by Nur Hussein, contributing writer
When Spider-Man was rebooted in 2012 with Mark Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man, many were doubtful that it would be any good. While it earned good reviews, it seemed that some fans were tired of reboots, origin story retreads, and Spider-Man, since the disappointment that was Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3. Comparisons to Raimi’s films were inevitable at the time, and it probably didn’t work in the new film’s favor to be made so soon after that debacle. However, I saw the film with an open mind and I absolutely loved it, it was much better than Sam Raimi’s interpretation of Spider-Man. The leads Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker/Spider-Man) and Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy) were so likable and had an obvious on-screen chemistry (and off-screen too, since they’re now dating) that it sold me on the movie.
So now in 2014, both Andrew Garfield an Emma Stone are back to reprise their characters in a continuation of the rebooted Amazing Spider-Man. Also returning are Sally Field as Aunt May, and a few brief moments from Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz as Peter’s father and mother respectively. Freshly joining the cast are Jamie Foxx as Oscorp employee Max Dillon, Dane DeHaan as Peter’s old friend Harry Osbourne and Paul Giamatti who briefly appears as the Spider-Man villain Rhino. Mark Webb returns as director, but the writing team now includes Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzmann.
So how did Mark Webb’s Spider-Man sequel fare? If I had to sum it up in a phrase: “enjoyable but uneven.” I am no fan of Orci and Kurtzmann, as I think they’re terrible writers who keep getting hired to do genre movies out of sheer luck (or Hollywood connections, if you want to be cynical). However, despite the material they were given, the returning lead actors still manage to interpret their characters with charm and charisma (especially Emma Stone) as in the previous movie. Mark Webb also excels at directing the action sequences with Spider-Man, which feels like a fun roller coaster ride. This review is going to lightly touch on some plot points after this point, so if you want to stop reading now, here’s my recommendation: if you love Spider-Man and you loved the first Andrew Garfield movie, by all means watch this one too. If you didn’t like the first one, you may find yourself enjoying this one even less. If you come in with no expectations at all, at the very least it’s a decently acted, highly fun action film that isn’t better or worse than your standard summer flick fare.
So the good news is that the returning leads are still great, and the action is great. The not-so-good news is that the main villain this time round is kind of cheesy. Jamie Foxx plays the primary antagonist Electro, a supervillain whose powers are electricity manipulation (and glowing blue). Electro starts off as a lonely, somewhat unhinged, lowly Oscorp employee named Max Dillon who has a massive fan crush on Spider-Man (who happened to save his life once). The problem is, Jamie Foxx plays this guy with no subtlety at all, and I get unpleasant flashbacks of the campy silly over-the-top cartoon villains of Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies. When Max Dillon turns into Electro by getting electrocuted and falling into a vat of electric eels (I’m not making this up), I was shaking my head and dreading the rest of the film. However the tone of the movie recovers from this horridly campy villain origin quite quickly as we return to the troubled love life of Peter and Gwen, who have a hard time keeping a relationship going because of Peter’s guilt over Gwen’s father’s death. They do the on-and-off again thing, which reminds me a bit of Sam Raimi’s movies, but it’s done a lot better here as we do root for Peter and Gwen whose actors use their natural off-screen chemistry to full advantageous effect.
Also unexpectedly coming back into Peter’s life is his old best friend Harry Osbourne, incidentally the son of the dying Norman Osbourne, owner of Oscorp. The two haven’t seen each other since they were kids, when Harry got shipped off to boarding school. Norman eventually dies of his weird medical condition which makes him look, shall we say, “goblinny.” This condition is hereditary, so if you’re a fan of the Spider-Man comics you can see where they’re going with this.
Now Harry is also, in his own way, lonely, slightly unhinged, and an Oscorp employee (I see a pattern here), except since he’s the son of the founder, he inherits the company. Dane DeHaan’s performance is quite good, and you can see his sanity slowly slip as his disease takes hold of him. However, I wish the characterization had a little more depth. We don’t really get a good idea of why Harry is slipping into insanity, other than inferring it from his medical condition. Again, I cast my eye suspiciously on Orci and Kurtzmann, who co-wrote the script.
Before the movie came out, fans were worried that they were cramming too many villains into this movie with too litle time to develop them, a fate suffered by Raimi’s Spider-Man 3. I would say that the problem we had with Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 isn’t as pronounced here, but the development of the second villain feels rushed, and Electro while having a lot of screen time, doesn’t feel developed at all. The movie takes us from villain to villain as Spider-Man juggles his life and crime-fighting, but otherwise culminating in a brilliant emotionally charged climax. Again, many kudos to Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone for pulling it off, despite the shortcomings in the development of the newer characters.
The production and special effects are top-notch. We get a thrilling ride along with Spidey over the rooftops of Manhattan skyscrapers, slow-motion shots to highlight our hero’s lightning-fast reflexes and a lot of creative uses of web-shooters. I feel like there were more CGI shots in this movie compared with its predecessor, and sometimes it shows. It’s not enough to be distracting though.
Ultimately, despite the flaws, I left the theater satisfied. Spider-Man was one of my favorite heroes growing up, and it’s always nice to see him on the big screen again. They’re setting up the franchise for more sequels and spin-offs (a Sinister Six movie is rumored to be in the works), and while I don’t mind seeing Spidey again, I am cautiously optimistic about future movies. As long as they keep Mark Webb and the lead actors around, I’ll be along for the ride. The verdict for The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Three out of five stars.
There’s a nugget after the credits, so stick around for that.
Nur is a tinkerer of programmable things, an apprentice in an ancient order of technomages. He enjoys fantasy, sci-fi, comic books, and Lego in his spare time. His favourite authors are Asimov and Tolkien. He also loves Celtic and American folk music. You can follow him on twitter: @nurhussein