REVIEW: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 [2014]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★


Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 142 minutes | Release Date: May 2nd, 2014 (USA)
Studio: Columbia Pictures / Sony Pictures Releasing
Director(s): Marc Webb
Writer(s): Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci & Jeff Pinkner /
Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci & Jeff Pinkner and James Vanderbilt (story) /
Stan Lee & Steve Ditko (comic book)

“You still blow dry your hair every morning?”

It’s time to embrace the comic aspect of comic book films. I’m sorry, but it is. Christopher Nolan‘s time on the Dark Knight Trilogy is over and while we’d like the comic genre’s big brother graphic novel to imbue the dark conflicted nature of an Oscar worthy film, it doesn’t necessarily mimic the medium’s tone. We’re talking costumed heroes fighting a rogue’s gallery of mutated baddies with special powers who wreak havoc, never die, and engage in a never-ending cycle so that young kids have a new story to buy each month. Marvel’s universe under the Disney umbrella has accepted this fact nicely and succeeded in forming a sprawling ensemble with The Avengers. Now it’s Sony’s time to do the same because—unlike Fox just having X-Men—they have some wiggle room with both Spidey and Fantastic Four.

What does that mean? Some future crossover between the two properties with plans of a Sinister Six spin-off of villainy already in the works and alluded to in the post-credits sequence of The Amazing Spider-Man. Doing so takes time, however, and not having a slew of heroes to utilize in standalone stories and in turn expand the saga means you sometimes have to go a bit bigger than popular opinion deems acceptable. This is why James Vanderbilt and polishers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci saw their script for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 include Rhino, Electro, Green Goblin, Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane Watson, and probably even more Easter egg treats of foreshadowing to boot that my unversed in comics brain missed. How could you not worry about it becoming a giant mess?

That’s where the need to embrace comes in. I loved reading how director Marc Webb owned the fact he had a lot of characters. He heard the grumbling, probably knew in his heart it was too much, yet never tried to deflect that truth. And when all was said and done, the ability to spin them all into a coherent bridge tale—one setting up at least two films rather than merely one—is the sequel’s greatest strength. It cut Shailene Woodley‘s Mary Jane out completely, used Paul Giamatti‘s Rhino as brief bookends, and kept both Electro (Jamie Foxx) and Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan) on the fringes as the impetus to its inevitably dark, depressing climax rather than key figures to stage a large manhunt like its predecessor did with Rhys Ifans‘ The Lizard.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is about Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) discovering the kind of man his destiny has paved a path to become. There are script hiccups along the way from an overtly prescient graduation speech by crush Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), a weirdly set to rock song montage of him putting photo clues of his disappeared parents on the wall, and unnecessary injections of mortality such as two airplanes set on a collision course that does nothing but take us away from the action we’re interested in. It gets over-wrought with Peter constantly seeing Gwen’s deceased father (Denis Leary), Aunt May (Sally Field) going into over-the-top dramatics about being his “mother”, and Harry’s out of nowhere, ten-years-removed best friend feeling “betrayed”, but the story’s propulsion gets us where we need to go.

And where the plot fails in its bloat, the characters excel. This result probably goes hand-in-hand because we do start to care for the periphery players in a way that causes their disappearance from the story to frustrate. We want to see the fun back and forth between Peter and Gwen, yet she’s gone for stretches so he can play detective and learn the truth about his folks. We want to see the evolution of Foxx’s Max Dillon into Electro because of a heartbreaking performance that can’t help forcing you to empathize with his plight. He has every right to be pissed as his fear and confusion solidifies into rage. Oscorp and Spidey—while unwittingly—play a huge role in turning him into the monster public perception believes he is, albeit too rapidly.

Even Harry Osborn brings layers. In just one short pause as his old friend Peter is about to leave him halfway through, all the cold harshness he used to ensure his board understood who was boss melts away at the sight of human compassion from the boy he forgot during a decade of boarding school exile. There’s room for redemption in him that Peter is never allowed the time to wrestle free due to the filmmakers’ need to progress forward with as little excess as possible. They plant the seeds of detail and exposition so we believe it’s present despite never seeing it because a three and a half hour film wouldn’t fly for anyone. The screenwriters economized and I’m okay with that, compressing and tightening everything surrounding the big moments because those are what matter most.

Does it become a checklist of sorts? I guess. There’s graduation, Electro’s rise, Harry’s return, Peter and Gwen’s break-up and subsequent reunion, and the culmination of all the feelings those instances instill in Spider-Man as a result. But all along the way we get exactly what we came for: snarky retorts and insanely choreographed action sequences. This is the Spider-Man we never got from Tobey Maguire, a wisecracking, punk of a kid using his powers for good and fun. There’s an infectious humor to his dealings with criminals and a heart-warming depth in how he handles those he saves (especially young children). He’s a hero we can relate to and aspire towards, knowing we’d be just as sarcastic yet probably never as selfless. And the fight scenes? See this thing in IMAX 3D because Webb puts us into the action like no other.

So while The Amazing Spider-Man 2 finds difficulty standing on its own (they could have ended it three times considering Spidey deals with two villains and the denouement), it delivers what Sony’s expanded world required. Fanboys get a Dr. Manhattan-esque Electro fully formed courtesy of Foxx’s standout performance and unparalleled computer graphics; regular filmgoers get comedy (Marton Csokas is delightful), drama, action, and suspense; and the studio gets a few more bad guys introduced so their job is easier for the future. I look at it like this: if a schizophrenic story is necessary to help subsequent films achieve stronger focus, I’m game. The trailers never pretended this installment would be more than filler and my expectations were formed accordingly. Anyone thinking otherwise who was disappointed—that’s somewhat on you.


photography:
[1] Andrew Garfield stars as Spider-Man in Columbia Pictures’ “The Amazing Spider-Man,” also starring Emma Stone.
PHOTO BY: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Imageworks
©2013 CTMG. All Rights Reserved. All Rights Reserved. **ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC. FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY. SALE, DUPLICATION OR TRANSFER OF THIS MATERIAL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.
[2] Emma Stone stars in Columbia Pictures’ “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” also starring Andrew Garfield.
PHOTO BY: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures
©2013 CTMG. All Rights Reserved. All Rights Reserved. **ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC. FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY. SALE, DUPLICATION OR TRANSFER OF THIS MATERIAL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.
[3] Andrew Garfield, left, and Dane DeHaan star in Columbia Pictures’ “The Amazing Spider-Man,” also starring Emma Stone.
PHOTO BY: Niko Tavernise
© 2013 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved. **ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC. FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY. SALE, DUPLICATION OR TRANSFER OF THIS MATERIAL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.

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