When I reviewed the reboot of Spider-Man two years ago, I said that while I couldn’t find anything terribly wrong with it, I couldn’t find anything great about it either. The good news is, I found much more to like in the sequel, The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The bad news is, the overall experience still didn’t do a whole lot for me. Maybe it’s the awkward transition to a new team of screenwriters. Maybe I’m simply all Spider-Man’d out after five movies about the wall-crawler in 12 years. However, I suspect that the real reason this film didn’t affect me as it should have is my sense that everybody involved here could have been doing something more worthwhile.
The last movie left off with both Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and her cop dad (an uncredited Denis Leary) in possession of the secret that Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is Spider-Man. Bound by a promise made to Capt. Stacy, Peter tries to keep his distance from Gwen because he doesn’t want her to be hurt by Spider-Man’s enemies. She may be going off to Oxford anyway. Their relationship, though, is brought to a crisis when Peter’s childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) returns from boarding school to take over Oscorp from his deceased father (an uncredited Chris Cooper).
DeHaan is pretty well cast for this role, and I daresay the relationship between Harry and Peter comes off better than it did in the hands of Tobey Maguire and James Franco in the previous Spider-Man movies. An early scene with them skipping rocks shows us why these two abandoned boys became best friends, and yet DeHaan’s weirdness and nasty streak make him a credible villain when the same wasting disease that killed his dad drives Harry to become the Green Goblin.
This relationship should have been the focal point, and yet the movie goes one bad guy too far by introducing Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), a nerdy, lonely, obsessive-unto-stalkerish Spider-Man fanboy who suffers an industrial accident and becomes Electro, a supervillain who can command electricity, fly, and travel through power lines. Foxx’s performance is too cartoonish for the rest of the movie, but the script (co-written by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, the recently broken-up team that penned the Star Trek and Transformers movies) doesn’t help him, giving Electro flimsy motivation for turning on his former idol.
Director Marc Webb carries off the big action set pieces adequately in terms of visual clarity, but he misses the emotion in them. The opening sequence depicting the murders of Peter’s parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) aboard a private jet tries to get at the damage this will cause their son, and it fails. The same goes for Electro’s first appearance in Times Square, which should be terrifying, as the villain scatters police cars like leaves, and wondrous, as Spider-Man saves various people from being electrocuted on a metal staircase. Instead it falls short. When it comes to action filmmaking, Webb hits the right notes without understanding the music.
The movie is better in its quieter moments. Garfield and Stone have been an offscreen item since the first Spider-Man movie, and they make a loose and funny couple even during an anguished early scene when Gwen breaks up with Peter before he can break up with her. It’s gratifying (and understandable) that Stone is showcased more here than in the last movie, yet one of the most creative comic actresses of her generation has better things to do than play The Girlfriend, even if it’s opposite her real-life boyfriend. For his part, Garfield does a nimble piece of physical comedy when Peter intentionally blunders into a group of Oscorp security guards to help Gwen escape from them. When Peter makes a grand farewell gesture for Gwen as she leaves for England, it clicks into place: This filmmaker and these stars should be making the next great heart-melting romantic comedy instead of a Spider-Man movie. Similarly, when Peter tries to keep Gwen from falling to her death during the climax, the web of silk he shoots out takes the form of a human hand reaching out to her. It’s a beautiful touch, but it’s a frustrating sign that this talented crew belongs in a smaller project where the emotions aren’t cluttered by supervillains trying to destroy New York. Maybe the money they make from this blockbuster will allow that to happen.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Directed by Marc Webb. Written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner, based on Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s comic books. Rated PG-13.