Review: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 One-Ups Its Predecessor

Amazing Spider-Man 2
Credit: Sony
Credit: Sony

Amazing Spider-Man 2
Directed by Marc Webb
Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Sally Field and Chris Cooper
Written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner
Produced by Columbia Pictures
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

The Web-head is swinging high in more ways than one — even with its flaws, Amazing Spider-Man 2 one-ups its predecessor on almost every level, providing a stellar two-and-a-half hours of action, humor and pathos that’s sure to make Spider-fans cheer.

Following the death of Captain George Stacy at the hands of the Lizard at the end of the first Amazing Spider-Man film, Peter Parker is wrestling with something far stronger than rampaging reptiles — his conscience. He’s torn between chasing the love of his life, the effervescent Gwen Stacy, and fulfilling his final promise to her late father — namely, staying away from Gwen and thus keeping her out of harm’s way. While Marc Webb cavalierly ended the last Spider-Man film by saying that the best promises are the promises you can’t keep, the ghost of George Stacy weighs now heavily on our heroes, as they try to determine whether or not their infectiously adorable relationship is even meant to be.

And yes, I said “heroes” in the plural, as both Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone remain the heart and soul of this franchise, their on-screen chemistry as endearing and powerful as ever. But whereas the first Amazing Spider-Man was charming in the simplicity and directness of its central romance, this sequel attempts to make things a bit more complicated between the two; Peter’s on-again, off-again angst isn’t helping matters, and Gwen herself has choices to make about her future — a future that may not include Peter at all. But these diversions are merely minor, and that’s for the best — we know that Peter and Gwen are made for each other, and it’s truly a joy whenever the two of them are on screen together. This is a far cry from the (comparatively) leaden performances from Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst — even when Webb occasionally overplays his hand with Gwen’s involvement in Spider-Man’s adventures, it’s largely forgivable by the way his leading couple smolders with every look and crackles with every kiss.

But maybe I’m boring you with the lovey-dovey stuff. While the romantic engine keeps this movie going — indeed, the relationship between Peter and Gwen gives this movie its very soul — there’s still plenty of high-flying action to go round here. One of my main problems with the original Amazing Spider-Man film was that the action felt rough compared to the iconic Sam Raimi trilogy, with plenty of night scenes and lackluster combat sequences. While I do think Peter’s costumed alter ego is still lacking a little bit of screen time, this movie levels up in a big way on the special effects score, as this is some of the best web-slinging and wall-crawling I’ve seen since Spider-Man 2. While the trailers gave away some of the best action beats of the movie with the short sequence of Spidey taking down the Rhino, there’s a few other great bits here, including a tour-de-force fight sequence between Spider-Man and Electro that nearly levels Times Square.

Peter’s Spider-Sense is much more apparent in this film than in its predecessor, and that’s a good thing — it’s not enough to just show Spider-Man swinging and twisting in the air (although that does look great), but the highlights of the choreography are when Spidey is proactively saving lives, adding a layer of complication beyond just saving his own skin. A moment where Peter stops a flying car and rescues not one, but two bystanders from being electrocuted has a Rube Goldberg level of precision, and it’s hard not to be taken in by these impossible acts of derring-do. That said, much of this immaculate choreography dissipates near the end of the film, as the final Electro and Green Goblin fights feel a little too loose, lacking moments that really stick with you. Still, even the most jaded comic book movie fan will find something to like about the visuals, even if the movie doesn’t quite break new ground.

Something else that deserves praise is the fact that it’s clear that Marc Webb and company have been listening to some of the complaints and patching up some of the weak spots from the last film. First and foremost that would be Sally Field — since Martin Sheen’s Uncle Ben is conspicuously absent in this film, Field becomes the adult voice in Peter’s life. Criminally underused in the last film, Amazing Spider-Man 2 is where Field’s Aunt May really soars, especially in one scene where her carefully constructed calmness begins to crack when she questions Peter’s motivations for seeking his father’s legacy. Veteran character actor Chris Cooper is another standout as he plays the virulent, venomous Norman Osborn. While Cooper only is in the film for a few minutes, you can almost see the scars his words leave on his son, Harry, as he’s not just about to leave this world — he’s balefully trying to take his only child with him.

Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborn is a revelation — well, at least most of the time. Looking every inch the foppish trust fund hipster with his scarves, suits and shades, DeHaan transcends some middling to major gaps in story logic, as he believes Spider-Man has the key to saving his life. There’s a reptilian glint to DeHaan’s eerie green eyes — unlike James Franco’s affable, sympathetic take on Harry Osborn, you can see the resemblance DeHaan has to his despicable, doomed father. This guy never stood a chance; he was simply born to be a villain. Yet even with the intensity and ferocity behind his stare, there’s also a tenderness to DeHaan’s character that’s desperate to get out, and that works wonders with Peter’s desire to help people at any cost. Garfield and DeHaan have great chemistry together, and that also helps give DeHaan some needed likability before the second half of the movie.

But I’ll admit it — this movie has some bugs to it (get it?), and those bugs are all about the bad guys, especially in the film’s second half. Jamie Foxx as Electro is indisputably the weak link in this movie — when he starts out the film as mild-mannered Max Dillon, there’s almost a sweetness to his interactions with Spider-Man, who calls the corporate cog “his eyes and ears” after saving his life. But the combed-over Foxx quickly overdoes it, as his character descends into stalking and self-delusion that’s not endearing, but off-putting. On the one hand, Electro is scary, with his booming voice and the sheer destruction he causes in his wake. (And it’s a real tragedy as you watch Spidey first try to talk Electro down in Times Square, only to have the NYPD break the silence by opening fire, forcing this misunderstood misfit into the role of the villain. #MyNYPD, y’all.) But on the whole, Foxx’s Electro is still pretty repulsive, and not in the way that you love to hate him — he’s largely one-note, and his scenes are further hampered by breaches in story logic as well as exposition through a cringe-worthy Papa Roach-esque score that only plays when he appears.

DeHaan also falters in the film’s second half, as complications at OsCorp suddenly make this conflicted, scared young man into a one-dimensional punk, complete with rebellious leather jacket and a suddenly superhuman ability to take out two armed guards by himself. His transformation into the Green Goblin feels almost perfunctory, and his villainous alter ego’s introduction to the film’s finale ends almost as abruptly as it begins. (Not to mention the Goblin’s design is hideous — he looks like a human booger, afflicted with Austin Powers-level gingivitis and a greasy Donald Trump haircut.) Naturally, the Green Goblin will leave his scars on Spider-Man — that’s what he does, after all — but there’s something lacking in his interactions with Peter that make his betrayal truly tragic, not to mention their fight ending far too soon. The real criminal act in this film, however, is the waste of Oscar nominee Paul Giamatti. who has had almost his entire role as the Rhino spoiled for months by the film’s trailers. With a cruel misstep like that, the movie’s marketing team should really be moonlighting for the Sinister Six.

The other thing that may drag down seasoned film buffs is the movie’s jumps in story logic. There are plenty of too-convenient moments that are scattered throughout the movie, such as how quickly Gwen puts together an (allegedly covered-up) accident and Electro’s secret identity, or how Peter discovers his father’s secret underground lab along New York’s D train (even though the lab was housed inside a decommissioned 5 train. In fact, why on Earth did the lab have to be in a train at all, if it was hidden underground?). Indeed, while the subplot with Peter’s missing parents progresses in this film, it’s not without its stops and starts — even with a gristly scene showcasing the plane crash of Richard and Mary Parker, the final payoff with Peter is definitely not enough to justify two movies, let alone steal needed emotional spotlight from Uncle Ben and Aunt May.

Yet considering some of the very real flaws with this film, it’s impressive that Amazing Spider-Man 2 so often transcends its weak spots and winds up largely sticking the landing. There are some great performances that stand out over the duds, and the rock-solid dynamic between Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield carry this film through some major shake-ups to the status quo. This movie will make you laugh, make you cheer, and might even make you cry — and while it’s far from perfect, there’s still so much to love that you’ll likely overlook Amazing Spider-Man 2’s problems. This is the movie that doesn’t just have the heart of a hero — it has the heart of two, and it’s that star power that makes this sequel live up to its name.

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