The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) has a great deal on his plate. He’s New York’s costumed crime fighter, Spider-Man, taking on Russian gangster Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti) as he tries to steal plutonium vials from an Oscorp truck while at the same time, his high school graduation is going on with girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) giving the valedictorian speech. He manages to subdue Sytsevich and get to graduation just as his name is called. All the stress of his life manifests itself by Peter seeing Captain George Stacy (Dennis Leary), Gwen’s deceased father, in various locations, reminding Peter of his promise to stay away from Gwen. This leads Peter to end his relationship with Gwen. Oscorp founder Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper) is dying of a genetic disorder of which his son Harry (Dane DeHaan) is just beginning to show signs. Norman gives Harry a computer memory device containing his life’s work and urges him to succeed where he failed and find a cure for himself. Norman dies the next day. Peter and Harry are friends from childhood and, hearing of Norman’s death, Peter comes to visit and offer his condolences. This rekindles their friendship. Meanwhile, Oscorp employee, electrical engineer Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), is conducting a minor repair on the newly installed city-wide electrical grid that he designed. He gets shocked and falls into a vat of genetically modified electric eels that immediately attack him. At first thought to be dead, Max is merely transformed into a living electric battery, able to absorb energy and expel electrical bolts as weapons. He causes a blackout in Times Square which attracts the attention of Spider-Man. An earlier encounter between Max and Spider-Man left Dillon obsessed with the hero; however, he feels betrayed by Spider-Man when police shoot at him and he attacks. Spider-Man is able to subdue Max with help from a fireman’s water hose. Harry accesses the information left to him by his father and discovers the spider venom research Norman and Richard Parker (Campbell Scott) were doing before Richard died. With its properties of giving the body the ability to heal itself, it may be what Harry is looking for. Putting two and two together, Harry figures out Spider-Man must have been bitten by one of the genetically altered spiders used in the research but destroyed after the rampage of the Lizard. He believes a blood transfusion from Spider-Man might cure his genetic disorder. When Spider-Man refuses to give the blood for fear of what it might do to Harry, Osborn gets angry and frees Max Dillon, now calling himself Electro, from Ravencroft Institute for the Criminally Insane so they can both exact their revenge on Spider-Man.
One certainly can’t accuse “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” of being short on story elements. It also can’t be claimed the action is toned down or the special effects are bad because neither is true; however, what can be said is the film tries too hard to be the springboard for future films in the franchise, sowing seeds that will sprout into new plotlines for the next two sequels and spinoff films for various villains. In short, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” tries too hard to do too much for too long which lessens the film’s overall impact and enjoyment.
If we learned anything from the third Tobey Maguire “Spiderman” film, three villains is too many. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” at least keeps the focus on just one villain, Electro, through most of the film. Paul Giamatti’s Rhino isn’t seen at all until the very last scene in the movie and Dane DeHaan’s Green Goblin is also held off until near the film’s end. Actually, now that I think of it, Electro is really a minor villain as well. The true focus of the film is Peter’s strained relationship with the memory of absent parents who left him with Aunt May and Uncle Ben. That is juxtaposed with Harry’s contentious relationship with his father and how it left him unprepared to deal with running Oscorp and handle his disease. The fractured focus between these parent/child bonds, as well as Peter and Gwen’s complicated relationship and Spider-Man facing off with various bad guys’ leaves the audience searching for an access point into the story that seems to all be preparations to tell other stories in other movies. It’s all exposition with no conclusion. It is a two hour and 21 minute trailer for at least three other films.
It also doesn’t help that separating the large action set pieces is what feels like hours of discussion and drama that could have been handled in far less time. These long scenes are often overlapping as one character makes a discovery while another plots some evildoing. All this makes for a film that moves in a herky-jerky way. Just as one action scene gets the audience pumped up, all the talk lets the air out of the balloon. It’s a rather frustrating audience experience as the film is drained of all narrative momentum. I know viewers need a break from the action, hence the story scenes in between, but all of these scenes could have been done much more efficiently, trimming 20 to 30 minutes from the film’s enormous length.
Its narrative shortcomings aside, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” has some excellent performances, including the leads Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. This pair exudes chemistry that is probably aided by their actual romantic relationship off screen. In the comic books, Peter and Gwen don’t make it to a happily-ever-after but you really want their movie versions to have a long and happy life together. Garfield is also a great Spider-Man who is quick with a one-liner and is able to deal with children and adults alike. During his first encounter with Foxx’s Max Dillon, there is a brief moment when Spider-Man tells Dillon to lick his hand which he then uses to smooth Max’s mussed hair. It is a small bit of business but it solidifies the character’s commonality with the people of New York. Despite the emergency that is going on all around him, he can take a few seconds and connect with an average person. It’s what makes Spider-Man such a popular character: He is just an average guy who can do extraordinary things.
Emma Stone is luminescent as Gwen Stacy. Her energy and life radiate from the character. Her easy relationship with Peter and Spider-Man adds another layer of humor to a film that has plenty from the main character. While their separation never felt permanent or even believable, Gwen is never far from the center of Spider-Man’s actions. That is understandable considering the kind of person Gwen is and how she’s played by Stone. Her charm and grace under pressure makes her a role model for young women as she doesn’t always need Spider-Man to save her. Sometimes, she saves him. Stone is a wonderful and natural actress who fits easily into the role of Gwen.
Once he becomes Electro, Jamie Foxx’s performance is largely visual effects and voice modulation; however, he is still able to make us understand his character is just a lonely man who feels used by the world and is looking for respect. Max is a timid little man who is used and abused by his bosses at Oscorp where they steal his designs and use them in the electrical grid without giving him any credit. He’s invisible to everyone on the street where he’s bumped into with no apologies. His encounter with Spider-Man has such a profound effect on him; he becomes obsessed with the wall crawler, plastering his small apartment with pictures of the hero. It’s understandable how this obsession could turn to rage when he feels slighted by the one person he thought liked him. The extent of both the obsession and rage feels a bit exaggerated and doesn’t quite match up with the interactions between the characters; but when you have as many people as there are in this film, it’s understandable when a few shortcuts are taken.
Dane DaHaan’s Harry Osborne comes off as both tragic and spoiled. He’s sent to a boarding school by his father, as he sees it, thrown away and only is ordered home when his father is at death’s door to be told he isn’t far behind. His desperation at finding a cure is understandable and his anger at Spider-Man for refusing to help is too. DeHaan has made a minor career out of playing creepy characters and Harry Osborn can be added to the list. His quiet demeanor belies a smoldering rage that can quickly pop to the surface when pushed. DeHaan was something of a controversial choice to play the younger Osborn but I think it was a wise move. DeHaan is young enough to play the role for a number of films and still maintain a youthful appearance. He can also nail the stranger aspects of the character that will likely play a central role as a part of the Sinister Six.
“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence. There are numerous scenes where a villain attacks Spider-Man using whatever his strength or power might be. There’s very little chance a child would try to emulate what he or she sees on screen as it is all impossible. There are some gross moments as both Osborn’s show signs of their illness with open sores. There is one character death that might be disturbing as it is shown in rather graphic detail. The electric eel attack may also cause a nightmare or two. In an early scene there is a fist fight and a shooting.
The trailer for “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” has several bits of scenes that are nowhere in the actual movie. Several lines that set up or better explain the conflicts between characters have been cut. I understand a movie is a fluid thing that can change at any point in the editing process until the film is finally “locked,” a term that means no more changes can be made. Many of these lines have been in the trailers since they first started coming out. It appears at some point they must have been important but got cut along the way. This is a common thing with movie trailers having lines in them that don’t appear in the final product; however, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is one of the worst offenders in my memory. But a trailer with extra material not in the film is the least of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s” sins: Too many characters, too many dangling storylines sure to be picked up in future movies and too much dead time between action scenes.
You probably expect a very low rating for the film but, surprise! “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” gets four guitars out of five for terrific action, great special effects and a cast that is just about pitch perfect.
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