As I left the cinema after director Marc Webb’s first foray into the superhero genre, 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, I was mostly annoyed. Despite the palpable chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone (they’re dating now, you may well know), I thought the movie was overly po-faced and incredibly scatter-shot, glazing over most of the most important aspects of Peter Parker’s Spidey development. Because of that, my expectations for the second film, fittingly called The Amazing Spider-Man 2, were so low they were taking up residence next to dinosaur bones. But to my complete and utter shock, I found that I was enjoying myself more than I ever thought I would. The movie is undoubtedly dumb, but yet it was more fun; How can this be?
The real reason for this, I think, is tone. As I said, the first film felt so incredibly self-important and brooding in a way that Spider-Man shouldn’t be. Part of this, surely was to combat the over-the-moon campness of Sam Raimi’s third Spider-Man, but to me it just felt like it was trying to be young-kid-Batman. With this second film, they had a bit more fun with it, it seemed. There’s still the melodrama of teen angst coupled with super-powered problems, but everything just felt a lot sillier. And campy, too, it has to be said. But when the filmmakers are trying to cram as much into a single film as they are with this one, it’s hard to take everything seriously.
This movie picks up a few months after the events of The Amazing Spider-Man, with Spidey now out saving New Yorkers daily from various crimes and disasters. He’s back with Gwen Stacy (that breakup didn’t last long) and he’s graduating high school. Everything seems to be going well, which is a good reason for it to start going bad, I suppose. Peter Parker begins to feel guilty for continuing his relationship with Gwen even after he promised her late father (Denis Leary) that he wouldn’t. So they break up. Again. But they still don’t want to be broken up.
Elsewhere, a dork named Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) who works for Oscorp is having a terrible birthday. Everybody takes him for granted and treats him like dirt. His only friend is Spider-Man… in his mind. Spidey saved him one day and was nice to him and so Dillon gets a fixation. That’ll end well. Through a freak accident, Dillon is electrocuted badly and infused with the blue glow of the electrocuted, which allows him to feed on and harness electricity. He immediately gets cornered by police and, despite Spider-Man’s best efforts, Dillon, or Electro, walks away hating his former favorite wall-crawler.
Even elserwhere, the mod son of billionaire Norman Osborn, Harry (Dane DeHaan), returns to New York to visit his ailing father and assume the role of head of Oscorp. Turns out he’s got the same degenerative disease that his old man has and needs a sample of Spider-Man’s blood to synthesize a cure. He’s also Peter Parker’s long-estranged best friend and the two reconnect over throwing rocks into water. Harry also has an enemy within the company (Colm Feore) who wants Oscorp for himself.
So, there are a lot of plot threads all going on at once, and none of them are developed all that well. Everything needs to just happen for the story to keep going, so characters, usually the villains, take huge leaps of logic in order to justify the stuff that has to happen afterwards. There was probably enough here to make two regular-length movies instead of one long movie that goes through things very quickly.
A lot of what bogged down the first film revolved around Peter’s parent’s, Richard and Mary (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davitz), and why they left Peter with his aunt and uncle, and who his father worked for. If possible, there’s even more of this story thread in TASM2, which partially explains the head-scratching from part 1 but adds to it a whole new set of questions that might get answered next time if they remember. Between flashbacks to Peter’s dad and hallucinations about Gwen’s dad, Scott and Leary end up with a lot of screen time, whereas Uncle Ben, who traditionally is the focal point of Peter’s sense of honor and duty, is completely side-stepped and forgotten.
But, I did say I enjoyed myself during this movie, and I think the main reason is Andrew Garfield. He’s intensely watchable and likable, even when Peter’s not at his personal best. We get to see Spider-Man be heroic in a noble way that most comic book movie heroes don’t get to be. I also like that Spider-Man actually looks like Spider-Man in this, costume and physique-wise.
I know that doesn’t seem like much to go on, but after the spate of hyper-serious superhero pictures we’ve been getting lately, good or bad, it’s nice to have one that’s just a big dumb comic book done in a music video style with some good performances by the romantic leads and a hero who most of the time enjoys being a hero.
Overall, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is cluttered and rushed and full of campy, motivation-lite villains, and it could easily be shorter and no one would be mad, but personally, I thought it was a tonal improvement on the last film and actually made me care that I was watching a movie about Spider-Man. Go figure.