Written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner
Directed by Marc Webb
The distinct whiff of chaos pervades The Amazing Spider-Man 2 from its first scene, both narratively and visually. Because its director and writers aren’t likely intending on this sequel to a reboot to feel persistently, unavoidably messy and chaotic, it also winds up being about as mediocre despite having a handful of charming moments as its predecessor. The ensemble cast is full of charismatic performers, but only a few are allowed to utilize their inherent charm while others are shoved into comic-book character tropes awkwardly, as if they’re being forced to wear tight-fitting clothing for a family portrait. Even though Spider-Man and his world is as bright and colorful as that of The Avengers, the other big Marvel property these days, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 leans too hard on the cartoonish aspects of those adjectives in a desperate effort to be entertaining.
Andrew Garfield returns as Peter Parker, the boy who became an arachnid-man hybrid, as he graduates high school and continues to giddily embrace his superhero lifestyle. His on-again, off-again girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone, the most delightful part of this film, as she was in the first one) loves him, but he feels a debt to her late father and doesn’t want to put her in harm’s way. With or without her by his side, Spider-Man faces new threats in the form of Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), a nerdy and lonely Oscorp employee who’s electrocuted to the max in a freak accident and becomes a powerful yet confused supervillain called Electro; and Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), an old friend who returns to NYC to take over the family business and hopefully figure out a cure to the genetic disease eating away at his insides. As expected, there’s plenty of action when Spider-Man has to face off with Electro (primarily), and as expected, director Marc Webb relies too much on the wonders of CGI to make these sequences a reality.
Though superhero movies offer a presumably infinite wealth of possibilities visually, too many directors let CGI do the work. One climactic scene in this film, for example, in which Spider-Man and Electro face off in a citywide power grid calls to mind nothing less than the misguided action sequence in The Matrix Reloaded, where Keanu Reeves’ Neo fights an endless number of Agent Smiths. A cool concept, perhaps, but in execution, it’s akin to watching either a video game or a cartoon. No doubt, Sam Raimi, in the original Spider-Man trilogy, utilized CGI plenty of times, but his action composition was clearer and the story around the action was—at least in the first two films—more compelling. The action beats here, aside from feeling decidedly fake—though Garfield talks plenty when Spider-Man’s in action, he often sounds as if he’s trying to get through a long day in an ADR recording booth—simply lack excitement.
What’s more, because it’s only been a decade since the original (and vastly better) Spider-Man 2, this movie feels awfully familiar. Certainly, there are twists on the formula as well as new storylines, such as the deeper backstory of why Peter Parker’s now-dead parents abandoned him in the first place. But with the introduction of Harry Osborn (although DeHaan’s take is far more mannered and callow than James Franco’s ever was, and that’s saying something), The Amazing Spider-Man 2 often seems like a revival of an old TV show that had more passionate fans. Even Garfield and Stone—the moments when they get to banter with each other are the highlight, as when she drags him into a maintenance closet to hide and he mocks her playfully—are handcuffed to a story that feels the urge to be at least nominally faithful to the comic-book lore. The actors try their hardest, or as much as the script by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner allows, but there’s only so much they can do. (Garfield, in particular, is a far different Peter Parker than Tobey Maguire, more bro than man.)
The most distressing truth about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is that it’s most reminiscent not of Raimi’s 2004 sequel, but his Spider-Man 3, with its overabundance of storylines and villains. And so it is here: there’s Peter’s hunt for the truth about his parents, his relationship with Gwen, his fight with Max/Electro, his rekindled friendship with Harry, Harry’s battle for power at Oscorp, and so on. The issue, specifically, is not that there are too many storylines, but that they are all given too much weight. In some respects, this comes at the cost of the various baddies feeling underdeveloped. Foxx, as Max, is playing a sadder, needier version of The King of Comedy’s Rupert Pupkin; we meet him as Spider-Man saves him in an early action sequence, and then follow him as he sails away mentally via delusions of grandeur. But it’s hard to buy Foxx as a nerd, and once he’s awash in electric blue, his personality is even more dimmed. And then, in what amounts to a cameo performance, there’s Paul Giamatti as this movie’s version of The Underminer in The Incredibles, a cartoony, over-the-top bad guy who barely makes an impact.
There is simply too much going on in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and it’s a problem plaguing far too many superhero films these days. The common presumption is that a sequel will give audiences more of what they liked (or were meant to like) the first time around. And that’s all well and good, but too many filmmakers and studio executives have chosen to read this presumed desire as an unquenchable thirst for more of everything: more villains, more stories, and so on. More is not always better, as this film proves. Some bits are enjoyable enough, and there are a few solid moments of humor sprinkled throughout, but “sprinkled throughout” is not the path to a wholly entertaining superhero movie. The message that a movie like this imparts is simple: less is more.
— Josh Spiegel