Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Rating

Director
Marc Webb
Screenplay
Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner, James Vanderbilt
Length
142 min.
Starring
Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Sally Field, Colm Feore, Felicity Jones, Paul Giamatti, Campbell Scott, Sally Field, Marton Csokas
MPAA Rating
PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence

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Review
In spite of being incredibly popular, the original Spider-Man trilogy was heavily flawed. From its mopey protagonist to its insignificant significant other, Sam Raimi’s admittedly entertaining starter franchise was largely inferior to the Marc Webb-rebooted The Amazing Spider-Man. While that film was superior to all but the second film of the prior franchise, this follow-up is severely problematic and is missing all the fun and tightness of its predecessor.

There are three distinct narratives going on with this sequel, not including the tertiary villain used to open and close the film. The first story revolves around Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and his on again-off again relationship with Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone), a resourceful, independent class valedictorian who breaks up with Peter because he will always put saving the city ahead of her. When she begins the process of moving to England to study at Oxford, Peter begins to realize what his life will be without her and contemplates moving with her to London.

The second plot deals with a lowly engineer (Jamie Foxx) at Oscorp who is nearly killed in an industrial accident, which turns him into Electro, who can feel and manipulate electricity with little effort. As a largely invisible cog in the Oscorp machine, his desire for attention and fame are hampered by New York City’s adoration of Spider-Man, a hero who Electro’s alter ego Max Dillon had idolized.

Peter’s childhood buddy Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) takes center stage of the third tale. As Harry loses his father (Chris Cooper) to a genetic disease, Harry believes that a set of research started by his and Peter’s fathers may hold the key to regenerating his cell tissue much like Spider-Man’s radioactive spider-bitten self. When Spider-Man refuses to give him a sample of his blood, for his own protection, Harry goes to great lengths to try to synthesize or acquire said sample, even if it means using someone else to do it.

The first Webb outing was co-written by Harry Potter scribe Steve Kloves, Spider-Man 2 & 3 co-writer Alvin Sargent and Zodiac screenwriter James Vanderbilt. This time out, Vanderbilt contributed only the story while the rest of the script was fashioned by frequent JJ Abrams collaborators Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner, three screenwriters whose abilities are lackluster at best. Therefore, it’s no surprise that The Amazing Spider-Man 2‘s greatest failings are with the script. A loose, meandering narrative that spans three distinct villains, each given too much time, each largely independent of the others.

That struggle is part of the reason Spider-Man 3 suffered. Overloading your film with villains whose motivations infrequently overlap and require separate entanglements, developments and attention, bloats the screenwriting process and risks overwhelming the audience. The only superhero film in the last two decades that has managed to work with more than one villain is Batman Returns. Whenever common enemies are brought together in an attempt to up the ante, they end up bogging down the proceedings and make matters worse for everyone. The only effective way would be to introduce the foundation for a villain in a prior film and then finish the development in the next, giving over less precious screentime to developing. When you develop two or even three, you have too much time devoted to others and too little time devoted to the hero overcoming issues that are important to him and to the audience. If you try to balance all of these together, you have a nearly two-and-a-half-hour behemoth.

The first thing that should have been done was jettison the opening sequence. As funny and exciting as it was, having to devote so much real estate to the character who would become Rhino (Paul Giamatti) only slowed things down. Electro’s pre-villainous alter-ego was introduced, but could have had a different and more compelling introduction. Next, the producers could have eliminated Electro or Green Goblin from the proceedings and better developed the connective tissues between what remained.

An entire film isn’t wasted here, there are some solid moments, including the climax. The production values are all superb, including some rather thrilling visuall effects set pieces. Garfield is still doing bravura work as the immature teen wanting to be successful, but also wanting to love and have fun, but not realizing that with great power comes great responsibility. Garfield has the charm to convey the awkward elements of his character while presenting an affable, wise-cracking hero that has more personality than some members of The Avengers.

Stone is equally fitting as the headstrong Gwen Stacey, perhaps one of the finest female character written into a superhero franchise. Typically, the female love interest is relegated to damsel-in-distress status, given little opportunity to show off or prove that they are if not equal to their paramours, but better. Stacey is level-headed, passionate and determined. She’s not going to wait around for her boyfriend to realize she exists as something more than a side quest in his combatting of crime. Stone is the perfect actress to tackle such an emotionally and intellectually strong character.

Of the villains, DeHaan delivers the best performance. As the sheltered, selfish Harry Osborn, DeHaan not only resembles the sequestered rich boy, but shows off various moods as he shifts from cautious to happy to fearful to maniacal. It’s a rich character that needed a tad more development, but which could provide DeHaan with some great material when he undoubtedly shows up in the next film. Foxx overplays the psychotic nature of the Max Dillon character. His early scenes as the geeky, self-effacing engineer are choppy and distracting. He seems so focused on creating an utterly miserable, gawky stereotype that you find it difficult to symptahize with a character that deserves more than a modicum of it. Giamatti is terrible, taking huge bites out of the scenery without making the bit amusing. It’s such an excessive performance that it makes Foxx’s look subdued.

Whether the next film in the franchise or the in-development Sinister Six film and other associated properties, can improve on what The Amazing Spider-Man 2 struggled with or continue to devolve into Fantastic Four-like medicority all depends on whether producers can move away from using Kurtzman and Orci and return to the superior screenwriters that rebooted the franchise so effectively.

Spoiler Discussion
The foreshadowing early in the film is heavy-handed. Those who read up on the first Garfield/Stone film understood that the Gwen Stacey character, who was never the ultimate recipient of Spider-Man’s affections in the comic book universe, was intended to die in the first film. Instead, the terrific chemistry between Garfield and Stone suggested that keeping her around for a sequel was a wise move. It was.

As Peter gets back together with Stacey, he is haunted by visions of her father (Denis Leary) who had warned Spidey while he lay dying to stay away from Gwen to keep her safe from the undoubted troubles that would eventually pursue. Gwen’s father shows up at critical moments as Peter tries to balance the desires of his go-getter girlfriend with his responsibility to keep her safe.

Surprisingly, Gwen’s death at the end of the film came as a bit of a shock. Producers did a fine job keeping the secret quiet, but even with the foreshadowing, you half expect her to die, but the sequence is handled with such skill that you believe it’s entirely possible she will survive. The slow-motion scenes peppered throughout set the final clock tower sequence up nicely, making it feel natural within the stylistic elements of the preceeding film. It was a thrilling moment that had all the impact it needed.

This is where director Webb excels. As with (500) Days of Summer, Webb understands the dynamics of romantic entanglements. He built these two characters into a formidable couple in the first film and continued that in the second. Thus, her death gives the film significance. This is one of the reasons having so many stories going on at the same time gave less devotion to this one, a tragedy considering we are unlikely to see Gwen again in the next installments.

Oscar Prospects
Potentials: Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects
Review Written
May 8, 2014

1 Comment

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  1. Ryan Meyers on Facebook

    If they’d have left out the final fight the with Rhino, it would have been stellar. I agree on that.

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