Director Marc Webb’s second outing into the world of Peter Parker and his web-slinging alter ego is a movie that wants to be everything at once, but The Amazing Spider-Man 2 just ends up being a jumbled mess.
To describe the many plot threads that comprise ASM 2 would be to devote the entire review to synopsis, as the film is made up of as many disparate ideas that writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci could stuff into its two hour and twenty minute runtime. Here’s a brief sample of what’s at play: Spidey (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy’s (Emma Stone) tumultuous on-again-off-again relationship. New villain Electro (Jamie Foxx) and his psychotic quest for meaning. Newly-introduced Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) and his half-psychotic quest for survival. Answers to the two-film-long mystery of what happened to Peter’s parents. All this and some Avengers-envious world building for the already announced ASM3, ASM4, Sinister Six, and Venom movies that make the movie more Iron Man 2 than Spider-Man 3.
But it isn’t just the overabundance of plot threads that does in ASM2, it’s the film’s resolute decision to have its tone wildly alter from scene to scene. Quiet moments of character building and relationship drama between Peter and Gwen or Peter and his Aunt May (Sally Fields) are immediately followed by brash and chaotic action sequences filled with hammy characters, noxiously bad foreign accents, cinematography on a sugar rush, and an overall cartoonish quality that lands with a thud. This is also the Spider-Man film with the darkest moments ever put on screen for the character. There is no subtle mix between these tones, just a whiplash-inducing slam back and forth between scenes that feel cobbled together from different movies.
But first, let’s talk about the film’s strong points before we get to the myriad of blunders.
Garfield and Stone work wonderfully as their characters and continue to have great chemistry on screen. The whole, will they won’t they/”I can’t lose you, too” nature of their relationship gets tiresome by the third or fourth go round, but their performances are the best in the movie. They feel like the comic characters, yet also make them enough of their own to avoid comparison. Any emotional highs and lows felt in ASM2 are solely because of their performances.
Spider-Man the hero is fast, sleek, and smart, making him feel like the Wall-Crawler of the comics. The movie’s action scenes may not compare to thrilling and brutal battles of this summer’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but they give the appropriate amount of spectacle. Today’s special effects do the hero justice.
DeHaan’s Harry Osborn is a bit of a mixed bag. His character is given a rocky start, but he does find a good groove and more meaningful character interactions with his old friend Peter. Unfortunately, he’s also saddled with some abrupt character shifts that I will discuss when I get into spoiler territory.
But these strengths are outnumbered by aspects that are either forgettable or quite bad.
Of note is ASM2’s strange and thoroughly distracting score. Hans Zimmer and collaborators including Pharrell Williams and Johnny Marr created a soundtrack that is either decent, such as the brass themes for Spidey himself, or laughably bad, mostly everything dealing with Electro. The villain is completely underscored by dubstep, which makes it seem as though he’s attacking his enemies with wub-wub music, and rapping voices meant to express his schizophrenic thoughts. It may feel intense at times, but it overpowers everything on screen and is mostly a distraction. However, Electro’s score likely has more personality than the character himself.
The rest of the bad parts of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 deal with many of these plotlines’ payoffs, so I will be diving into spoilers from here on out.
Spoiler Warning From This Point On
Electro, sold as the film’s big bad, is anything but. Foxx’s Max Dillon is meant to be a sympathetic loser turned psychotic threat to Spider-Man, but he really feels like a waste of space. Sure, his accidentally electrocution and attack by bio-engineered electric eels turned him into a blue Otter Pop, gave him mastery over electricity including random teleportation, and magically fixed the gap in his teeth (there’s a shot devoted to that!), but he has little impact on the film’s actual narrative. In fact, he’s imprisoned and useless for a large swath of the runtime. Plus, he blows up at the end. So don’t count on further adventures and better characterization.
It’s Harry Osborn’s story that actually counts. Yet it’s so jammed and rushed that it loses all meaning. One minute, he’s a dark yet sincere friend, the next he’s planning a heist and busting Electro out of prison. Finally, he turns into a meth head-looking, scenery-chewing, cackling caricature of the Green Goblin that has barely any connection to his human character. It’s unfortunate that the filmmakers felt they had to turn him into the main villain so suddenly just for the sake of the future Spider-Man movies.
The reason for Harry’s villainous turn is also quite silly. Peter refuses to give his friend his radioactive spider blood out of concern for what it may do to him, even though it is probably the only thing that could save him. There is never really any good reason given, just a few mumbled concerns, yet it is the cause of the film’s biggest developments.
Finally, it’s ASM2’s finale that really solidifies its weaknesses. After destroying Electro, Green Goblinified Harry swoops down out of nowhere (literally) to kill Gwen Stacy as some form of retribution. All comic book fans, and many others, know that the character of Gwen Stacy is most remembered for her death at the hands of the Green Goblin (Norman Osborn in the books). But does that make it a necessary part of these films?
We’re given a particularly violent death, much sadness, and the loss of one of the new series’ best characters. Yes, it’s a seminal moment in comics’ history. But comic book films are known for breaking the rules. That doesn’t mean that darkness and death can’t be in comic book films. Rachael Dawes’ death in The Dark Knight is rough and brutal, but it fits in the type of film it was and what it set out to accomplish. ASM2 involves cheesy one-liners, rapping schizophrenic voices, and mechanical rhinos. Then Gwen Stacy gets thrown off a clock tower and hits the ground onscreen with a smack.
Finally, random bits of ASM2 seem distracted by the idea of setting up for the rest of the series. Seemingly random characters that have little to do with the plot are given special moments and extra-long pauses in the action to say their names in order to be recognized by fans. Most of them don’t do anything, but they’re still shoved in the movie. By the end of the film, the super villain team-up of the Sinister Six is clearly on its way, but does anyone care?
Will the following films improve over The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s unnecessary follies? It’s hard to say, but given the tone and setup provided by the movie, this may become a trend. It’s too bad. Peter Parker and Andrew Garfield deserve better.