Spider-Man just might be the most difficult hero of the Marvel universe with which to make a fully engaging and entertaining film. After four attempts at doing so, there has really only been one that has been truly successful at delving into the character and getting to what makes him such an intriguing one. It’s not the fact that he got bitten by a radioactive spider or the fact that he can swing along on webs, but rather the dichotomous nature of Peter Parker as he tries to deal with his normal life and that of a hero.
Of course, the film I’m referring to is Sam Raimi’s excellent “Spider-Man 2,” which not only delivered on this level, but which also managed to be a thrilling action spectacle at the same time, with neither aspect overwhelming the other. The other two films in Raimi’s trilogy were not quite as successful. Nor was the most recent film, a speedy reboot of the franchise that merely went back and revisited the bland origin story of the character. However, with that out of the way, there was great hope that they would now allow a more in-depth examination of the character along the lines of the best film of the franchise. In other words, it’s time to let the character shine.
At this point in the story, we find Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) trying to lead his duel life as he attempts to stop a psychotic Russian mobster and get to his own high school graduation, where his girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), is delivering a speech as valedictorian. You may recall from the first film that Gwen’s father made Peter promise to keep away from her due to all of the danger he would be faced with as the city’s hero, a promise that he has had to struggle with due to his strong feelings for her. Meanwhile, he must face a new threat to the city in the form of Electro/Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), a man who gained super electrical powers after an accident at Oscorp. Max has a bit of an obsession with Spider-Man, but after he feels he was betrayed at their first encounter, his thoughts now bend towards destroying him, leading to the toughest battle Peter’s had to face yet.
With “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” we find director Marc Webb and co. trying to do what Raimi and his crew did so well in their sequel, and to be fair, some of it works. In this entry, Peter finds himself struggling between being a hero and his love for Gwen, but the main issue here is that it’s resolved rather easily. I won’t say how, but I will say that it ends up not being as big an issue as it may have first appeared. If they had been able to use such a notion more to their advantage to explore the character, then perhaps we could have gotten a sequel that packed just as much of an emotional punch.
On the action side of things, this is a sequel that doesn’t disappoint. There are plenty of large spectacular battles between Spidey and Electro that really light things up. Another plus is that the film is not oversaturated with them. Some action films will just go to town on your senses with battle after battle, but these are spread out pretty well, allowing time for a little bit of story and character here and there. However, as far as Electro goes, there wasn’t very much done with him. Max was simply a lonely guy who becomes obsessed with Spider-Man, gets powers, and eventually wants to destroy him. In short, he suffers from “bland villain syndrome,” a condition that afflicted Dr. Connors/The Lizard from the previous film.
The film also becomes a little crowded as it moves forward. Along with Peter trying to deal with Gwen and Electro, he has to deal with his friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), who is the new CEO of Oscorp and who is also dying of the same disease his father just passed away from. Harry believes that if he gets injected with some of Spider-Man’s blood, he can be cured, so he enlists Peter’s help (since he’s taken photos of Spidey, Harry thinks Peter knows him) to get it. As if that wasn’t enough, another subplot has Peter investigating his father and his research. Sadly, this subplot doesn’t really get anywhere and ends up feeling like it merely stretches the movie out.
Once again, the performances are top-notch. Garfield continues to handle the demands of both sides of the role very well, delivering the right emotional notes and even a few amusing comical moments as well. Other notable performances come from Dane DeHaan, who continues to impress me with every film he’s in, as the desperate Harry Osborn, and Sally Field as Aunt May. Field doesn’t get a particularly large amount of screentime, but still makes the most of every second she has, leaving a large mark as though she was another main character.
When you balance all the pros and cons, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” doesn’t really end up being any better or any worse than the previous film. It does end up being a bit of a disappointment though. This was their chance to delve into the most fascinating part of the Spider-Man character. As I said before, it has nothing to do with his strength or powers, but who he is as a person and how he deals with his duel nature. With two more planned sequels on the way, we can only hope that they’ll take advantage of this intriguing aspect, and in the process show us what Spider-Man is really all about. 2.5/4 stars.
Starts tonight in theaters everywhere.
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