Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

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I thought The Amazing Spider-Man, the first of the new series reboot from 2012, was OK. I prefer the leads, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, more than their predecessors Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, and the special effects were obviously improved, but the two films were far too close in temporal proximity and contained too many similar plot points and dynamics for my liking.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2, on the other hand, feels very different to its corresponding predecessor. But it’s still just OK. The main problem with it is that it feels generic, unable to distinguish itself from the plethora of superhero flicks out there, and perhaps even among the 5 Spider-Man films in the last 12 years. There’s all the flying around, dangling from building to building, acting smug in front of thugs; the rise of a new villain, or villains; and of course, the romance and the friendships and the family drama, including trying to piece together his father’s mysterious past. Not to say it’s not well-executed, but there really wasn’t anything — barring a couple of surprises– that I hadn’t seen before, and there wasn’t a whole lot to help it stand out from the crowd.

Allow me to backtrack a little. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 picks up not long after the first one ended, with Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) trying, and failing, to stay away from his girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), after promising her dying father that he’d do so to keep her safe. Meanwhile, we are introduced to a neglected engineer, Max Dillion (Jamie Foxx), who is about to become Spider-Man’s next villain, Electro, and reintroduced to Peter’s childhood friend, Harry Osborne (Dane DeHann, who was fantastic in the underrated Chronicle), who we know will eventually become…well, yeah.

So there’s not many surprises in the early going, with the majority of the screen time dedicated to setting up the characters and Peter going through his typical internal struggles. On the bright side, director Marc Webb, who gave us the brilliant 500 Days of Summer, knows a thing or two about depicting relationships, and the chemistry between Garfield and Stone is great thanks to their real-life courtship, so the melodrama was not as melodramatic as it could have been.

Personally, I found the Peter-Gwen relationship a little dull, largely because there wasn’t a third party involved to threaten their love for one another. Fortunately, I thought the relationship between Peter and his aunt (Sally Field) more than made up for the central romance and actually contained quite a few touching moments.

Of the villains, I thought Foxx and DeHann did what they could with the characters but both should have been a lot more. Electro, in particular, isn’t even a real villain per se — he’s just some poor, bullied guy with an obvious mental illness. His powers are formidable — he’s a mix of DeHann in Chronicle, Emperor Palpatine, and the dude from the PS3 game Infamous, plus a touch of Billy Crudup from Watchmen — and yet when he goes up against Spidey his abilities suddenly become less unstoppable. And that’s a big part of the problem with the film — you never feel as though Spider-Man is ever in any real danger, even when he’s being battered and tossed around like a ragged doll.

The action sequences, filled with high-definition slow-motion movements, are impressive and something we haven’t seen before in the franchise (at least I think that’s the case). But Spider-Man’s apparent invincibility and the video-gamey nature of the fights take away a significant chunk of the realism and sense of danger, leaving us with pretty albeit emotionless action that ought to have been more exciting.

I also found the storytelling lacking in focus, resulting in an uneven film which struggled to keep track of all the strands of the narrative and the excess of characters. More doesn’t always mean better, and I think it would have been a better film if Webb had pared back the silly 142-minute running time to something more manageable, and in doing so take out some of the unnecessary plot points and character/relationship development moments. One of these would have been Paul Giamatti’s character, a Russian mobster who would become what I assume is a villain in the next instalment.

And yes, there will be at least one, potentially two more instalments in the rebooted franchise. There isn’t nothing strictly wrong with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 — Marvel rarely makes “bad” superhero movies and this is neither great nor terrible, just visually spectacular, above-average generic entertainment — but they’ll have to take a fresh approach and mix things up a bit if they wish to revive the franchise in 2016.

3 stars out of 5

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