Nutshell: I give The Amazing Spider-Man 2 a C-. Great performances by Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Dane DeHann and Jamie Foxx aren’t enough to pull this choppy, drawn-out film from the depths of the barely-average. But Greg Nicotero rocks the FX, as always. Don’t stay past the credits looking for a bonus scene; you’ll get nothing but disappointment.
It’s sequel time, kiddies! In this installment of The Life of Peter Parker: Teen Spider, Peter is graduating from high school, trying to keep his true love by his side even though he’s constantly nowhere near hers (unless you count Spidey-stalking), and of course, trying to save the world — or at least New York City — from all sorts of horrible bad guys. Can he have it all? Well….
If you’ve been wondering what happened to Peter’s mom and dad, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 delivers the goods. Seems Mr. Parker was working on something that had weapons-grade potential (hint: SPIDERS.) The film opens with what happened after Mom & Dad Spider-Man tried to break free of that mess. Then, without a breath, the film slams you into present day, where a crazy punk-rock nihilistic Paul Giamatti is dragging his batshit crazy all over the streets of NYC. Meanwhile, Gwen Stacy, class valedictorian, is about to give her speech. (STAN LEE SIGHTING: he’s in the guest seats at graduation.) Wanna guess what Peter’s doing? You bet’cha.
Spidey does look like he’s having a heckuva time swinging around NYC in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. There’s even a woo-hoo or a yippee thrown in every so often. Peter is getting his web on, and he ain’t ashamed. There’s also a touch of X-Men with the montage of web-swinging mixed with press comments about vigilantism and questions about who’s responsible for the destruction caused by Spidey saving the day. (I’ve always assumed that with all that super-destruction, NYC has FEMA on speed-dial.) But that’s as deep as this film gets, as there’s villains to be had! Here’s the breakdown:
* Electro: (Jamie Foxx) an Everyman nebbish, engineer Max Dillon’s superpower is invisibility. Nobody notices him, and nobody cares. So one day — his birthday, in fact — when he has to stay late to fix the wiring at Oscorp. But with no help, he slips and falls into a vat of supercharged electric eels. Before you can say frizzap!, he’s glowing blue like a psychotic Dr. Manhattan. Spiderman saved Max once, but it’s not too long before Electro decides that he’s had enough of the webby hero.
* Green Goblin: (Dane DeHaan) Nope, it’s not head of Oscorp, Norman Osborn. Spider-Man 2 jumps to Harry Osborn, Norman’s son, for that dubious honor. Harry has been in boarding school for years, and comes home because Norman’s on his deathbed. Guess what, Harry? What dad’s got is genetic. Could that strange spider venom be Harry’s cure? I’m sure he won’t go absolutely crazy if he gets it, or that he’d instantly hate anyone who thinks that cure may not be such a good idea.
* Rhino: (Paul Giamatti) Whoo-hoo! Psychopathic Aleksei Sytsevich — the guy wreaking havoc at the beginning of the film — gets broken out of jail and given a high-test mechanical rhino suit of armor. What could possibly go wrong? Hard to say for sure, as Sytsevich as Rhino is only onscreen for the very last scene of the film. *sad trombone*
And that’s my problem with The Amazing Spider-Man 2. This movie tries to cram so much into it, that even at almost two hours and fifteen minutes, there’s not enough time to flesh out a coherent story. It’s all montages, quick edits and scenes that hop from one place/viewpoint to another so quickly it’s like whiplash. There’s enough of a pause to hear at least part of Gwen Stacy’s valedictorian speech:
“ Fight for what matters to you….Even if we fall short, what better way is there to live?”
Of course, that scene has Important Message in flashing red lights sprinkled all over it. Kudos to Emma Stone for taking an extraordinarily ham-handed bit of dialogue and crafting something you’d believe a high school scholar would say, and believe.
My favorite actors in this film? I’d love to say Sally Field, but she’s given too little screen time. Dammit. So it’s a three-way tie, with Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx and Dane DeHaan. And I’ll even throw Andrew Garfield in there; the montage where Peter seems to go day to day, always saving someone/something and then coming home exhausted, is excellent. Garfield manages to put a little something different in what could be a series of boring repetitions. Bonus points for the Spider-Man with the flu bit. And then there’s….
My absolute favorite part of the film, the part that had me loving every second, is a scene so spoilery that I can’t risk ruining the film for those potential viewers that aren’t up to speed on Spider-Man canon. Okay fine; I’ll inviso-text it. But highlight and read at your peril! (cues evil laughter)
When Peter-as-Spidey and Gwen-as-Determined-Girlfriend run afoul of Harry Osborne’s Green Goblin, the back-and-forth between them is riveting. DeHaan manages to crank Full Crazy up to 11 without becoming parody. He’s hurting, and he’s insane; he’s trying to feel but he can’t get past the nuts. Peter tries to settle things down, but fails miserably. And Gwen. Emma Stone is brilliant; her Gwen is trying to save Peter, and trying to save herself. Unfortunately, she’s not able to do both, and when she falls to her ultimate death, it’s heartbreaking. The editing — from Peter, to Gwen, to the web strand that isn’t enough to save her life — is perfect. And when the web goes taut and there’s that horrible snap? Garfield let’s all of Peter’s pain out, dropping the superhero and coming to terms with the one thing he swore he’d never do; put Gwen’s life in danger. It’s beautiful. And it only serves to remind how disjointed the rest of the film is.
Okay, I’m back. Director Mark Webb (badum-ching!) doesn’t seem to be able to pull off Spidey’s effortless sweep from one place to the other. Instead, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 clomps along, throwing cool stuff at you as if to say “hey, check this one out! This is cool, right? Right?” Then there’s the weird spoken word/rap/music/thing durng Electro’s Times Square freakout. It’s a weird mishmosh that’s almost indecipherable, and when I finally understood it I was too weirded out to think it was anything other than silly. It’s strange when Hans Zimmer fails. Luckily, FX guru Greg Nicotero is on task with effects (though the 3D crew seemed to have phoned it in); Foxx’s Electro is truly menacing as he floats over a frightened crowd. Foxx is also able to tug at heartstrings; even with all that power, he’s still nerdy Max who only wants to be needed. Awwww.
So what did we learn today, kiddies? We learned that it doesn’t pay to be a dick to some nobody, because you never know if that person will end up being an even bigger dick to you. Oh, and that cute bits and heart-tugging moments don’t really pull together a plot that’s more about the climax than it is about the story.