The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (★★★)

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amazing_spiderman_two_ver14After feeling like one of the only ones on the planet who actually enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man a few years ago, I went into The Amazing Spider-Man 2 basically expecting to finally see what everyone else was complaining about. Lo and behold, I more or less wound up feeling the same way about this one as I did the last one, only with less passion. When director Marc Webb is focused on the chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, things are really good. It’s just when we have to watch Spider-Man do his thing that this becomes something far less special. Webb and his army of screenwriters have the Peter Parker/Gwen Stacy relationship down pat, but in their rush to set up an eventual Sinister Six film, they’re shortchanging the possibilities inherent in this series. While I definitely enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man 2, it veered a bit close to Spider-Man 3 at times, at least in terms of the villain overload. Still, the spectacle of it all is impressive (especially in IMAX, which is how I was shown it) and there’s fun to be had with Spidey as a character. If this version ever hits on a strong villain like Spider-Man 2 had, then the series could really do something special. As it is, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 gets the summer movie season off with a flawed yet entertaining bang.

A bit of time has passed since we last left our hero. Peter Parker (Garfield) has been masquerading as Spider-Man for a while and the city is divided over whether he’s a hero or a menace. Peter is also dating Gwen Stacy (Stone), though he’s conflicted over a promise he made to her dead father (Denis Leary). Throw in the continued search for what really happened to his parents (Embeth Davitz and Campbell Scott) along with hiding his identity from his Aunt May (Sally Field) and the kid is busy. During an encounter with a crazed Russian criminal (Paul Giamatti), Spider-Man helps save Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), a mild mannered employee of OsCorp who immediately becomes a champion of the webslinger. That changes though when an accident turns Max into Electro and he feels slighted when the hero doesn’t seem to be on his side during an encounter with the police. As if that’s not enough, Peter’s childhood friend Harry Osbourn (Dane DeHaan) has come back to the city at the dying wish of his father Norman (Chris Cooper). Harry is dying of the same strange disease that Norman is, and having seen the research Peter’s dad did with Norman (dun dun dun), decides he needs Spider-Man’s blood. That obsession will eventually lead to him becoming the Green Goblin and attacking Spidey, with Gwen caught in the middle. If this all sounds overstuffed, it is, and I haven’t even mentioned when the Rhino shows up yet, among other things, including tons of flashbacks.

Amazing-Spider-Man-Peter-and-GwenAndrew Garfield is very comfortable in his skin this time out, though I think he takes a few more liberties with the Peter angle now. I preferred his performance in the last one, personally, though he’s still good here. Garfield is better with the comedy in this installment, I will say that. His main weakness is when he tries to play up Peter’s awkwardness. It comes off a bit forced. Emma Stone kind of drifts in and out of the story, though she makes a bigger mark on the plot when she’s here, I will say that. Stone is just as lovable this time, and when she and Garfield are together, sparks continue to fly. Their relationship is decently written, but it’s the performances that make it something special. Garfield and Stone are a match, plain and simple. No one else fares as well though. Sally Field is wasted this time, and while Campbell Scott gets a bit more to do in flashbacks, Embeth Davitz is basically a cameo at best. Dane DeHaan is fine in what will likely be a bigger role to come, but he did the same thing, and better too, in Chronicle. I’m not sure what Jamie Foxx was trying to do here, but it wasn’t good, that’s for sure. Chris Cooper, Paul Giamatti, and Denis Leary are cameos too essentially, while if you blink you might miss the likes of Felicity Jones and B.J. Novak (not to mention Sarah Gadon, who’s in the credits but I missed seeing completely). Other supporting players include Colm Feore, Marton Csokas, and others, but the only performances worth a damn are from Garfield and Stone. Everyone else is basically just waiting for their chance to become a potential villain in a sequel to come. For those wondering, no, Shailene Woodley doesn’t still show up here as Mary Jane. This is about Garfield’s Peter and Stone’s Gwen through and through.

Marc Webb is definitely more confident with his action sequences, but his strengths still lay within the romantic realm, so his direction isn’t anything too special here. He’s clearly focused on the Peter/Gwen relationship as much as the admittedly cool at times fight scenes, but the script is way more concerned with packing in bad guys. Scribes Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner, and James Vanderbilt stuff way too much into the flick, making for a bloated running time of almost two and a half hours. Even then, the story about Peter’s parents is far from done, the villains are all cut off before their stories are over, and we literally end in mid scene. The writers do get one particular plot development right, but that’s as much because of Webb as it is because of them (in fact, Kurtzman and Orci have way too much of a stamp on this film, as opposed to someone like Vanderbilt). Comic book fans will know the one I mean. Surprisingly, the score from the trio of Johnny Marr, Pharrell Williams, and Hans Zimmer is borderline terrible. It wasn’t a huge issue, but I didn’t care for its randomness one bit.

I was never bored during The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and that’s good, especially considering the running time, but while I found it a solid enough movie overall, it didn’t impress me like the last one did. I suspect that if you didn’t like the first one, this won’t do much to change your mind. It’s popcorn entertainment through and through, so while I’m curious to see where Webb and company take Spidey next, I won’t be racking my brain trying to figure it out. As the weather gets nicer, this is the sort of flick you turn your brain off to enjoy. As a summer film and a comic book sequel, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is acceptable, but “amazing”, it is not…

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!