Written By Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci & Jeff Pinkner
Directed By Marc Webb
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Sally Field & Paul Giamatti
“With great power comes great responsibility”. These are the iconic words spoken by Peter Parker’s beloved Uncle Ben to his troubled nephew. They are words synonymous with Spider-Man in both the comics and on film, and if The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is any indication, they are words that Sony Pictures should have heeded a long time ago.
Marc Webb’s second big-screen outing at the helm of the Spider-Man franchise continues Peter Parker’s journey as the titular hero graduates from high school, continues his complicated relationship with classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and investigates his parents’ untimely disappearance. His life is thrown further into chaos with the return of his childhood pal Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) and the creation of a new super-villain in Electro (Jamie Foxx).
- The Costume – Perhaps the easiest aspect of the film to praise is it’s perfection of the classic Spider-Man suit. While in the first Amazing film the powers at be took a decidedly darker tact with the costume, the sequel is the first Spider-Man film to actually bring to life the classic Spider-Man costume from the comics. Complete with the red and blue thread and, for the first time, the big, white eyes, big-screen Spidey has never looked better.
- Peter & Gwen – As an admitted fan of the first Amazing Spider-Man, people often ask me, “Why?” Well, it’s quite simple actually. Peter & Gwen. While Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy delivered two damn good films, I never felt that they really succeeded on the casting front. Tobey Maguire was more of a stereotypical nerd than the Peter I grew to love in the comics, and Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane never sat right with me. Enter Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, a real-life couple who have proven themselves to be perfectly suited for their roles as Peter and Gwen respectively. Every time they are on-screen together, these films feel at ease. They have a natural chemistry that helps deliver some intimate character moments that are some of the best the superhero genre has ever seen. While these films may never reach the creative heights of Raimi’s films, they’ve already surpassed them when it comes to the casting of Peter and his love interest.
- The Ending – The last 15 minutes or so of the film are, as far as I’m concerned, undoubtably the best. While the final climactic set-piece isn’t all that interesting, it’s end result ultimately is. Director Marc Webb brings the Peter-Gwen relationship to the forefront at just the right time and capitalizes on the very real emotions that Garfield infuses his version of Peter Parker with. Ultimately, The Amazing Spider-Man 2‘s conclusion makes you feel like the journey has been worth it…but unfortunately, therein lies a problem I will discuss in the next section.
- The Script – When it was announced that the duo of Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci would be handling the major scripting duties for the Amazing sequel, many fanboys rightfully groaned. While they have delivered with a good script here and there (the Star Trek reboot mostly), their work has been predominantly filled with unintelligent riffs on typical genre tropes. While there are scenes that spark in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, they are the ones that hinge on the strength of Garfield and Stone as actors, and when they are off-screen the film suffers mightily with stilted dialogue and ridiculous character motivations. The script, to put it lightly, is all over the place and at times seems to be solely concerned with setting up the sequels to come rather than strictly focusing on telling a good story here and now. Kurtzman and Orci have written some clunkers in their day and for the most part, this is one of them.
- The Villains – One of my major issues with the first Amazing Spider-Man was its reliance on a lackluster, under-written villain in The Lizard. In the sequel, we get two lackluster, under-written villains. Jamie Foxx’s Electro is the worst offender, a character that could be interesting in the right circumstances, but just fails to have any basis in reality. Max Dillon is a working stiff at Oscorp who idolizes Spider-Man and who dreams of simply being acknowledged by his peers, rather than being constantly ignored. Yeah, that’s not terrible motivation, but when Max falls into a vat of electric eels and becomes Electro, he instantly becomes a crazed lunatic who can’t stand the fact that Spider-Man is more popular than him. And that’s it. For the rest of the film, we don’t really learn anything about what Electro wants or what he hopes to gain as this newly minted god. Rather, he becomes a pawn in the scheme of Peter Parker’s pal Harry Osborn, played with menacing delight by Dane DeHaan. I’m a big fan of DeHaan as an actor and his performance as Harry is fun to watch, but he’s let down by a character so thinly-drawn that when the time comes for him to become the Green Goblin, the audience really doesn’t have much of a reason to care. Foxx and DeHaan are two great actors, but they are simply wasted in thankless roles that do nothing to capitalize on their considerable talents.
- The Build To The Ending – While I admitted above that I really quite enjoyed the film’s conclusion, the problem with it is the incredibly inconsistent build-up to it. Sure, we get some fantastic scenes between Peter and Gwen, understanding their motivations for wanting to be together and even rooting for them to do so; it’s just, well, everything else. We are treated to an Aunt May subplot that succeeds on the strength of Sally Field’s performance, but it’s ultimately dropped and seemingly never spoken of again. The main villainous plot never really amounts to anything other than window-dressing, simply serving to provide the film with the obligatory action sequences and some “twists” that are only there to set up further sequels. The ending, which utilizes perhaps one of the most iconic events in Spider-Man lore, is powerful on the strength of the relationship between Garfield’s Peter and Stone’s Gwen, but is ultimately let down by the hours of film that precede it. In short, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a film that is good at the very things that set it apart from typical superhero fare, the intimate character moments, the problem is just that it’s not very good at the things that actually make it a superhero film.
Sony Pictures have been making Spider-Man films for longer than a decade now, so why is it that they are still having problems understanding what makes a good superhero film? Sure, they delivered two fine Sam Raimi entries, but subsequently decided to force the villainous Venom on Raimi in Spider-Man 3 to the detriment of the film itself. Marc Webb’s first Amazing Spider-Man succeeded because it focused on Webb’s strengths as a filmmaker, creating intimate character moments, but in the sequel it appears Sony could not resist the temptation of loading a film with superfluous villains that may help both sell some extra toys and serve to expand their future cinematic universe.
“With great power comes great responsibility”. As far as Sony Pictures appears to be concerned, “With great power comes great power”. Until they decide to focus on the here and now and commit to making the best stand-alone Spider-Man film they can, how can we expect their expanded cinematic universe to be anything other than ripe with the same inconsistencies on display in The Amazing Spider-Man 2? Well, quite simply, we can’t.