Much has been said of the eagerness with which the web slinging wall crawler Spider-Man was rebooted following the creative failure of 2007’s Spider-Man 3, starting over only five years later and a scant decade since the previous series began. The reason was simple, for Sony to hang on to the rights to produce films based on the Spider-Man franchise, keeping it out of the hands of Marvel Studios proper. But the most important thing is whether or not the new films are any good. So, can the impeccably aptly named director, Marc Webb, deliver again after the surprisingly great first effort?
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 allows itself to indulge in comic book cartoony-ness, but it balances its wackier nature with some very good character drama. The film is set up at a crossroads. It’s around graduation time, a huge intersection in anyone’s life and Peter is trying to figure out what to do with his life and how to balance being Spiderman with being a regular young man, as well as a person in a committed relationship. In essence, the film represents a crossroads for both sides of his persona, his dual identities intersecting in the search for answers as to what exactly his father was working on the lead him to leave with Peter’s mother. From there the narrative is relatively straightforward with few deviations as he struggles to juggle being a good friend and doing the right thing. Essentially: Being a hero.
The action is a lot of fun, the use of slow motion to show Spidey’s superhuman reflexes and agility in tandem with his intelligence is great. It’s very kinetic and Webb has a talent for placing the camera and framing, be it practical or digital. Webb also captures sheer sensation of swinging along with Spidey really well. It’s pure joy. There’s an obvious standout event that is executed perfectly, both in the moment itself and its aftermath. It’s a sequence of emotional gravity handled with great care and is easily the highlight of the film.
Andrew Garfield is so picture perfect for both the role of Peter and Spider-Man. His Spidey is a wise cracking, jokes-as-deflection crimefighter, slim with bad posture. It’s perfect. He’s perfect. And so is Emma Stone. Her take on the geekier version of Gwen Stacy is also as terrific as it was the first time around and she’s every bit the strong female character that she should be, possessing real agency and skill and not just being there to be rescued. Gwen and Peter also continue to be the most adorable couple, despite some bumps along the way, the chemistry between Stone and Garfield is still very much present, but on both accounts it suffers slightly for not being new. It’s more of the same, but still great so it’s not a huge complaint as they’re such fun to watch. Along for a ride on the “still great” train is Sally Field’s Aunt May, who is once again wonderful. Marc Webb has a great sense for making his characters relatable and sympathetic, he’s once again a good anchor with his directorial confidence.
Electro is a compelling villain with an interesting, tragic arc, it’s just a shame there isn’t more of him as he’s sidelined for almost the entire middle third of the film. Jamie Foxx as the normal person, Max Dillon an electrical engineer at Oscorp, really sells the persona of someone who’s desperately lonely and just wants to have friends and be seen, leading to his obsession with Spider-Man that turns dark when he has his classical villain origin in a laboratory accident. It’s played in a comic booky style but Foxx still elicits sympathy from the viewer.
The film does falter in spots though. The story surrounding Peter’s father, jettisoned from the first one and repurposed here, ultimately amounts to very little and the Harry/Peter relationship feels a bit rushed, which is a shame because Dan DeHaan is an excellent casting. His motivation makes sense on the whole, but there are certain logical leaps made in how they’re jostled into place that kinda fall apart upon any scrutiny. In hindsight their personal relationship would’ve been better served by building it up in a previous film and have the tragic turn take place later. Instead they’re introduced as having been great friends (strangely never mentioned in the first film, go figure) before losing touch, but the film still has to spend time building up their relationship, which pushes both Gwen Stacy and Electro to the background. On that note, they also don’t do a very good job of dealing with Peter’s guilt over Gwen’s father and his promise to him. Conceptually it’s interesting but in execution it’s a bit on the nose and doesn’t really add much.
It does however avoid the pure bloating problems of Spider-Man 3 by having its villains connected in meaningfully tangential ways, the interlocking structure overcoming the crowded nature of having several villains. On top of that Rhino is only in the film for what could be counted as a cameo, bookending the film rather effectively. Along the way it does set the seeds for all of the announced upcoming Spiderverse films. B.J. Novak’s short appearance as Alistair Smythe and Felicity Jones’ Felicia are just as fun as seeing the gear of certain villains make an appearance. Though it does bring up the question what exactly Oscorp’s game plan is with all of this.
The music is a weird beast. Composer Hans Zimmer compiled and worked with a group titled ‘The Magnificent Six,” consisting of Pharrell Williams, Johnny Marr, Junkie XL, Michael Einziger and David A. Stewart, on the score. There are some choices that are great, a little piano melody at a significant moment is probably the standout along with clever diegetic use of “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider,” while others are a bit perplexing, mostly in the form of Electro’s theme basically being dubstep. Sure, it kinda makes sense in the context of the movie but it feels like the most obvious choice of electronic music from a team of very talented people, though they must receive props for the lyrics in the theme basically laying out Electro’s inner monologue, which is ingenious. For the most part Zimmer delivers good themes and motifs but they won’t go down as classics of his. Then there are a couple of instances of pop song usages which are terrible, already outdated and generic. It’s a shame as the walls of Peter’s room would attest to his superior taste in music, with a poster for the excellent band DIIV getting high billing in a handful of shots.
The film is somehow colossal and small at the same time, the stakes are citywide, yet intensely personal and the run-time is a huge 142 minutes, yet it never feels that long. It doesn’t bore and it doesn’t drag, there’s just so much stuff that Webb, the screenwriters and producers jamm in there. You can feel the film bending under the pressure, as it struggles to keep too many plates spinning. Ultimately though it doesn’t break as many as you’d think. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 gets a lot of things very right and is good film. It’s fun and entertaining with a dash of gravitas. It just doesn’t soar as high as it could’ve and would’ve benefitted from being tighter and not having to seed so much but it’s a far cry from being bad in any shape or form. If you didn’t like 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man you probably won’t like this one either, but if you did then The Amazing Spider-Man 2 offers more in that vein to enjoy.
The Good: Peter + Gwen, Andrew + Emma. Always and forever. Also, Peter’s ringtone. And he uses Google this time. Lest we not forget that Spidey’s new outfit looks, fittingly, amazing.
The Bad: The design of the Green Goblin is woeful, in contrast to the understated and clever use of dulled green skin tones for Norman Osborn. Individual elements don’t always fit together perfectly.
The Weird: Marton Csokas’ Dr. Kafka is both a fun nod to the metamorphosis that created Spider-Man and sort of batshit insane, but in a very fun, bizarre way. Also, the credit stinger is a short, out of context action scene from X-Men: Days of Future Past. It makes no sense.
Keep an eye out for several scenes and beats that don’t actually show up in the film