Like most superhero movies, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is exciting and enjoyable. Unfortunately, like most recent superhero movies, it also suffers from The Avengers-itis. This all-too-common affliction has affected the latest wave of superhero movies in two distinct, but apparently unavoidable ways.
First, the films, Amazing Spider-Man 2 included, try to do too much and are desperately playing catch-up with this Avengers-style approach to interconnected filmmaking. This manifests itself mainly in the form of character over-crowding, whether it be too many heroes or too many villains. Amazing Spider-Man 2 even had to cut out some characters and reduce others significantly so that story would be less congested.
The reason these films have become so overloaded with extraneous characters largely serves to setup future films. This second hitch is perhaps more subtle, but can be glaringly distracting if handled haphazardly. Hollywood, of course, has long been obsessed with the almighty dollar, but with superhero franchises the obsession has turned maniacal. The franchise (and future profits) has become more important than the individual film. Sequels and trilogies are announced almost simultaneously and often before the first one is even in theaters. This is also the reason Sony rebooted Spider-Man just five years after concluding the character’s original trilogy (another problem I will get to later).
Now these two fundamental problems which lie at the heart of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 will effect/bother some moviegoers more than others. While I personally have trouble getting past them, many others, especially younger Spidey fans, have no problem with either.
Now that I have gotten those obligatory gripes out the way, we can discuss The Amazing Spider-Man 2 itself.
First off, the cast is solid. Andrew Garfield perfectly fits the dorky, cocky, yet undeniably lovable Peter Parker/Spider-Man. He nails all the Spidey attributes – physically, comedically, and emotionally. His chemistry with on-screen (and apparently off-screen) girlfriend Gwen Stacy/Emma Stone is a delight and one of the strongest aspects of the series so far.
Newcomers to the series, Jamie Foxx and Dane DeHaan, both make serviceable, but ultimately shortchanged villains – Electro and Green Goblin, respectively. They both bring a tremendous amount of energy to a pair of unfortunately underwritten roles. Neither are given much of a backstory and eventually take away from one another’s screen time. They only team up briefly before taking on the web slinger individually, which makes everything a little too neat and easy for the hero (and the filmmakers).
Electro is a painfully one-note villain who looks like a knock-off of Watchmen’s Doctor Manhattan and has little credible motive, other than wanting to be “remembered” (which he reiterates ad nauseum). For the other villain, the film relies far too much on the audience’s previous knowledge of the Harry Osborn/Green Goblin character from the original movies (played then by James Franco). The character, much better developed in Raimi’s films (it took three films for Osborn to go from best friend to foe), is unjustly rushed in the reboot and shoe-horned in by the desire to create a bigger world to explore in sequels. Both Foxx and DeHaan are quality actors that deserve meatier roles. Each could have brought much more to the table if their characters had been handled more effectively.
As for the rest of the cast, Sally Field shines brightly in her few scenes as Aunt May and character actor, Colm Feore, is a satisfying minor villain. But some of the biggest names, Paul Giamatti (The Rhino), Chris Cooper (Norman Osborn), Felicity Jones (Felicia/potentially future Black Cat) and Denis Leary (Captain Stacy), are all basically just two-scene cameos. There is just not enough room for all the characters. Plus, The Rhino and Black Cat are clearly just being setup for future films.
The film’s faults do not end with overstuffed and underdeveloped characters though. The plot is clichéd and conventional superhero stuff that audiences have seen over and over (from the previous Spider-Man movies and others). The film has difficulty balancing its seriousness (and more updated “realistic” tone) with the character’s long-standing flirtation with campiness. Even compared with other comic book superheroes, Spider-Man has always been one of the cartooniest (and that is saying a lot). It is unavoidable with the character, but the filmmakers this time around have a difficulty embracing it.
On the other hand, director Marc Webb, who we knew could handle humor and romance with his debut feature (500) Days of Summer, also shows an energetic command for action as well. Though some of the action sequences run a bit longer than they should (the Spider-Man-less opening, Spidey’s first fight with Electro, for example), but overall, the film’s fights and special effects are top-notch. Spider-Man’s effortless swinging through the streets of New York are dazzling and thrilling – a noted improvement from Raimi’s films (though those were good at the time too).
Even having said all those seemingly negative things about The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the film still is quite fun. It is a good time, a roller-coaster ride of action and humor. And despite its nearly two-and-half hour runtime, the film flies by quickly. What it all boils down to is whether or not audiences can overlook the inadequacies in story and character development.
And to be honest, most people can, especially when it comes to superhero/action movies like this. But ultimately it is the difference between a fun, but forgettable movie (there are certainly worse ways to spend 2 ½ hours) and something truly special (as proven can be done with the superhero genre as of late).
* * * out of 5 stars
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, May 2 and locally at The Theatres at Canal Place, Chalmette Movies, The Grand 14 at Esplanade, and all three AMC Palace theaters (Elmwood 20, Westbank 16, and Clearview 12).
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