REVIEW: 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2'
What do we expect from a superhero movie? How important are the comic book references, the number of villains, or the complexity of plots to our enjoyment of the film? Is it possible for a superhero movie to be “overstuffed”, when excess is part of what defines its genre?
I’ve been tossing these questions around for the past few days, ever since I saw The Amazing Spider-Man 2. I decided that what I really look for in a superhero movie isn’t fantastic special effects or even a thoroughly original story – it’s an earnest, human relationship. If a Spider-Man or a Superman or an Avengers movie can include that, it can outweigh a lot of the flaws that sometimes distract other viewers.
That’s likely the main reason I left the screening of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 feeling surprisingly entertained, and baffled by the negative buzz I’d heard last week.
Like the first film in the Andrew Garfield Spider-Man series (which happened to be much less coherent than this new one), the one thing that helped me push past the movie’s deficiencies was the relationship between Peter Parker (Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). I found myself caring about the characters, and that counts for a lot in a genre where directors seem to assume comics fans’ existing love for a character will do most of the heavy lifting.
But let’s tackle that bursting-at-the-seams plot. Following his battle with the Lizard in the first film, Peter has entered a new phase of his career as Spider-Man. He’s loving the job, and he’s even winning over the public with his ever-increasing feats of bravery – hinted at by a fun montage from inside his closet, where we see an exhausted Peter returning from a wacky series of crime-fighting adventures.
At the same time, Peter is worried about his relationship with Gwen. Peter promised her father as he died that Peter would keep Gwen out of his life, for her safety. But both Peter and Gwen are drawn into a new whirlpool of corporate intrigue when a lonely Oscorp engineer is transformed into the villain Electro (Jamie Foxx) and Oscorp’s new CEO, the young Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) uses Electro to force our hero to save Harry’s life.
There are plenty of other plot threads packed into the movie (including a whole secondary story about Peter’s mysterious parents), and other reviewers have been justified in saying that there’s too much going on. For movies like this, we at least need an engaging guide through the mess, to at least give us someone to relate to while the film unloads all its narrative.
For me, Garfield and Stone more than fit that bill. I don’t know if it’s their natural chemistry, or how they’ve interpreted these characters, but something about the two performances helped me forget about the over-length of the film and certain cringe-worthy moments.
Even though director Marc Webb has a truckload of screenplay to work with, he proves that he hasn’t forgotten how to make it exciting. For the first time in a while, I liked the use of slow-motion in an action film, and Webb’s bullet-time sequences were an effective way to reference the frenetic pages of the source material. I was also surprised by Hans Zimmer’s score, which swelled at just the right moments to support the action.
I’m not blind, however, to the fact The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has many pitfalls. The material with Peter’s parents feels shoehorned in, as does Harry’s transformation into the Green Goblin. And there are plenty of quibbles to be made about the little contrivances that are so common to superhero films. Just consider how Electro somehow finds the time to design a flashy supervillain suit in the short interval between breaking out of prison and launching his master plan.
Maybe it’s simply that I’m a sucker for a good onscreen romance in a genre that gets it so wrong so often. Or that the more I see Garfield in the Parker role, the more I resent Tobey Maguire’s work in Sam Raimi’s trilogy. I can’t adequately explain it, but I can see the movie The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is trying (and failing, in some viewers’ minds) to be, and like the young fan in the movie’s final scene, I’m willing to stick up for it.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 gets three stars out of four.
What did you think of the newest Spider-Man entry? Was the overburdened story too distracting? Or did the leads’ performances help smooth over the rough patches? Join the discussion in the comments section, and if you liked this review, share it with your friends and followers!