Cast: Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker/Spider-Man), Jamie Foxx (Max Dillon/Electro), Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy), Dane DeHaan (Harry Osborn/Green Goblin), Sally Field (Aunt May), Campbell Scott (Richard Parker), Paul Giamatti (Aleksei Sytsevich)
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Last month I wrote about how Captain America: The Winter Solider was much more than just “another superhero movie.” Unfortunately I can’t say the same about The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Spidey’s return to the big screen has everything you’d expect from a big-budget franchise: a reluctant hero, a wronged villain (or two . . . or three), flashbacks, extraordinary action sequences (though some were a little too CGIed for my taste), a feisty romantic interest in an on-again-off-again relationship with our lead, and, of course, a clear set-up for the next installment. That’s not to imply Marc Webb’s second Spider-Man film is bad. It’s just not in any way unique or memorable. Or wait, maybe that is bad?
The film begins with a flashback to Peter’s dad, Richard. We start to piece together the urgent circumstances under which Peter’s parents left him with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben when he was just a young boy. It made for an intriguing start before cutting over to Peter’s high school graduation, where his girlfriend Gwen is giving the commencement speech. Peter’s almost late for the ceremony because he’s donned his Spider-Man getup and is chasing madman Aleksei Sytesvich across Manhattan to ensure he doesn’t make off with vials of plutonium. During that chase, Spidey saves awkward loner (and OsCorp employee) Max Dillon from being run over.
After arriving at his graduation just in time to walk across the stage, Peter sees a vision of Gwen’s father, who died in the last film. Peter had promised Captain Stacy that he would try to ensure Gwen’s safety by leaving her out of his superhero adventures. Throughout the rest of the film, this tug-of-war between Peter’s love for Gwen and the guilt he feels for keeping her in his life is always bubbling under the surface. For that reason, the scenes with just Peter and Gwen were some of my favorites. Real-life romance notwithstanding, Garfield and Stone have a great chemistry (and I hadn’t found this to be the case in the first movie) and are just too damn cute all around. You want their characters to be together.
Ah, but it’s not that simple. Gwen is considering a move across the pond to attend Oxford, and Peter’s thisclose to cracking the mystery of his parents’ disappearance. But then he needs to stop everything and deal with a new threat to New York City. That fanboy, Max Dillon? The guy Spidey saved from being crushed? He fell into a vat of electric eels over at OsCorp and morphed into a neon-blue hulk that goes by “Electro.” He likes to zap things—and is inexplicably upset with Spider-Man—so Spidey has to stop him from destroying the city.
But that’s not all! Peter’s childhood friend, Harry Osborn, is back in town to bid adieu to dear old dad Norman, the Green Goblin villain of the previous film. Norman informs his son that he, too, will eventually die from the same disease unless he continues Norman’s work. Harry’s intrigued and starts investigating his dad’s research. He comes to the conclusion that the only thing that might save him is a bit of Spider-Man’s blood. He thinks his old friend Peter might be able to help, since Peter’s the photographer credited with so many shots of the superhero.
The scenes between Peter and Harry were the other highlights of the film for me. In fact, any of Dane DeHaan’s scenes were what helped me get back into the film. In Chronicle, The Place Beyond the Pines and most recently Kill Your Darlings, DeHaan has just totally weirded me out in the best possible way. I think he’s one of the most talented new actors on the scene. Plus he serves as the perfect supercreep foil to Garfield’s sarcastic-commentary-spewing and mostly lighthearted superhero. Things get tense between the two when it’s clear Peter is not going to help Harry get Spider-Man’s blood. As expected, Harry slowly starts to turn into the Green Goblin just like pa.
The climactic battle sequence near the end of the film involves both Electro and the new Green Goblin. Which made me question why Electro was in this film AT ALL. I have since thought about this way more than any respectable adult should, and I cannot find one single reason as to why Electro needed to be in this movie—other than the obviously commercial one: Jamie Foxx is a big star and goes to great lengths to help promote the movies he’s in. But the thing is, once Max turned into Electro, there was no trace of Foxx left. He was physically unrecognizable . . . and even his voice was just a big, deep, generic-sounding villain boom-shout. There was no part of the plot that Electro was crucial to. He really just served as an excuse for some admittedly cool scenes of Spidey swinging around the city. But we got some of those without Electro, too.
That’s why I wish screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Pinker had tried not to do so much. A tighter, more focused plot revolving solely around Peter’s relationship with Gwen and the impending threat of a new Green Goblin would’ve been enough. Besides feeling like there was simply too much going on, I also was annoyed by Garfield’s trying-too-hard-to-make-us-forget-he’s-British New York accent. It didn’t work for me in the previous installment and seemed even worse now. I just couldn’t buy it. The 2012 film and this year’s sequel shared another “Huh?” moment as well: the random musical interlude. In the original it was Peter testing out his new Spidey powers/rage-skateboarding to Coldplay’s “‘Til Kingdom Come.” Seriously, what?!? This time around it was Peter trying to come to terms with the losses in his life, set to Phillip Phillips’ “Gone, Gone, Gone.” I’m sorry, but if you listen to the lyrics of that song, they don’t match the mood of the scene at all. I would love to understand what was going through the music director’s mind with those choices.
The bottom line: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is exactly what you expect it to be. Not bad. Not great. But ultimately forgettable.
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