In The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) has settled into his hectic double life of battling crime on the streets of New York as Spider-Man, while keeping up with his everyday responsibilities as Peter Parker. Upon his graduation from high school, however, Peter finds this delicate balancing act to be too much, forcing him to reconcile his own desire to keep his love Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) in his life, with the knowledge that he will forever be putting her life in potential jeopardy by doing so.
Things become even more complicated when Peter’s old childhood friend, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), returns to our hero’s life – carrying some dangerous secrets with him. Meanwhile, down-trodden Oscorp electrician Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) is accidentally transformed into the dangerous force of nature that is Electro, forcing Pete to yet again battle a science experiment-gone-wrong birthed by his dad’s old workplace. This leads Peter to learn more about his parents’ disappearance so many years ago, while starting to uncover the truth about what is going on behind closed doors at Oscorp Industries.
It could be argued that the first installment in Sony’s rebooted Spider-Man cinematic franchise, Amazing Spider-Man, is a film at odds with itself: one-half is director Marc Webb’s grittier retelling of Peter Parker’s origin story, while the other half is a shiny, yet empty, comic book movie blockbuster. Mirroring how young Peter has changed from gawky teenager to a more confident young adult between movies, Webb’s direction is steadier and bolder on Amazing Spider-Man 2, giving rise to an overall enthralling (and, in some regards, better) installment with elements of greatness – but, like the eponymous superhero, is still guilty of committing mistakes that are too significant to overlook.
Amazing Spider-Man 2 sets a new bar for what can be considered a big and splashy comic book blockbuster, forgoing a so-called grounded filmmaking approach in favor of unabashedly flashy stylistic choices and brush strokes. Here, Webb has created a world that feels like a proper live-action cinematic interpretation of a Saturday morning superhero cartoon universe – a place where colorful laboratory-born monsters feel just at home as ordinary people walking the streets. Thanks to the new addition of cinematographer Daniel Mindel (John Carter, Star Trek Into Darkness), Webb’s Spider-Man movie sequel is not just an improvement on its predecessor’s visual palate, it also offers the most impressive action shot compositions in any Spider-Man film released to date.
Between that and the brazenly eclectic score – combining Hans Zimmer’s more traditional instrumental elements with modern pop-music sounds by The Magnificent Six (a group that includes Johnny Marr and Pharrell Williams) in a way that truly does enhance the film’s storytelling – it’s pretty easy to recommend seeing Amazing Spider-Man 2 in IMAX 3D, for the larger visual canvas and heightened acoustic presentation offered by the theater-viewing format. The IMAX viewing experience might be a sensory overload for certain moviegoers, but for others it’ll pull them into the world of Spider-Man like nothing else (film, TV show, or comic book) has before.
Story-wise, the Amazing Spider-Man 2 script – written by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Transformers, Star Trek), as well as Jeff Pinkner (Fringe), with James Vanderbilt (Amazing Spider-Man) co-credited for the story – is strongest when unfolding as a parable for the responsibilities and challenges that come with young adulthood. Indeed, the narrative threads that are concerned with Peter’s attempts to navigate his complicated relationships are the most cohesive, thematically, and are emotionally weighty. However, the arcs for the film’s principal villains – especially in the case of the Harry Osborn storyline – tend to feel rushed for the sake of fitting in more world-building. In short, this film suffers a bit from Iron Man 2 syndrome.
Amazing Spider-Man 2 makes up for this by being more satisfying as a standalone work of film art. There are multiple occasions where the script juxtaposes events in Peter Parker’s home-life with his “job” as Spider-Man, strengthening the subtext of the over-arching narrative. Certain edits and visual motifs constructed by Webb (see: the ticking clock) likewise enhance the substance, feeling appropriately on-the-nose in the context of this pulpy superhero adventure. The end result: this comic book movie suffers from having to setup future installments, yet it has merits as a self-contained feature – one that’s more carefully built than you might expect.
As was the case on the first Amazing Spider-Man, the sequel boasts palpable onscreen chemistry between real-life couple Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Here, the Peter/Gwen romance is even further elevated by the actors having better dialogue and meatier dramatic scenarios to draw from, with Garfield and Stone both excelling as modern male and female archetypes, respectively. Meanwhile, Oscar-winner Sally Field as Aunt May continues to be the unsung hero of this series (literally, to a degree, in the story as well), as her scenes with Garfield are as much an essential part of the film’s beating “heart” as those featuring Stone.
The Harry Osborn character, as mentioned before, has to progress through his journey of transformation too quickly, but thanks to yet another strong performance by Dane DeHaan (Chronicle, The Place Beyond the Pines) Harry is a more believable figure and has a compelling presence that he might’ve lacked, otherwise. Meanwhile, Jamie Foxx has fun hamming it up as Max Dillon – managing to sell the character’s tragicomical nature, as well as his drastic evolution from Spider-Man fanboy to our hero’s arch-enemy Electro. Similarly, Paul Giamatti has a blast in his few scenes as Russian mafia henchman, Aleksei Sytsevich.
The rest of the film includes fine work by various character actors (Campbell Scott, Felicity Jones, B.J. Novak, Martin Csokas, Colm Feore), who appear onscreen long enough to leave an impression, even for those moviegoers who aren’t familiar with their relevance in the comic book mythology. By and large, the ensemble cast’s performances feel organic to the movie’s cartoony universe – despite the fact that many of the characters being played are there to simply move the story along and/or lay the groundwork for developments in future Amazing Spider-Man installments.
Having said all that: Amazing Spider-Man 2 probably won’t convince many of those who were not fans of its predecessor to change sides and get behind this new take on the Spider-Man universe – nor will it please moviegoers who would’ve preferred this sequel to buck the current trend of superhero movies going bigger and brasher.
On the other hand, most of the people who enjoyed Amazing Spider-Man should also appreciate this new chapter, and some may even find this particular superhero film to be refreshing, with regard to how much it embraces it own audacious style (while still featuring simple, yet decent, principles at the core of its story). All in all, this movie feels like a step in the right direction for the rebooted Spider-Man franchise – hopefully leading to better installments in the future – and thus, makes for a pretty good start to the summer movie season.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 runs 142 minutes long and is Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence. Now playing in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D theaters.
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