(dir. Marc Webb)
“You're Spider-Man, and I love that. But I love Peter Parker more.”
The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the sequel to the 2012 reboot, is an entertaining albeit messy start to the 2014 summer movie season. The story picks up a little while after the first movie with Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) graduating from high-school and struggling to balance his responsibility as a costumed hero with his relationship with Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone). Peter’s personal life and responsibilities become more complicated by the rise of Max Dillon/Electro (Jamie Foxx) and the return of his childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan). Coupled with these plot points is Peter’s search for the answers behind his parents’ deaths.
There’s a lot the film gets right—Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man is the most comic-accurate interpretation of the character on film. He’s even more comfortable in the role than he was in the last film and completely captures Peter’s awkward charm and Spider-Man’s clever wit. Emma Stone shines as Gwen Stacey and while her chemistry with Garfield is evident she has enough screen presence on her own to make Gwen an interesting character in her own right. Webb smartly avoids using Gwen as a damsel in distress and makes her a fully realized character instead as simply an object of Peter’s affection. Marc Webb has a great feel for romantic relationships and the same touch he brought to 500 Days of Summer is evident in this. Ever since the days of Stan Lee, Spider-Man comics have contained soap-opera elements. Many of the best Spider-Man comics are ones focused on Peter’s relationships and supporting cast, as opposed to his villains and battles. But it’s the villains and battles that make for a summer blockbusters and this is unfortunately where the film becomes a mixed bag.
Spider-Man’s villains for the most part are firmly rooted in their 60s origins and lack the readily apparent allegorical nature of Batman’s rogues. They are mostly scientists or petty crooks given immense abilities. As a whole they all represent the idea of power without responsibility. Both Raimi’s films and Webb’s have struggled with villains--differentiating them enough to be interesting, modernizing them enough to transcend their inherent cheesiness, but mostly they always feel like plot devices meant to complicate the real story--Peter’s personal and romantic life.
In the film Electro is made into yet-another nerdy scientist, whose beef with Spider-Man comes from the fact that he feels ignored and invisible. Jamie Foxx takes away all possible subtly the character could have held and makes Max Dillon into a caricature of a socially inept nerd. When he becomes Electro he brings a compelling gravitas to the character but the motivations for the character feel rushed and underdeveloped in order to make room for Harry Osborn’s transformation into the Green Goblin. Dane DeHaan conveys Harry’s sense of entitlement and desperation wonderfully but unfortunately his storyline is also rushed and seeded with conveniences to quickly keep things moving. With an extended cameo from the Rhino (Paul Giamatti) it would be easy to say that the film contains too many villains. But that isn’t the problem (after all Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was full of villains). The problem is that it seems the villains are primarily being used to set-up future installments instead of fleshing out the themes of the current film. And from the amount of lines and scenes used in the trailers that were not in the final cut, it seems that this film (like the first one) suffered from too much studio involvement.
But despite mismanagement of the villains the film succeeds in capturing the tone of the comics and is an overall improvement of Webb’s last film and of many aspects of Raimi’s series. In terms of sheer spectacle, the film completely succeeds. The special effects--web-slinging, wall-crawling, spider-sensing, and the whole works--are the best of any Spider-Man film. Ultimately it’s the emotional core Peter and Gwen that makes the movie and it’s impossible not to root for them. While it’s not perfect, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 feels closest to a true Spider-Man movie, just one that’s still learning how to be truly amazing.