“The ubiquity of these superhero films is starting to be their own flaw, bringing little new to the table and relying on old quips and predictabilities to get by.”
Being known as the local film critic, or the one who at least possesses a solid, substantial amount of knowledge on film, once or twice a month, I am asked – directly or indirectly – to explain the chronological order of the Spider-Man series. When trailers for Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 began appearing on Television, I was asked by many, ‘didn’t we already get Spider-Man 2?’ Indeed we did; that was Sam Raimi’s sequel to his 2002 film, which was later followed by a third installment in 2007. Then, in 2012, the Spider-Man franchise was rebooted by Columbia Pictures and (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb. Then, in 2014, along came a sequel to Webb’s reboot, which is what we’re dealing with at the moment.
Now that we’re all on the same page, we can talk The Amazing Spider-Man 2, an interesting, if problematic sequel to what was a solid start for a character we had just been cinematically introduced to a mere ten years prior. The biggest issue plaguing these Amazing Spider-Man films is familiarity. While they are different in terms of story, characters, and character personalities, they still feel familiar. It wasn’t like with Batman Begins or Man of Steel, where we hadn’t seen hide nor hair of the characters for many years.
Spider-Man 2 was my favorite of Raimi’s trilogy because it showed exactly what kind of hardships, human and superhuman, would realistically face a superhero, as well as showing a divided population that wasn’t sure whether to condemn or root for their highly-publicized vigilante. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 toys with that idea, but makes the same mistake Raimi’s third installment did, which is incorporate too many characters into the film’s structure and forget about the character behind them.
The film reacquaints with Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and his on-off love interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), as Peter copes with the fact that he is the webbed hero everyone is talking about. The film opens with a battle between Spider-Man and Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti), who has stolen a large, armored truck containing plutonium vials. Unsurprisingly, in a wildly fun bout of incredulity and comic-book pulpiness come to life, Spider-Man saves the day by apprehending Aleksei.
However, his biggest troubles have just begun, as we all know. He meets a man named Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), an unappreciated electrical engineer who will later become the high-octane superhero Electro, a hulking blue humanoid who uses incomparable electric powers to his advantage. But not before OsCorp CEO Norman Osborne (Chris Cooper) dies from terminal illness, leaving the company to his twenty-year-old song Harry (the underrated Dane DeHaan), who will later become the Green Goblin. And let’s not forget that Peter is still having issues dealing with the absence of his parents and the weight bestowed upon his aunt during this time, all while trying to keep his identity a secret and Gwen happy with his decisions.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is overstuffed, to say the least, with key ideas and characters, such as Harry Osborn and his ideas upon taking over the company, and Max Dillon’s motivations upon becoming Electro, that get lost in a muddle of incredible special effects and cacophonous action sequences. Consider the scene when a battle between Electro and Spider-Man completely destroys the metropolitan area of New York, with buildings, enormous billboard lights, and numerous signs falling and crumbling on the streets in apocalyptic-style, leaving New York a battered wasteland. Something like this had to be financially catastrophic for the city; we hear nothing about it after it occurs. It also doesn’t help that the scene is so cluttered and dizzying that it’s hard to keep up with the action, let alone understand it.
The villain who really get shafted here is Aleksei Sytsevich’s “Rhino,” a large, weaponized, steel monstrosity that serves as the closing scene to the film. The moments we see Paul Giamatti acting completely goofy and downright deranged are what I found to be some of the film’s best work, but they are so depressingly shortchanged in the wake of underdeveloped villains. The Rhino is apparently returning for the next sequel, to which I am anxious, because this monstrous creation deserved much more time than it was awarded.
It’s almost worth it, however, to watch Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone’s effortlessly likable chemistry, which channels on being more developed than what Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst managed to conjure up in Raimi’s trilogy. The scenes that involve their relationship expanding and developing are the heart and soul of the picture, as well as watching Garfield recite hilarious banter in the face of villains and their impending chaos (the lines he throws at Aleksei in the opening scene only work to emphasize this).
The drawback to this, however, is we are faced with way too many underdeveloped characters and far too many themes that could easily withstand Amazing Spider-Man 3, Amazing Spider-Man 4, and perhaps set the building blocks for the fifth film. The other notable detractor is I’m still waiting to be wowed again by a contemporary superhero film, after finding little to praise in Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The ubiquity of these superhero films is starting to be their own flaw, bringing little new to the table and relying on old quips and predictabilities to get by. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is more affirmation of this than anything else.
Review by Lead Film Critic, Steve Pulaski
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