Spider-Man is back once more, the second time under the direction of Marc Webb and his new edition of the character featuring Andrew Garfield as the titular superhero. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 kicks off not long after the previous installment, with Peter Parker taking out crooks and criminals across New York City and having charming banter with the love of his life Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Life seems pretty set except for one hiccup; a promise Peter made Gwen’s father in the first film’s finale. Knowing the danger that superheroics bring and the horrific enemies that can come from it, Peter promised Gwen’s dad that he would stay away from her, which lasted about three minutes in that movie.
Well, Peter is still apparently anguished about it. He loves Gwen and vice-versa, yet the fretting over having someone else close to him die hovers regularly in Peter’s brain.
Said worrying feels appropriate after the traditional comic book wackiness ensues. Flashing lights, frayed wires and some electric eels turn mild-mannered Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) into Electro, a man able to wield electricity with ease. Max/Electro doesn’t initially mean harm; he’s even a big fan of ol’ Spidey. Nevertheless, miscommunications occur and the having of fists/powers takes forth.
The aforementioned worrying also seems apt since Peter’s childhood friend Harry Osborne (Dane Dehaan) is back in town after his father’s passing, complete with made-up movie-disease a.k.a. yucky green scabs. Plot stuff happens, some involving Peter’s scientist dad and Harry’s pop, and then chaos reigns.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2, as with this round of the franchise’s earlier effort, is a frustrating movie, managing to throw compelling action sequences and truly superb romantic comedy beats together, while being unable to tell a competent narrative. There are a large number of plots in this movie, which would be fine if, well, they were written a bit tighter. One can have Peter’s fear of losing Gwen, Harry’s frustration with his place evolving life, mysterious experiments and a crazy villain in a single movie, but each part has to stand solidly. It’s kind of a 50/50 hit rate here.
The good is certainly Garfield’s wonderful banter with Stone. They joke, flirt and cry in a way that conveys effortlessness. The term “hang-out” movie has been thrown around in recent years, describing a movie with a bland story and entertaining characters one could envision spending an evening out with. It's utterly charming when Garfield’s Peter and Stone’s Gwen playfully discuss what their boundaries are. When on the run at one point and Stone makes them sneak into a janitor’s close, the dialogue sparkles, as they laugh about their stereotypical hiding spot. That connection, on a surface fun level and deeper emotional one, is what keeps The Amazing Spider-Man 2 together.
Yes, the action scenes can thrill too, with Webb and company running with the myriad of ways Spidey’s powers allow for creativity. Whether it ‘s catching flying debris with his feet or inventive uses for his webs mid-battle, the fight scenes are exciting, even if the effects occasionally are a bit transparent when cutting between real and computer lives.
Webb and his crew of writers still can’t nail down their storytelling. Supporting characters go through a wide range of emotions in the blink of an eye, especially Foxx’s. Electro goes from naïve and socially inept to willing to kill swaths of people in a heartbeat. The editing of the secret life of Peter’s father doesn’t help matters, popping in here and there, before making for one of the silliest images I can recall that involves a hidden lab amidst the New York subway.
Without the crux of entertaining or nuanced baddies for Spider-Man to duke it out with, the back half of the pictures sags tremendously, only getting any vigor in the final, admittedly really well done, minutes.