'The Amazing Spider-Man 2' Review: Pretty Tied Up
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'The Amazing Spider-Man 2' Review: Pretty Tied Up

By TK | Film Reviews | May 2, 2014 | Comments ()


Back in his 2012 review of The Amazing Spider-Man, Daniel Carlson described the film as “place-setting for a better, fresher, more exciting movie”, a comment that will likely resonate a good bit when you watch its entertaining, if often tonally inconsistent sequel. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ratchets up almost everything that we saw in the first film, both positive and negative. In the end, despite its labyrinthine plot and messy exposition and it’s awkwardly and rather sloppily developed villains, some solid action direction and the performances of the two leads makes the film not just decent, but perhaps the best adaptation of the character to-date.

The film picks up shortly after the end of the first film, with Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) now firmly knitted into the societal fabric of New York City. He’s become a polarizing character, equally loved and distrusted, yet still relentlessly and tirelessly fighting bad guys whenever he can, while also juggling his relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). His exhaustive routine is interrupted by the return of his childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane Dehaan), who has his own agenda inextricably tied into his father Norman’s (Chris Cooper) mysterious company Oscorp, as well as the arrival of the villain Electro (Jamie Foxx), who was created through yet another Oscorp mishap. Threaded into this already overly complicated tapestry is Peter’s ongoing quest to find out the truth behind his parents’ abrupt disappearance over a decade prior, which is also tied into Oscorp. All of that said, you can pretty much ignore what you’ve seen about Paul Giamatti and the Rhino — that’s a relatively minor element to the story.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has a few too many threads woven into it, and that’s what often bogs the film down. Two or three of those stories could either have been excised, condensed, or postponed for the inevitable third film. The least affecting — and interestingly, the most non-canonical — is the search for Peter’s parents, a story invented solely for the film and one whose resolution is mostly addressed in the film’s opening sequence. Worse yet, the denouement of that plotline is not only clumsily telegraphed, but ultimately unnecessary to the central narrative. It’s a clunky chunk that requires too much exposition, and it interferes with the far more engaging stories that are more directly tied into Peter Parker’s already-complex life. More frustratingly, that time spent mucking around with his family history results in having to hurry along some far more important plot points which results in a rushed final act that crams in a conclusion to Harry Osborn’s story that feels like it happened far too quickly.

Osborn and the film’s primary villain, Electro, are the other main problems. The ongoing theme behind the majority of Spider-Man stories, both on the page and on the screen, has always dealt with ideas of science gone awry, and not understanding or respecting the forces that the characters are trying to control. Naturally, this all ties into the underlying great power/great responsibility trope that has been the driving force for every Spider-Man hero and villain since its inception. The idea has always been that when power is used responsibly and respectfully, it results in a message of positivity and of heroism (even if oft-misunderstood), but when it is abused, it leads to corruption and darkness (and an inevitable clash with Spider-Man).

The latter half of that message is somewhat mangled this time around, particularly in the case of Foxx’s Max Dillon, who is simply an electrical engineer who actually adores Spider-Man who has an ill-fated (and utterly ridiculous) accident (through no fault of his own) that leads to him becoming Electro. Dillon is terribly portrayed as a socially stunted, perhaps somewhere on-the-spectrum mope who snaps completely at a perceived slight by Spider-Man, and as a result suddenly wants to destroy New York and murder Spider-Man, a transition that leaps far beyond any semblance of logic. Similarly, Dehaan’s Harry Osborn goes from friendly if somewhat embittered chum to psychopathic vengeance-seeker in a plot twist that feels like an abandonment of logic and common sense, and doesn’t do the early development of both the character and their friendship justice. It’s an odd problem, because the villainous outcomes are actually reasonably well-scripted given the brief time they’re given, and the performances of both actors are solid. But the film’s great stumble is the rushed, plot hole-ridden path they take to get there. The film’s final egregious stumble on the enemy front is Oscorp itself, which is apparently staffed by two pretty young women (Stone and a throwaway role for Felicity Jones) and a group of over-the-top sinister mustache-twirlers.

However, the film’s greatest strengths are Stone and Garfield, a genuinely enjoyable and engaging pair of onscreen presences whose chemistry is absolutely perfect. At times, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 almost feels like two totally different experiences knotted together into an almost jarring combination. Their story, which alternates between a charmingly depicted romance and a difficult, yet very emotionally resonant breakup due to Peter’s guilt over the death of Gwen’s father, is fantastically rendered. This should come as no surprise given director Marc Webb’s skillful treatment of his first feature, (500) Days of Summer, a film that cleverly tackled romance from an unusual and sophisticated viewpoint. Yet it’s also due to great performances by the two leads (perhaps bolstered by their real-life romance), who bring a sense of depth and realness to an otherwise fantastical and overly complicated story.

As for the action, it’s usually well-rendered and lacks some of the insanity of the first film (there’s nothing on par with the stupid-bananas crane sequence from the original), and edited well enough that you don’t lose sight of what’s actually happening, although the final action sequence with Electro was a bit of a dizzying, neon-lit headache-inducer. There’s far more story than action, and that works in the film’s favor, particularly since most of the story is quite engaging (especially any time when both Peter and Gwen are on screen). Yet when the action does come, it’s often exhilarating, breathless stuff. Perhaps most refreshing is the amount of time Spider-Man spends actually protecting people. Instead of just recklessly smashing through anything in his way during his fights, you really get a sense that he’s doing everything in his power to save the populace and actually help, which is a critical theme that is often lost in superhero films (I’m looking at you, Man Of Steel). As an added bonus, the 3D effects are actually fairly well-utilized here, which is not something that I say very often — 95% of the films I’ve seen in 3D felt like a waste of time and money. Here, it actually results in a solid sense of movement and space within the film, giving a feeling like you’re right there with them.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a solidly entertaining film, and with it Garfield officially puts to rest the ghost of Tobey Maguire. It’s not that he’s a better actor (though he is), it’s that he’s now firmly given his own take on the character, making it his and making you buy into it. The script still isn’t even close to perfect, but it does improve on the original in substantial and important ways, and by the end it not only sheds some of the story’s dead weight, but it also nicely and organically sets itself up for the next chapter. There’s a fluidity to the relationships on the screen, particularly Peter and Gwen, but also the friendship between Peter and Harry, even if that friendship’s conclusion falters. The ending is surprising and deeply affecting (though not the final battle itself, which is exhausting and overwrought), and that’s due to good writing and direction, and the work done by the main players. It still creaks under its own weight, and it struggles to feel like a fully assembled, seamless piece of its own, getting knotted up by too many needless and extraneous elements. As contradictory as this may sound, it’s easily the best Spider-Man we’ve ever seen on screen, even if the movie itself is not great.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • BlackRabbit

    And it's decided-there's really no way to make the Green Goblin look good in a movie.

  • RilesSD

    Saw this last night and pretty much agree with TK. Overall, a fun movie but with some issues. The villain plot holes are incredibly frustrating. I mean, Electro goes from worshiping Spiderman to wanting to destroy him for (possible minor SPOILER) basically forgetting his name -- for a second -- before he remembers it. And the Harry Osborne reversal of friend to foe was just as minor. These were instances where if the characters just took a fucking second to talk these things out rationally there would be no issues (like Walking Dead, where no one tells each other what's going on, but the viewer knows).

    Also, the dialogue in general was ok, but was very tedious between Garfield and Stone. It seemed like they were allowed to improv a bit, but it was repetitive and too long.

  • BlackRabbit

    Is there an after-credits scene? My theater didn't have one.

  • RilesSD

    Mine had one -- it was X-men.

  • BlackRabbit

    Oh, I saw that also. I'd heard there was one with Norman Osborn.

  • RilesSD

    I left after the X-men one, so I'm not sure. Maybe I should have stayed.

  • Lee

    All the Spiderman movies have the same plot, and this one doesn't look any different. Big miss from me.

  • TacoBellRey

    If I wanted to see Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone eye f**k each other for 2 and a half hours, I would just watch all their interviews on YouTube. I never saw the first one, but I do agree that Garfield has the right look for Spiderman.

  • Bananaranma

    Sign #27 you have too many sub-plots/characters: They (Rhino) are only mentioned once in an entire review.

  • TK

    To be fair, he's in the movie for a very short amount of time.

  • Afferbeck

    Does he still have hair that's too big to conceivably fit under the mask?

  • DJ Shovelpants

    He does, though not as much as AS1. I always thought his mask should look like there were mashed potatoes on top, given the hair.

  • The Amazing Spider-Man movies are made by accountants who realized how much money Sony would lose if the franchise reverted to Marvel.

  • JustOP

    >he’s doing everything in his power to save the populace and actually help, which is a critical theme that is often lost in superhero films (I’m looking at you, Man Of Steel)

    I know, because one american city is just too much to sacrifice for the fate of the entire world, right? And of course, Avengers gets away with leveling a city because 'it's lighthearted! and they ate schwarma at the end!'.

    Never understood that criticism of Man of Steel.

  • TK

    That's actually not what I was criticizing (and if you read my review, I very much enjoyed Man Of Steel). I was more stating that one thing that was absent was the image of Superman actively rescuing people or saving lives. Instead, it was just fight fight fight.

    I understand the collateral damage idea behind it, I would have just liked to see him actually save some people from harm's way, which never really happened until the very very end.

  • Some Guy

    Ummm...Because the level of carnage was nowhere near as close?

  • JustOP

    Not a fair comparison. Avengers city was almost certainly heavily destroyed given how many skyscrapers were smashed into. Also, Loki's plan was to take over earth - not destroy it, yet he still caused a lot of collateral damage.

    In MoS, the villains were actively trying to terraform the entire planet, and the only person capable of stopping them was a Superman who'd taken on the role only days prior. Supes could barely hold his own against them in the early scenes of the film despite his being buffed by the suns rays.

    It's not a logical criticism given what the prior events of the film depict to say that Superman didn't do everything in his power to save people and help - he flew in a terraformer which was causing him considerable pain, he gave up his own code of ethics, as well as the possibility of keeping his own race alive, to save three human beings. He spent his entire life as an outcast, being bullied, being told by his father to not trust people - and still overcame all that to try and save humanity.

  • cox

    the avengers had devoted half of the team to remove the civilians from the perimeter, just fyi.

  • Coolg82

    I think one of the reasons that the "collateral damage" thing pops up is that even with the more useless "Avengers" corralling the civies into safe places, there were still events, like the giant turtle things crashing and falling onto buildings, that would have produced massive casulties that get little more than a quick scene change and a news report later saying "Thank God only a few people got hurt!". Its a cheap and silly way to keep actual casualties out of a movie that its producers felt might hurt people's feelings. Don't want to scare the kids after all. Man of Steel did have an awful lot of damage, but you had about 5 or so people on the strength and power level of superman who set out to deliberately murder people, especially at the end. The "No Endor Holocaust" ploy only works if you set it up that way, you cant slip in a quick line of dialogue and call it good writing.

  • JustOP

    Because they were otherwise useless. Also, they were 5 veteran Superheroes and one indestructible slab of meat, in comparison to one fresh faced Superman.

  • Green Lantern

    Haven't seen "Amazing 2" yet, but the overall writeup is kinda how I felt about the "Green Lantern" film. I was glad we got one, and there were bits done really well....but I think we deserved a better MOVIE overall.

    Still gonna watch "Spidey 2", and probably like vast swathes of it as well.

  • Davis

    Marc Webb is in way over his head but it doesn't help that sony take the money off him and re-edit the movie into a totally different movie that Marc had planned you can from the trailer, most of the stuff in the trailer isn't in the final movie. It's a mess.

    Gwen does nothing in the movie apart from cry and not noticed how her boyfriend is stalking her. The ending wasn't a surprise aswell everyone invovled in the movie needs to look up the word 'subtle'. You knew what was going happen if you watched the tralier and Emma Stone was dropping major hints about this in interviews for the first movie, be quiet woman.

    Why doesn't Andrew Garfield try to play spiderman cool and cocky, he looks like a prick play him like a nerd.

  • stryker1121

    This review makes me want to check this out after skipping the very superfluous sounding reboot. Loved the first two Raimi films, though, so Webb and Co. have to win me over, by hell!

  • gorge jung

    I liked this movie so much more than the the first but I still think the first 2 with Raimi, Maguire and Dunst were better. I still have the hots for Dunst though so that could be a contributing factor of my opinion.

  • Luke

    I think the Sony marketing team and trailer team did a great job throwing fans off the scent of what story arc they were actually going to use here.

  • zeke_the_pig

    So, some decently rendered CGI action, two good characters, and a smattering of not-entirely-offensive 3D? I think I'll pass.

  • Sounds like Sony is suffering from the same issue as the non-Nolan comic book movies from Warner Bros.: trying to cram 10 pounds of movie into a 5 pound bag

  • Al Borland's Beard

    Makes me wonder what their Sinister Six movie will be like.

  • zeke_the_pig

    Sinister Twelve, most like

  • thatsmrsnyder

    Agreed. Try as I might, I just can't muster up any enthusiasm for this (nor the first one). I simply can't be bothered. There are way too many spectacle-filled blockbusters on the horizon (that actually look pretty great) for something like this to be exciting to me.

  • So it's not all that good but still the best Spider-Man on screen? I'm thinking you are not a fan of Raimi's movies. The third was a shit show but Spider-Man 2 was terrific, easily one of my favorite superhero movies.

  • TK

    Spider-Man 2 is easily my favorite Spidey movie, but Andrew Garfield is a MUCH better Spider-Man.

  • Ah, OK, now I get it. With that in mind I may have to check out The Amazing Spider-Man, I still haven't seen it. Just had very little desire to sit through another origin story. I liked Maguire as Spider-man but his Peter Parker was lacking.

  • Luke

    Spiderman 2 was good but I lean towards TK on this being "the best adaptation of the character to-date". They finally got his science mind and wisecracking right this time. That is to saw Spidey 2 was great overall but this Spidey 2.1 did a better job of being spidey

  • Vivianne ValdeMar

    I think TK may have been talking about the character, rather than the movie?!?

  • Classic

    I can't wait to see this.

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