The core story of Spider-Man is one that resonates with people through all ages of life, the now-cliché idea of “with great power comes great responsibility”. You know the storyline: dorky Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider and gains all sorts of great powers and amazing strength. Inspired, he makes a spider costume and invents a webbing he can shoot to allow him to battle criminals and keep his home city of NYC safe. He’s a teen, though, so he’s also navigating the confusing waters of high school, complete with a cute girlfriend who happens to be the daughter of the police commissioner.
At least, that’s the classic Spiderman story. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is the second film in a reboot that is moving towards X-Men territory, where Peter’s father turns out to have been a research scientist who might have been responsible for the radioactive spider that bit him in the first place. Interesting. The backstory in this reboot becomes considerably deeper in this second installment too, with a surprising amount of on-screen time for Peter’s long-absent parents Richard (Campbell Scott) and Mary (Embeth Davidtz).
There are also some terrific recurring visual motifs in the film too, including an opening scene that’s a series of interlocking gears, a clear theme for the film itself. Peter’s just a cog in the machine, whatever he’s been told, and so are his girlfriend Gwen (Emma Stone), Aunt May (Sally Field), old pal Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) and, most notably, schlub junior Oscorp employee Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx). The later gears scene is the most climactic in the film.
Dillon (Foxx) is almost killed during a car chase where Ukranian thug Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti woefully underutilized) is stopped by Spidey (Andrew Garfield) after racking up a tally of destroyed police cars that comes close to The Blues Brothers. Spiderman takes a respite from his non-stop sarcastic quips to tell Dillon that he’s Spiderman’s eyes and ears before leaping off to finish capturing Sytsevich.
For Dillon, this is life changing and he becomes a Spiderman fanatic. Then after a freak accident while working after hours at Oscorp Dillon becomes Electro and decides that Spiderman’s the enemy. Which gets the main storyline going, replete with destruction, more destruction and, well, yet more things being destroyed.
Meanwhile, Peter is unsure where things are going with Gwen, who has been invited to England to join the Oxford Scholars Program. The scenes between Garfield and Stone are some of the best in the movie, actually, and were themselves a nice respite from the hyperkinetic violence and aggression of the main storyline.
I walked into the theater wanting to really like The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and there were definitely parts of the film – like the evolving relationship between Peter and Gwen and the flashbacks with Richard Parker – that were quite enjoyable. But the film itself is a mess, with the same fundamental problem that plagued the first installment: too many storylines that are too loosely tied together.
While narratively the relationship between Peter and Harry Osborn, who becomes the head of Oscorp when his father Norman (Chris Cooper) passes away, is the most important, especially when Harry becomes Green Goblin (a transformation we saw previously on screen), in this film it’s almost an afterthought, and Harry as Green Goblin is on screen for barely five minutes total.
And then there’s the ending. I’ve complained before about how too many directors end their films after the logical end point because they want to tie up the proverbial lose ends, but The Amazing Spider-Man 2 suffers from this in a way that’s bizarre. I won’t spoil it, but you’ll see, there’s a point about five minutes before the film actually ends that would have been a far better place to have things fade to black and leave us primed for Spider-Man 3, which is rumored to already be in production.
Still, the 3D IMAX version of the film was exciting and visual treat. Everything’s beautifully assembled and the performances range from good to excellent. The film will do well at the box office and I definitely suggest it’s worth the price of a matinee ticket on the big screen.
Me? I preferred Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but that’s also because I think the Marvel team is doing a far better job with the Avengers universe than the Sony team is doing with the Spiderman universe. Sometimes special effects aren’t quite enough to make a really great superhero movie.