In the three years that I've been writing movie reviews, I feel that I usually go into a new release having a basic idea of what to expect as far as my overall opinion. I read reviews from critics I trust, check the Rotten Tomatoes rating, and browse various websites to see what the general public opinion seems to be.
Partly due to this, I was not excited walking into The Amazing Spider-Man 2. It didn't help that the first installment in this reboot series, despite getting a decent reception overall, I wasn't the biggest fan of. And yet, here I am, a day after seeing the follow-up and having more time to process my thoughts, and I stand by the opinion I had walking out of the theater. Not only is The Amazing Spider-Man 2 surprisingly entertaining, but despite some flaws, I consider it an improvement when compared to its predecessor.
Peter Parker (Again played by Andrew Garfield) is in the process of both preparing for college and continuing his double life as New York's favorite crimefighter, but is increasingly conflicted regarding the safety of his girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), due to her father's dying wish from the first film to keep her out of Peter's dangerous life.
Things only get more complicated for Peter when Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan, best known as the lead in Chronicle) returns to help manage his ailing father's corporation, OsCorp, and finds that not only is the disease killing his father genetic, but the early stages are starting to show up, leaving him desperate for a cure. Finally, the extremely meek and lonely OsCorp employee Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) develops electrical-based powers through a freak accident, and his mental unstability starts leading to more sinister plans.
I've heard many complaints that this movie has too much going on, and I can see that, but at the same time, I think it may have been necessary to go with two villains instead of one like the last film. Harry Osborn's story is one of the biggest plot elements here, but it might have felt a bit rushed if such an iconic character went bad early in the film, giving Dillon, AKA Electro, a bit more of a purpose as far as plot structure goes. That said, I did think that where Harry's plot arc ended up going in the last half-hour felt a bit rushed in a different way, and maybe they should have just hinted at where he was going for the next film, like Sam Raimi's original Spider-Man 2 did a decade ago.
One of my bigger complaints with the first Amazing Spider-Man was the way both Peter Parker and Spider-Man's characters and performances were handled. Garfield muttered and stammered through his dialog to the point that I found it grating instead of charming, and Spider-Man alternated between overly cocky and overly serious instead of the comfortable compromise I know from him in the original comics and cartoons.
Here, Peter seems a bit more confident in himself, but never to the point that he's unlikable or unrelatable. Spider-Man is also able to get a lot of genuinely funny quips off in the more light-hearted fights of the film. Also, as many other reviews have pointed out, now that they have a more concrete relationship (Both in the film and in real life), Garfield and Stone's chemistry is great and very charming. Gwen also proves more capable and resourceful than Mary Jane ever did in the original Sam Raimi trilogy.
Despite the praise I've been giving the film, I would still say not to go in expecting a classic. Besides the aforementioned villain problems, I can name some other nitpicks. Paul Giamatti is a secondary villain in what is essentially a cameo role (He appears in the first 10 minutes and the last 2 minutes), and he hams up his performance to a point where he doesn't seem to fit the relatively realistic world the rest of the movie establishes. The first big fight with Electro is also brought down a bit by the bizarre choice to have the musical score include a chorus rhythmically chanting the villain's thoughts. That might fly in a more abstract film, but in a traditional superhero blockbuster, it just comes off as awkward. Finally, the second half of this movie actually suffers from the opposite problem of the first. While that packed on fight scenes with Spider-Man and The Lizard to the point of overkill, there's a definite lull in the section bridging the second and third acts, most likely to set everything up for the climax.
However, without giving anything away, this also easily has the most powerful ending of any Spider-Man film so far. While people familiar with a certain character's most famous moment in the original comic books probably will shrug and say they expected it, I think that anyone who is only familiar with the movies is in for a pretty big shock when they reach the finale. Both the event itself and its aftermath are handled very well, and the very last scene, despite the involvement of Giamatti's ridiculous character, is surprisingly powerful, also. Oddly enough, though, the very last shot of the film has been all over the trailers and commercials, which will probably rob some of its impact for many.
Despite giving both films the same number of stars, I'm not ever going to argue that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is in the same league as the previous Marvel-based movie, last month's stellar Captain America: The Winter Soldier. At the same time, I still found this to be a definite improvement compared to the last film, and I was overall entertained pretty consistently. If you're a comic book movie fan and somehow still haven't seen Winter Soldier, I'd recommend you rush and see that as soon as possible, but this isn't a bad follow-up for those looking for more.