Movie Review: “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”

Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Dane DeHaan, Jamie Foxx, Sally Field, Campbell Scott, Paul Giamatti
Marc Webb

You wouldn’t think that it’d be possible to overpromote a movie, but Sony has done just that with “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” spoiling virtually every major moment during the course of its marketing campaign, including the appearance of several characters that would have been a far better treat were they kept a secret. But while the knowledge that there would be multiple villains in the film left some fans dreading another “Spider-Man 3” fiasco, that’s only part of the bigger problem, because the movie is bursting at the seams with so much material that it borders on excess at times. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is the rare comic book movie where the action is the least interesting element, but for all the things that the film gets wrong, it does just enough right to keep you entertained, even if it fails to capitalize on the promise of its predecessor.

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) has officially graduated from high school, but he has much bigger things on his mind than worrying about college, like how to ensure the safety of his girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), when he spends his days fighting crime as Spider-Man. After growing tired of Peter’s indecisiveness about their relationship (due in part to the vow he made to her dead father), Gwen takes the initiative and dumps him for good, leading Peter to fill that void by diving back into the mystery of his father’s disappearance. But he’s soon distracted by the arrival of his childhood friend, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), who returns home to assume control of Oscorp after his father’s death, only to learn that he’s dying from the same disease, which he believes can be cured by the spider venom that gave Peter his amazing powers.

Those are just a few of the subplots driving the narrative in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” and that doesn’t even include the film’s primary antagonist, which just goes to show how many plates Webb has been tasked with spinning. There’s the Peter and Gwen story, the Peter and Harry story, the Harry and Oscorp story, the Richard Parker (Campbell Scott) backstory, and the story of how nebbish Oscorp employee Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) is transformed into the electricity-powered supervillain Electro. It simply becomes too much for even the 142-minute runtime to contain, and although there’s some cool world building along the way, it suffers from many of the same problems as “Iron Man 2,” which spent more time looking ahead to the future than focusing on making the best standalone story for its hero.

And this time around, you can’t blame the villains (at least, not completely), because the movie isn’t nearly as crowded as it may have originally seemed. Yes, Harry transforms into the Green Goblin by the end, and Aleksei Sytsevich (aka The Rhino) also appears, but they’re cameos compared to the role that Electro plays in the film. Unfortunately, he’s even less interesting than the villain from the first movie, with an origin story that’s oddly reminiscent of The Riddler’s from “Batman Forever” and backed by a headache-inducing dubstep anthem. Foxx fares much better playing Electro than the over-the-top Max Dillon, but he’s not given much of a character arc, only called upon for the big action scenes before disappearing into the background until his services are required again. Thankfully, DeHaan picks up the slack as Harry Osborn, and he’s so fantastic in the role – swinging between vulnerable and menacing, often in the same scene – that he almost single-handedly saves the film.

As was the case with Webb’s first installment, however, Garfield and Stone are equally as great in their respective roles. Garfield really seems to understand what makes both Peter Parker and Spider-Man tick, and the fact that he gets to do more comedy in this one (perhaps best highlighted in the opening sequence) makes the performance even more enjoyable. Additionally, his chemistry with real-life girlfriend Stone continues to sparkle with charisma, and although the movie wastes a lot of time reestablishing the Peter/Gwen romance, it’s a necessary evil that’s required in order to properly set up the emotional climax. Along with the film’s humorous moments, it’s the dramatic scenes between Peter and Gwen, as well as Peter and Aunt May (an excellent Sally Field), that keeps “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” afloat.

That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to those who saw the first movie, because Webb has already proven that he’s more adept at handling Parker’s human side than his superhuman one. And that’s the biggest question facing a movie called “The Amazing Spider-Man”: how do you make the costumed hero as interesting as the man under the mask? For starters, by taking bigger risks. Instead of inviting screenwriting duo Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci back for another round, Sony should entertain the idea of hiring comic book writer Dan Slott to pen the script. He’s responsible for some of the best and most original Spider-Man stories in the character’s recent history, and that’s something this franchise desperately needs if it’s ever going to compete with what Marvel’s doing with their other A-list characters.