scott). More meanwhile, Sally Field as Peter’s Aunt May is going to nursing school, but doesn’t want Peter to know. Even more meanwhile, Paul Giamatti is a Russian mobster. Oh, and meanerwhile, Colm Feore plays a guy whose only personality trait is “evil,” which is especially impressive in a movie already full of villains with little-to-no redemptive value.
So, as you can see, director Marc Webb and screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner took on a little too much with this picture. The intention was clearly to make a movie in the vein of The Dark Knight, but the final product feels a lot more like Batman and Robin.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is not completely without merit (though there are plenty of demerits to discuss). Garfield and Stone both bring the full force of their respective charms to their characters for round two, as does Field. The best parts of the movie are the quieter moments between Peter and Gwen or Peter and Aunt May. It makes sense that Webb would take the most care here, considering his breakout film was (500) Days of Summer. Webb manages to find solid emotional beats in the midst of all of the CGI, whether those feelings are good or bad.
Also, Garfield continues to be a way better Spider-Man than Tobey Maguire ever was. His physicality is great, as is his approach to the character’s sense of humor. Peter’s quippiness is one of the things that is most appealing about the character. Garfield is a natural with this kind of stuff, which makes it too bad that Kurtzman, Orci, and Pinkner are so reserved with it. The 2012 movie had the same issue. It is true to the character, Garfield sells it, and – maybe most importantly – it lightens the film, so why not quip throughout the film?
The majority of the movie lacks that essential levity. There is so much angst in this movie. From Peter, from Gwen, from Electro, from Harry (DeHaan seemingly has two acting modes: angsty and angstier). It is everywhere, but it is really present whenever anyone has to explain something to someone else (whether that character knows it already or not). If “angstposition” was not already a phrase, it certainly will be now. In fact here’s a pull quote for the DVD, Sony: “the angstpositioniest movie of 2014!” Move over Endless Love.
The movie spends so much time following emotionally uninteresting characters like Electro and Harry Osborn, that more intriguing performances are left in the cold. Sally Field does some really good work in her few scenes, but there is very little time for her. And why the hell is Chris Cooper in this movie? He is such a talented guy; when the studio cast him as Norman Osborn I was legitimately excited, but they just brought him in for a day to wear slightly green makeup and monster fingernails. What a waste.
Ultimately I suppose people aren’t going to The Amazing Spider-Man 2 for Chris Cooper or Sally Field. It is a comic book movie, after all, and most will look to the action for its real value. All of these scenes are well-conceived and well-directed. There are few examples of the camera moving too fast to follow the action. The movie is especially good at showing how Spider-Man’s “spider sense” works during a fight. Unfortunately the computer effects are nowhere near the level they should be at to pull off what Webb and the rest of the team have envisioned. The scenes where CGI Spider-Man interacts with real-world people and items just don’t work, perhaps because of lackluster lighting effects, and the scenes that are all CGI only work slightly better in the sense that everything looks like a videogame, instead of just one guy.
This stumble in the execution is the umbrella flaw from which most of The Amazing Spider-Man 2‘s problem flow. There are a lot of creative and fascinating ideas in the movie, but the translation does not do those concepts justice. A few good performances and a couple affecting scenes are not enough to salvage a movie that falters every step of the way. From script to set to post-production, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is as much a disappointment to me as Harry Osborn is to Norman. In some ways I envy Chris Cooper’s character – at least he doesn’t have to sit through the entire 2 hours and 20 minutes.