Directed by: Marc Webb
Written by: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinker
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx
Music by: "The Magnificent Six"
Release date: April 10th, 2014
Tired of Spider-Man movies yet? Well, hopefully not because the latest instalment in this bloated franchise is here, and if the various set-ups and dangling threads in this movie mean anything at all, there's going to be quite a few more on the way. 2012's [The Amazing Spider-Man](movie:45497) proved to be a solid attempt by Sony and director Marc Webb to breathe new life into the webslinger after Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 4 was sent to the grave, and this second outing aims to tell a defining chapter in Peter Parker's story, and how life as Spider-Man affects not only himself but also the ones around him. Some of the time, anyway.
Events picks up shortly after the first movie, but by the time we see him here our friendly neighbourhood webslinger is loved by all of New York and has honed his skills as Spider-Man. He's cockier and more confident than before and has the girl of his dreams to boot. But his skills will be put to the test after the arrival of new villain Electro and old friend Harry Osborn, who may turn out to have more sinister agendas.
He's clearly not the age that his character is supposed to be, but Andrew Garfield nails the character of Spider-Man, and has terrific chemistry with Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, obviously partly due to them being a real-life couple. He also somehow manages to just about make certain jokes in the movie work that would probably fall flat if it wasn't for his likability and line delivery.
Electro (Jamie Foxx) is a mixed bag. Max Dillon, as he's known before his transformation into a slightly overgrown glow-in-the-dark smurf, is someone who idolises Spider-Man and is trampled on and ignored by everyone around him. Unfortunately, his character doesn't really work. He looks fairly over-the-top with the nerdy glasses, combover and tooth gap, and is played mainly for laughs while he's supposedly meant to be a sympathetic character. All of New York is apparently out to get him and we're never given a reason why, and as a result he just doesn't feel believable. Things improve slightly when he makes the full conversion to Electro, and Foxx seems to be a bit more comfortable here. The character becomes a lot more intimidating, and post-transformation the sympathetic angle is generally easier to grasp, particularly during his showdown with Spider-Man in Times Square. Despite this, his motives as a villain are somewhat murky. He uses his newfound power "to be seen", which kind of makes sense for the character, but Max Dillon seemed like a pretty harmless, if slightly unbalanced guy at first. We're never shown just how truly unstable or dangerous he could potentially be, and so his descent into darkness doesn't feel authentic. And even by comicbook standards, the incident that causes him to become Electro is just silly.
Dane DeHaan threatens to steal the show as Harry Osborn, giving a compelling performance that still manages to be unusually appealing and also slightly sympathetic despite its genuine villainy. His metamorphosis to the Green Goblin is also more credible, since it's fairly easy to see from early on that the guy is pretty disturbed, and the transformation scene itself is quite unsettling, perhaps alarmingly so for some younger viewers. However, he also looks like a Super Saiyan meth head and the Goblin himself is brought in during the climax of the story and dealt with far too quickly. It ends up feeling incredibly rushed. Fans of the comics will also be unhappy to know that the character is Green Goblin in name only (he's barely even green!). Since he was plastered over quite a bit of promotional material it's probably necessary to mention Paul Giamatti as the Rhino, but all he has here is a glorified cameo. He also cranks it up to 11 on the ham-o-meter and is borderline embarrassing, not to mention largely inaudible.
[The Amazing Spider-Man 2](movie:508593)'s biggest problem is that there is just too much going on. On one hand you have the story that director Marc Webb wants to tell, which at its heart is Gwen and Peter's relationship, and on the other you have Sony trying to get themselves some of that Avengers moolah and get a shared universe going. They clearly don't have a plan, and at times the movie feels too shady, as if it's trying to emulate the successes of rival studios and build the most successful franchise possible. Sony must know that it's nigh impossible to build a successful shared universe centred on one character too, as there have already been three sequels and multiple spin-offs greenlit and with set release dates, but there's still too much set-up crammed into this one movie. What's astonishing is that these are the exact same mistakes that were made back in 2007 when they interfered with the production of Spider-Man 3, which became infamous for its shoe-horning and mistreatment of multiple villains, particularly the popular character of Venom. Here, this is duplicated and amplified. Every villain is at least partly here as set-ups for a Sinister Six movie - essentially an Avengers-esque team, but comprised of villains - particularly the Green Goblin and the Rhino (there's also some incredibly unsubtle Blu-Ray product placement in the middle of Times Square and numerous close-up shots of Sony products throughout the entire thing). They've shot themselves in the foot yet again, and this will undoubtedly affect the image of the franchise in the public eye. It's disappointing to see them go down this route as while the Spider-Man movie franchise may be drawn-out, that can easily be forgiven if they can actually give us good stories. It's a shame, considering that this instalment adapts one of the most historical and well-known storylines in the history of comics, and a lot of material devoted to that storyline is hampered by tactless business practices. It's also hard to believe that this is even set in the same universe as its predecessor, due to a massive tonal shift that's more akin with the Marvel Cinematic Universe or Sam Raimi's original trilogy, which Sony seemed so desperate to separate themselves from a few years ago. It demonstrates a lack of faith in the character and themselves, as they are continuously following whatever trend is current at the time. But unfortunately while rectifying the problems due to studio interference would do wonders for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, there are still issues in Kurtzman and co's script regarding too many complicated subplots that never quite come to fruition. Its thematic ideas aren't always handled particularly well either, with some feeling vacuous and others not being realised to their full potential (there's also some very obvious repeated foreshadowing). Oh, and if you were expecting a satisfying resolution to the "untold story" involving Peter's parents that was unnecessarily dragged out across two movies - which you probably weren't because it was never interesting in the first place - then know that you're probably going to forget what it was all about by the time Marc Webb's name appears at the beginning of the credits. Or before.
While there's still nothing that holds a candle to the train sequence in Spider-Man 2 (2004), there are some great action scenes that provide genuine tension and spectacle and are easily the high points of the movie, such as the aforementioned clash between Spider-Man and Electro in Times Square (although there is one line of dialogue during this scene that awakens severely unwanted memories of a certain mid-nineties superhero film that we definitely could've done without). With the exception of the blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance of the Green Goblin, the climax is also highly emotional and handled very well. The musical score, composed by "The Magnificent Six", a supergroup composed of Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr and others, is brilliant (even if the main theme is rather disappointing and sounds more like a poor man's Superman as opposed to Zimmer's usual brilliance). They heavily contribute to what makes the aforementioned action scenes so great, such as in the Times Square sequence where Electro's thoughts are played through the lyrics of the soundtrack itself, which is actually quite creative. There was some understandable concern regarding the score before release as certain tracks can only be described as "orchestral dubstep", but thankfully it doesn't come off as too trendy and actually works in the movie's favour, fitting with the tone and the youthful aspect of Spider-Man's character.
Despite its massive problems, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn't actually a complete trainwreck, it's just that its negatives are much more complex than its positives. Garfield still makes a fantastic Spider-Man, the tone is much more beneficial for its characters and universe, and there's some gorgeous action topped off with some hefty emotional punches regarding the story of Peter and Gwen. It's frustrating because parts of it are thoroughly enjoyable, but its problems are just far too big to ignore. Hopefully the next time around there'll be more focus on the present as opposed to the future, and as much thought and effort can be put into the story of that movie as possible. The competition is only getting stronger, and if our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man doesn't want to be shunned and sent to the naughty corner while various other superhero franchises rake in all the cash and acclamation, the creative minds behind this series need to step up their game.