Sequels can be a tricky business, and for every one that does things right and improves on the first film there are plenty that shouldn’t have been made at all. Fortunately, Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 falls into that first category, even though it still falls short of being an amazing movie. It does have a lot going for it- there are some big action sequences, nasty villains, and plenty of humor- and yet because Sony is trying to establish a franchise to keep pace with Disney/Marvel Studios Avengers movies, it also feels like a lot of set-up and in the end feels incomplete. The screenplay by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner contains multiple plot-lines and three climaxes and yet for all of that still feels like something was missing. That’s not to say a couple of the climaxes don’t have payoffs, but the final one is an obvious “To be continued” type of ending that while neat in itself doesn’t feel wholly satisfying. It’s this mixed bag that holds the movie back from being what it could be, despite the terrific cast and well done special effects.
The movie opens on a high note, with Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) web-slinging his way through the city in between free falls from dizzying heights. A heist on an armored car carrying vials of uranium turns into a massive chase through the city, naturally joined by Spidey, who is really supposed to be attending his high school graduation ceremony. The driver of the tow truck that has snagged the armored car is Russian gangster Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti). There’s a nice comedic exchange as Spider-Man knocks on the truck’s window and tries to stop Aleksei. The action moves swiftly, leading into car crash after car crash as our hero takes care of the villains and rounds up the stolen vials. All done in time to swing into graduation ceremonies (after a costume change, of course), where on again-off again girlfriend Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) has made the valedictorian speech.
Gwen and Peter make a nice pair, and it works well due to the great chemistry between stars Garfield and Stone. But Peter has issues, as he made a promise to Gwen’s father, Captain Stacy (Denis Leary), to stay away in order to keep Gwen safe. Seeing the Captain’s ghost everywhere, Peter comes to the decision that he and Gwen need to split up. This leads to one of the dramatic subplots in the movie where Gwen and Peter dance around their relationship until finally reuniting. In most movies this would slow things up drastically, and while it does to a point here, that subplot remains engaging simply because Stone and Garfield work well off of each other.
Another subplot fills us in a bit more on Peter’s parents, Richard and Mary Parker (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz), as we learn a bit more of their connection to Oscorp and their ultimate fate. We also meet Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper), the head of Oscorp, as he lays dying of a degenerative disease that’s also been passed onto his son, Harry (Dane DeHaan). When Norman dies, Harry takes over the company, only to find that he has enemies within who seek to oust him. Also mistreated by the company is engineer Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), who is rescued by Spider-Man and then becomes obsessed with the web-slinger. Both Dillon and Harry have incidents which transform them into villains to make Spidey’s life difficult, with Dillon becoming Electro and Harry becoming Green Goblin. Both are nicely done, with DeHaan playing with a nice bit of menace and Foxx playing Dillon as unhinged by what he feels is a betrayal by Spider-Man. Both have some nice set pieces, especially the one with Electro in Times Square. The sound was really nicely done in this scene, as we here the voices swirling in Dillon’s head as Spider-Man tries to talk him down before a police sniper sets off a chain of explosive events.
That makes for a lot of plot threads to follow- Gwen and Peter, Max and Spider-Man, Harry and Peter, Oscorp, the mysterious figure from the end of the first movie- and it’s a lot to throw at people at one time. It’s a credit to Webb, the writers, and the cast that while the film does strain under the weight of so many plot lines it never breaks. It does move things along at a slower pace, and one can only hope that it will all pay off in the future. But for this movie, the pay offs vary, and not all viewers will walk away satisfied. Like I said earlier, all of the plot threads lead to several climaxes, with the last one feeling a bit anti-climactic in that we know we’ve just been left hanging until the next film comes out. Sony has plans for two more Spider-Man movies and two spinoffs- the Sinister Six and Venom- and it just remains to be seen if in the end this will all prove to be part of a cohesive whole.
For this movie, more things worked than didn’t. Garfield has nailed the character of Peter and his alter ego squarely on the head, delivering plenty of funny quips when in costume as Spider-Man (as when he calls Electro “Sparkles”), and provides a nice balance between being thrilled to have the powers he has and a person who struggles with them. Stone is terrific as Gwen, and compliments Peter in a way that Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane never did in the Raimi films. DeHaan makes for a chilling villain, and Foxx did a nice job with Electro, making him fearsome as well as a bit sympathetic considering his origins in Dillon. Giamatti just has fun with the gangster Aleksei who ends up donning the armored mech suit and becoming the Rhino. It’s just a shame he didn’t have more screen time in this role, but he does bookend the film. Sally Field does a serviceable Aunt May, trying to keep Peter on track after his Uncle Ben’s death and aids in Peter learning more about his parents. There’s also a nice bit of fan service in some scenes at Oscorp, where we get a glimpse at Dr. Octopus’s arms and Vulture’s wings.
In all, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is an enjoyable movie, if not an entirely satisfying one. It spends a lot of time in setting up future installments, which may or may not pay off in the end. Several plot threads are wrapped up here, providing a surprise or two along the way. It may not be the most amazing Spider-Man movie made, but it’s far from the worst, and it does improve on its predecessor. While not on the level of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it is entertaining enough to kick off the official summer movie season nicely, and will no doubt prove to be a popular choice for movie goers in its opening weekend.
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