Film Review: ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’

Amazing Spider-Man 2

Redundancy remains a problem, but this overlong superhero sequel gets by on sound, fury and star chemistry.

Necessity is the mother of invention, which is why Marc Webb’s 2012 superhero do-over “The Amazing Spider-Man,” for all its polished proficiency and kicky star casting, felt so perfunctory: Rebooting the blockbuster Marvel franchise just five years after Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 3,” it couldn’t claim to be a film anyone needed. The swiftly delivered “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” finds no solution to that redundancy, but it acrobatically spins enough sound and fury to distract from the issue, while the tinderbox chemistry between leads Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone delights once more. Continuing Peter Parker’s investigation of his shady family history while serving up a pair of villains — one more familiar than the other — for him to contend with, this bloated but enjoyable outing will pull in enough crowds to justify Sony’s reluctance to relinquish this heavily built-up creative property.

Perhaps one reason the studio preferred to return to the source, rather than issue a third sequel to Raimi’s series, is that Parker’s origin story is emotionally compelling in a way that can’t quite be repeated or sustained. The transformation of a shy, awkward teenager into an all-but-indomitable supernatural being, and the boyish joy and grave sense of purpose he finds in his newly acquired powers, form a richer, cleaner story arc than even the most narratively dense follow-up can provide. Raimi’s marvelous, benchmark-setting “Spider-Man 2” (2004) got around that by complicating the core romance and introducing a genuinely charismatic foe in Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus.

Scripted by a team of four — including returning scribe James Vanderbilt on story duty, but not franchise mainstay Alvin Sargent — “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is less successful, despite a critical third-act development that upsets the reborn franchise’s apparent status quo. Though played again with wiry charm and a streak of goofy humor by Garfield, Parker enters and exits the film a hip, relentlessly resourceful crime-fighter — his gangly diffidence has been replaced by slick, in-action patter, and even his trendily quiffed hair stands a little taller — with little development in between.

His relationship with brainy, Oxford-bound g.f. Gwen Stacy (Stone), meanwhile, is here an on-again-off-again thing, burdened by the promise he made to her late father (Denis Leary) to leave her alone for safety’s sake — a concern that teasingly telegraphs a damsel-in-distress finale nearly from the get-go. His ongoing inquiry into his parents’ enigmatic death (the circumstances of which are depicted in a high-octane, mid-air prologue) uncovers little that attentive viewers wouldn’t have deduced from the first film, particularly given that the evil dealings of scientifically restless mega-corporation Oscorp are by now comfortably established.

With Gwen and Parker’s Aunt May (the ever-redoubtable Sally Field) both resiliently enduring psychological wounds from recent family deaths, carrying on regardless appears to be one of the story’s underlying emotional themes, as well as its commercial rationale. The film’s New York City, furthermore, appears bruised but not broken in the face of an uptick in criminal activity, triggered by the events of the previous pic, and increasingly reliant on the yet-to-be-unmasked Spider-Man to supplement the police force’s lawkeeping. This emphasis on the necessity of heroism in contemporary society is strongly reminiscent of the reactionary post-9/11 subtext of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films; indeed, this is a more Nolan-esque effort all around than its lighter, fleeter predecessor, down to the booming, house-infused score by Hans Zimmer (replacing the more traditional orchestral work of James Horner).

The most immediate threat to the Big Apple’s well-being arrives in the unlikely form of Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), a nebbishy, Spidey-worshipping Oscorp employee who, following a lab accident involving a loose fuse and a gigantic tank of electric eels — just another day at the office at this particular company, in other words — mutates into the iridescent, spark-wielding monster Electro. He’s an elaborately conceived antagonist, though the naturally dynamic Foxx never seems comfortable with the workplace-wallflower characterization. After a high-voltage Times Square faceoff against our hero that represents the effects team’s flashiest coup, it emerges that he’s little more than a warm-up act for the more serpentine villainy of Dane DeHaan as Oscorp heir (and Parker’s childhood pal) Harry Osborn.

Reintroducing the Osborn character (played by James Franco in Raimi’s films) may seem another insecure move on the part of writers already short on fresh ideas, but it’s a tidily scripted return, and one that DeHaan’s louche, faintly lascivious performance makes worthwhile. His facial and vocal mannerisms more evocative than ever of the younger Leonardo DiCaprio, the actor plays Osborn with much the same beautiful-but-damned slyness he brought to Lucien Carr in “Kill Your Darlings”; the promise of his continued presence is the chief reason to anticipate the already-scheduled “Amazing Spider-Man 3.”

The clutter of opposition in the script puts the Parker-Stacy romance on the backburner for much of the middle section, which is where editor Pietro Scalia — in unusually choppy form, particularly in the fight sequences — could have pruned this 141-minute film most liberally. Garfield and Stone continue to make a winning, plausibly playful screen couple, though the latter’s role is disappointingly curtailed until a finale that encouragingly places her in the thick of the action, only to penalize the character for her feminine pluck. Women, as ever, come up short in Hollywood’s version of the Marvel universe: The gifted Felicity Jones is handed little more than a bit part as Osborn’s slinky assistant.

Electro may prove a secondary villain, though he’s the character who most appears to have informed the film’s aesthetic. Taking over from John Schwartzman, d.p. Daniel Mindel introduces a more radioactively luminous palette to proceedings — one of several ways in which Webb has dropped many of the real-world affectations of the first film (gone is Parker’s skateboard, though he still has a “Dogtown and Z-Boys” poster on his wall) in favor of a more high-key comicbook story world. Effects work is brasher and more crunchily metallic than in “The Amazing Spider-Man,” though the use of 3D remains pleasingly restrained.

Zimmer’s aforementioned score has been produced in collaboration with a bespoke collective, the Magnificent Six, that includes ubiquitous hitmaker Pharrell Williams; electronic flourishes abound, though the film remains sonically unsurprising. Tellingly, when Webb decides to introduce a little acoustic earnestness to the soundtrack, it’s with a guitar ballad from “American Idol” champ Phillip Phillips; it may name Oscorp the enemy, but this franchise remains corporate to the core.

Film Review: ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’

Reviewed at Odeon Leicester Square, London, April 8, 2014. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 141 MIN.

Production

A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Columbia Pictures presentation of a Marvel Entertainment, Avi Arad, Matt Tolmach production. Produced by Arad, Tolmach. Executive producers, E. Bennett Walsh, Alex Kurtzman, Stan Lee, Roberto Orci.

Crew

Directed by Marc Webb. Screenplay, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner, James Vanderbilt, based on the comicbook by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko. Camera (color, widescreen, 3D), Daniel Mindel; editor, Pietro Scalia; music, Hans Zimmer, the Magnificent Six featuring Pharrell Williams, Johnny Marr; production designer, Mark Friedberg; art directors, Richard Johnson, Kim Jennings; set decorator, Susan Bode Tyson; costume designer, Deborah L. Scott; sound (Dolby Atmos/SDDS), Ed Novick; supervising sound editors, Eric A. Norris, Addison Teague; re-recording mixers, David Giammarco, Paul Massey; visual effects supervisor, Jerome Chen; visual effects, Sony Pictures Imageworks; stunt coordinators, Andy Armstrong, James Armstrong; associate producers, Beatriz Sequeira, Tom Cohen; assistant director, Michael Lerman; second unit director, John Mahaffie; second unit camera, Bruce McCleery; casting, Kathleen Chopin, Francine Maisler.

With

Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Sally Field, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Colm Feore, Paul Giamatti, Chris Zylka, Frank Deal, Marton Csokas, Max Charles, Mark Doherty, Felicity Jones, Sarah Gadon, B.J. Novak, Kari Coleman, Chris Cooper, Jim Gunter, Denis Leary, Stan Lee.

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  1. Citizen V says:

    The thing I DID like was the Spider Man banter in the opening fight with the Russian gang (something about toxic…something). Everything else was eye rollingly bad and a bunch of stuff I thought we had moved on from in films based on comic books. I can see a lot of work went into it, the designs of the characters though misguided (Why is he called Green Goblin?) were well done (Weta). Of all the terrible choices made with this movie the sequel setups couldn’t be more uninteresting to me. So Oscorp is just going to start handing out tech to people? Russian mobster with a Spider Man beef, take this suit and be Rhino! Who wants to be Doctor Octopus we got his arms and Vultures wings down here too. Yes I understand no one wants to be Vulture…

  2. frankie g. says:

    This movie is a disaster on many, many levels; predictable and silly top the list. The CGI Spiderman looks like a cartoon character. A banal script and an overload of over the top 1950’s method acting make for two hours and twenty-two minutes of thinking, “When will this be over? Please, I just want to go home!” Skip it.

  3. The whole idea of comic book films is awesome. It opens up a plethora of source material and characters that millions of people love. But with the rise of comic book movies has also come one aggravating trend.

    On a too many occasions comic-book films have come across as an excuse for studios and directors to make bad/mediocre movies in recent years. Aside from a select few in the past decade or so, many of these movies have poor writing, directing, and acting. The name alone is supposed to carry the movie through the box office and into our hearts. Rather than taking time to explore these universes, characters, and narratives in order to create an immersive theater experience, studios choose to throw some money at joe-schmoe director with no experience, and hope for the best, relying on the ignorant excitement of comic-book fans.

    But The Amazing Spiderman 2 fights this trend. Yes, it fails in a lot of ways – Rhino is both childish and a rather useless addition to an already cluttered cast of characters and villains, the plot appears rushed at times yet dragging at other times, and it is very clear this movie is set up for the Sinister Six film(s) to come.

    However, where many comic-book films fail to strive for some form of excellence and care, ASM2 chooses to take the road less traveled. The relationships between all characters have a sense of depth and realness. Explosions and CGI are not just to keep people in their seats stuffing their faces with popcorn, but take a slight (although very slight) back seat to the inner struggle Spiderman/Peter Parker has figuring out how to live with such great power in the face of extreme danger.

    In this endeavor against the Hollywood norm, ASM2 finds itself revealing many truths about humanity as a whole. In the relationships Peter/Spiderman has with those he loves, we see the struggle each person has with the responsibility to do what is right, what we have responsibility to achieve, or even the life one has been called to live. Beyond all the excitement, explosions, and many villains Spiderman takes, it is still comes down to whether or not he believes he has this responsibility to do what is right. In the face of illness, the girl he loves, and the life he once lived, Peter must always weigh it against his duty as Spiderman.

    This theme cannot be overlooked. In the life of Peter Parker we see the life of a Christian. We see the transformative work of Christ, being made new as a believer, just as Peter is ‘made new’ into the super human Spiderman. We see the call or duty to live a life that has a higher calling with great responsibility to live it out, just as Christians now are called to live for the greater purpose of God and for the spread of the Gospel to all people. And we see the struggle that Peter has as the norms of his life battle for his attention, time, and energy in light of his great responsibility, just as Christians must make the decision to live in obedience to Christ, rather than live simply for temporal things.

    Christians are called to live a life of radical obedience to God and the spread of the Gospel. But what about everyday life? Jobs, aspirations, ailments, struggles, relationships, family, and everything in between come in contact with our continual struggle to do what we have been called to do, to remain obedient. It is a struggle very real for Christians, and is brought to the big screen as Spiderman battles to use his great power for great responsibility.

    Although this movie does not live up the to the high standards Marc Webb set in the first film, ASM2 still brings excellent acting from the entire cast (Andrew Garfield in every sense is Spiderman to me), great maturation of crucial relationships, villains with actual character development, and an amazingly entertaining theater experience to rival any summer blockbuster.

    Above all its successes and shortcomings, The Amazing Spiderman 2 does one thing few films have been able to accomplish. It pushes aside the Hollywood comic-book movie norm, strives for excellence, pushes the limits, gives movie-goers something to chew on in the days to follow, and creates an immersive world, with real characters, real struggle, and real love, which rises far above the likes of the sad excuses that have come in the past and will likely continue into the future.

    7.5 out of 10

  4. Alp says:

    Saw the movie on saturday, waste of time, the movie lags too much, too much bla blab bla !!! and the action part is cut short. Swig

  5. Johnny Cercado says:

    I don’t think you should view Felicia’s character as an example of Hollywood “coming up short” .I’m guessing they made her an assistant so she can have a connection to the main characters and excuse/reason for when she get her powers. Also we didn’t get any information on her origins. All we got was that she is an assistant with enough competency to be trusted to be the boss of every one under Harry Osborn and apparently grows to care for Harry off screen. My point is the movie really didn’t give you enough information to really criticize Felicity’s role in the movie. All we got was a tiny introduction to her, none of which was “Slinky”.

  6. Gladys Day says:

    There is no stopping Pharrell keep it coming the music is great Ms.Keys will always bring it too. Can’t wait to see movie on May 2 .

  7. “Women, as ever, come up short in Hollywood’s version of the Marvel universe: The gifted Felicity Jones is handed little more than a bit part as Osborn’s slinky assistant.”

    This is why majority of film reviews are BS. POTENTIAL SPOILER: Ff your comment is in reference to Gwen Stacy dying, that’s part of the canon. Stop trying to put a pseudo-feminist spin on everything.

    And Felicity Jones is likely going to become Black Cat, so no she’s not just a “slinky assistant.”

    • I am inclined to agree with this statement. Too much pandering to the other half. It’s a comic book movie!!! They aren’t trying to send a message. They are making movies for the fan base. Which just so happens to be male’s. No agenda here. But i don’t want them altering the stuff just to appease someone who was most likely dragged to the theater to see this movie anyway.

      • JoeR says:

        That’s what they are doing with FANTASTIC FOUR. Changing the Human Torch’s race to appease and/or attract a certain demographic.

  8. me says:

    You can’t blame the filmmakers for what they do with women characters, and Gwen in particular, if they choose to follow what happened in the comic books.

  9. bsbarnes says:

    With the notable exception of ELEKTRA (2005), superhero movies have avoided putting women front and center. The first comic book film that manages to bring a fully-dimensional woman who happens to wear spandex to the forefront will be a box office champion and a worldwide phenomenon! Marvel has a long history of killing its women, going all the way back to 1973 with Gwen Stacey, and the list just keeps on growing. My money’s on DC/Warner Bros to be the first studio to bring a great heroine to the movies!

  10. JoeR says:

    One important aspect is missing from these new movies…J Jonah Jameson. Instead you have Rhino, Electro, and Green Goblin…talk about overkill. And of course, anyone familiar with the comic book already understands what it means to “penalize the character”.pf Gwen.

  11. bluzzone says:

    The film looks like it be be a somewhat dull follow up.Hard to get excited about a film that lacks originality.

  12. Beat Me Up says:

    I have no interest in this rubbish. I hope it does well, but what sort of an adult make a movie like this. Embarrassing!!!!

    • I want to do to you exactly what your name suggests. So bravo, I guess your schtick is working.

    • Nookie says:

      What’s wrong with wanting to make a movie like this? There’s nothing embarrassing about embracing the fun of superheroes and comic books, they have brought much joy to me my whole life and there is deeper meaning that has helped me in tough times. I connect with Spider-Man particularly because no matter how much bad stuff he faces, he never gives up, he always keeps on going.

      The people that understand what the characters stand for to so many, they try to bring out that appeal to the best of their ability when making a film like this. Please don’t think me angry or anything, it’s nothing like that- it’s just that this stuff is for everybody who wants it!

  13. wow felicity Jones is gifted? that’s news. Despite many oppuronities she’s no more than a clunky presence that brings down any movie she appears in.

  14. therealeverton says:

    Obviously I’ll see for myself, but if this turns out to be an accurate assessment I’ll be disappointed, but not surprised. I was hoping for a big improvement on the first film.

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