THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 // Emotions run high in Marc Webb’s superhero sequel, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”. Spider-Man has been my favorite superhero since I was a child and to my satisfaction, he continues to be written the way he was meant to be, witty and wisecracking, an element that was always missing in Sam Raimi’s take on the character. The other major success that Webb is able to bring to the table is the infectious chemistry between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey, with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone getting credit for that as well. It is impossible not to smile and pine for these characters whenever they are in contact. Too often are on-screen couples the epitome of opposites attracting. But here, Peter and Gwen are both extremely smart, both extremely witty, and both compliment each other almost perfectly, which makes it that much more heart-wrenching when things just do not work out.
Peter’s greatest struggle is not a villain but his desire for a normal life. The reason Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2” is the success that it is and why it is still one of my favorite films of all time is mostly because it understood that core value. Having promised her dying father in the previous film that he would stay away from her as to not involve her in any of the constant danger that surrounds him, we return to Peter, who has broken his word and is dating Gwen. This does not come without consequence, however, as he continuously sees imagines of Gwen’s deceased father popping up wherever he goes, a reminder of his broken promise. This drives a wedge between the couple and that conflict carries them through the entire film, a situation made worse when Gwen accepts a scholarship to Oxford and plans her move to England, with or without Peter. Not quite as emotionally intense as Sam Raimi’s grasp of the concept, the “500 Days Of Summer” director does bring this struggle to the forefront and does succeed in making this couple’s dynamic one of the best parts of the film.
Do not get a big head yet, Marvel, you still have yet to figure out how to make a superhero film work with multiple villains. The best superhero films released in the last few years have had a single villain that they are able to build to immense levels, most notably “The Dark Knight” with The Joker and Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2” with Doctor Octopus. The worst superhero film of the last few years, although perhaps coincidentally, had multiple villains, to which I am referring to Sam Raimi’s dismal “Spider-Man 3”, which crammed Sandman, Green Goblin, and Venom all into one film, unsuccessfully. This time around, Marc Webb does a fairly decent job, delving out one central villain in Electro (Jamie Foxx), a major supporting villain in Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan), and a very minor one which bookends the film with Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti). Electro is handled perfectly, getting across the misunderstood baddie with great reverence. As the lowly Max Dillion, an OsCorp electrician, he dreams of being needed and noticed. But after an accident in a vat of electric eels, he is transformed into an energy sucking mutant. His hatred for Spider-Man comes from feeling betrayed. Jamie Foxx brings a freshness to this villain and creates something truly special.
Also perfectly cast is Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborn. Scrawnier than James Franco, DeHaan has the evil behind his face and voice that is reminiscent of Jack Nicholson. Had his rise to evil been as masterfully designed as Sam Raimi’s foray with the character, this would have been huge for the franchise, but instead his story feels rushed and not as satisfying when he eventually becomes the Green Goblin. Lastly, Paul Giamatti is completely goofy in his role as Aleksei Sytsevich a.k.a. Rhino. With zero character development and a bizarre Russian accent, as much as I was excited to see Giamatti play a villain, this was grossly miscast. The utilization of these villains does not quite pan out, with the narrative of the film feeling stretched too thin and too many parallels being drawn to “Spider-Man 3”. However, had this structure been used in “Spider-Man 3”, with all the development and backstory that led up to it, involving two boss battles back to back for the finale, it would have been lightyears ahead of where it was. But for a second film, which just introduced these characters for the first time, it suffers. Which begs the question, are we ready for an entire film based on six villains?
Focused more on developing the future of the franchise, specifically with the Sinister Six, rather than creating a fully realized, stand-alone film, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” lacks in comparison to its predecessor. Although Andrew Garfield continues to shine as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and the writers finally get how to write the webslinger, the CGI heavy world that surrounds him is lackluster, with too much time spent building peaks and valleys for the villains to traverse and not enough time spent on the emotions between Peter and Gwen. The continued saga of Peter’s parents adds little to the narrative and simply reiterates facts and questions that have already been stated or answered. It does however bring out some highlight moments between Peter and Aunt May (Sally Field), which will almost have you in tears. Marc Webb is willing to go dark with Spider-Man, which is apparent throughout the entire film, but the truly devastating moments still do not land as hard as they should and a moment I was missing completely was a final nod from Gwen Stacy’s father at the end of the film. All that aside, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is still an engaging superhero endeavor, capturing many of the quality that audiences love about this character and his adventures. And, depending where the final feature in the trilogy takes us, it could unilaterally bring a better appreciation for this understated second film.
[Directed by Marc Webb] [PG-13] [142 min] [2 May 2014]