The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) / Action-Sci Fi

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence
Running Time: 142 min.

Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Sally Field, Paul Giamatti, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Colm Feore, Felicity Jones, Denis Leary, Chris Cooper
Director: Marc Webb
Screenplay: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkne

Review published April 24, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 fixes many of the issues I had with 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man, but not all of them, and introduces a few new ones of its own.  The primary issue is that it suffers from a bit of trying to do too much, not only for this film, but for future crossovers, and becomes overstuffed in a way that marred Marvel/Disney's arguably weakest entry, Iron Man 2.

This time out, Electro is the main villain, played with a modicum of sympathy by Jamie Foxx (Rio 2, White House Down). Other Spidey villains make an appearance, but only Harry Osborn (DeHaan, Kill Your Darlings) taking up the mantle of the Green Goblin gets much screen time. Paul Giamatti (John Dies at the End) does get to don the Rhino armor at some point, and there are plenty of others in the mix that hardcore Spider-Man aficionados will recognize as future villains (the Black Cat and Ultimate Spider-Slayer, for instance), but not quite so much in this entry (that will likely occur in the proposed Sinister Six spinoff).

However, even if there are only three costumed villains for Spider-Man to fight within the course of ASM2, that's at least one too many (shades of Spider-Man 3), considering how packed the rest of this film is with significant events. At 2.5 hours, it feels like it is in a hurry to cram about two movies worth of stuff in so that it can set up not only for the third film, but also whatever spin-offs that Sony has in mind in order to capitalize on The Avengers' multi-tiered approach to superheroes.

Meanwhile, Peter Parker (Garfield, Lions for Lambs) is haunted by the memory of the slain Captain Stacy (Leary, Draft Day), and has to make a decision about whether or not he honors Gwen's father's dying wish that he stay as far away from her as possible so as to keep her out of harm's way.  Gwen (Stone, Gangster Squad) is down for continuing the relationship, but Peter keeps pushing her away, eventually leading her to have to make life decisions that don't include him, much to his chagrin.

Foxx doesn't start off as the bad guy, as he's more of an outcast dweeb (echoes of the Batman Forever's cartoony Edward Nigma portrayal here) named Max Dillon. In fact, he's more of a man that Spider-Man rescues, who later becomes obsessed with the web-slinger and his brush with fame.  Dillon works at Oscorp and, due to a near-fatal accident, ends up absorbing untold amounts of electricity that he becomes the inevitable conduit of. 

The interesting thing is that Dillon isn't really a bad guy, but circumstances push him toward committing destructive acts due to his arrested social development and inability to contain his emotions (think of Princess Elsa in Frozen, except with electricity instead of ice).  Spider-Man doesn't want to fight him, and Dillon would rather be besties with Spider-man, but his man-child-ish temperament continuously fuels up his jealousy and feelings of betrayal to the point where he becomes someone who needs to be contained.

In addition to the main story arc is a lot of back story on Peter Parker's parents, who died under mysterious circumstances from a time when he was barely old enough to remember them. They tie in directly with the entire Oscorp operation plot, so it isn't what one might call a superfluous story thread. Speaking of parents, there's also a lot of Harry Osborn and his relationship with his dying father, Norman (Cooper, August: Osage County), the president of Oscorp itself. The romance between Peter and main squeeze Gwen Stacy also is ramped up heavily in this film, and longtime Spidey fans will guess why (but will they be right?). Webb, whose previous experience came with the excellent romantic drama (500) Days of Summer, truly excels at scenes where Peter interacts with loved ones, whether Gwen or his beloved Aunt May (Field, Lincoln). If only Peter's character development could bridge the gap between his life as a late teen and his role as the city's savior, good things could be in store.

The first hour set up well because that's when the story is actually allowed to take a breath. But once the main plot threads all dovetail into one massive ending, that's when the film goes into full-blown shortcut mode in order to check off every box needed in order to properly put things in position for future launches. 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 benefits from judicious casting, especially in its lead actor in Garfield, who, despite being 30 years of age, can still play a convincing 18-year-old, and brings a great deal of the ever-present Spidey charisma to his role.  When he's Peter Parker, he's got it nailed, and when he's Spider-Man, he also captures the fun spirit of the wise-cracking character as well.  Where things get a bit dicey is when it is Spider-Man in action, as that's when Garfield is no longer on the screen, and instead we get a completely CGI version of Spider-Man that bounces around as fast as Sonic the Hedgehog, but feels very much like we're watching a video game interlude rather than a continuation of the movie we're investing in.

One of the complaints I have about the first ASM had been that it doesn't use New York distinctively -- it could have been set in any city. That's not the case here, as the entire film has been shot in metropolitan New York. Prime Big Apple locales such as Times Square and the Manhattan Bridge are featured in significant scenes, as are the melting pot of distinct personalities you'd find around the Five Boroughs. Going even further, Peter himself sports a New York accent, perhaps the first time I've heard any incarnation of him do this in any medium.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 may be a step up from the first installment in several significant ways, but the fact still remains that Webb, for all of his prowess at drawing out good dramatic and romantic scenes from a capable cast, just doesn't know how to make the action scenes exciting.  And unexciting action scenes are a major liability in a film that spends the last half hour devoted to them.  One almost wishes that Sony would use Webb for the moments when Spider-Man has his mask off, then bring in someone with far more action-movie skills to punch up the build-up and execution of the massive battles. 

Alas, it's not what we have here, but what's here is enough for a recommendation for Spider-Man fans, who will likely to be modestly excited to see what's next in store not only for our friendly neighborhood crime-fighter, but also for the impressive rogues gallery of villains that is bursting to explode on the screen with their own side adventures.

-- As part of a cross-studio agreement between Sony and FOX to allow the contracted Webb to direct ASM2, the theatrical release contains a teaser for X-Men: Days of Future Past toward the end of the credits.

Qwipster's rating:

©2014 Vince Leo