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Friday, May 2, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Review: Over-Stuffed And Rushed

Why does The Amazing Spider-man 2 feel so...unamazing? Read on to find out!

Warning: Major spoilers ahead.

Story by: Matt Cummings

If there's one thing we've learned from Fox and Sony's acquisition of Marvel's superheroes, it's that they can talk a big game about doing the characters and story right, but what we actually get is another thing entirely. In particular, our review of the 2012 Amazing Spider-man reboot wasn't exactly flattering, and recent trailers seemed to suggest more of the same meh. But there's a lot to like about The Amazing Spider-man 2, even though it's over-stuffed, sadly rushed, and feels more like a bridge to larger comic universe than a connected and cohesive story.


Spider-man (Andrew Garfield) is the newest hero of New York, a web-slinging smart-ass fresh from his defeat of The Lizard. He's a better hero now, more adept and mature in his crime-fighting and utilizing those enormous powers to nearly fly through the bustling streets. But some people don't know what to make of him: are his actions that of a concerned citizen, or that of a vigilanty? One of those who openly supports him is Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), an under-appreciated Oscorp electrical engineer, whose constant submission to others is equaled only by his blind faith and adoration for the web slinger, having saved Dillon during a deadly theft of uranium by the Russian thug Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti). 

While he loves the city he so brazenly defends, Peter's one true love continues to be Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), who soon learns that Peter's struggling to forget her father's death and to follow though on a promise to distance himself from Gwen. Soon their relationship will be tested with the arrival of Peter's old friend and new Oscorp leader Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), who learns that his father's genetic disease will soon overwhelm him as well. Osborn becomes the target of hostile infighting, leaving him desperate for an answer as well as cure. Taking matters into his own hands, Osborn soon morphs into The Green Goblin and pledges to release the now-incarcerated Dillon, whose recent accident has left him horribly disfigured but able to channel the city's grid energy through his body. Peter's life is about to become a lot more complicated, and not even his alter-ego superhero can save him from what comes next.

The Amazing Spider-man 2 is wonderfully executed in parts and incredibly frustrating in many, many others. Star Trek penners Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci join Jeff Pinkner here to create a story that's way overfilled to fully enjoy. It starts with an unnecessarily violent opening featuring Parker's parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) that only proves 1990's private jets apparently had super-fast Internet speeds. Peter's contact with his past - yet another aspect - is reduced to a hidden lab deep under the city, and the scheming at Oscorp could have made for a deeper thriller, all of which are shoe-horned in to somehow compliment the love story between Peter and Gwen. Much like a Sunday buffet, the choices presented are often tantalizing, but the cornucopia of flavors never result in anything standout. And then there's the multiple and mostly flat villains: why Spider-man had to fight three neither works out on paper nor on screen, adding further weight to a script that didn't need it.


The Amazing Spider-man 2 feels more like a placeholder for the upcoming Sinister Six, rather than a smart or poignant movie about the price we pay for our convictions. Foxx plays Electro well enough, but it's not an especially deep role, as the Oscar winner treats the role more like another day at the office than a memorable villain with evil intents. For the most part, comic villain backstories have never really been handled particularly well, showing off their superiority in print rather than on screen (see Doctor Doom in House of M). And here, we see all the mistakes repeated: the transition from knocked-around Joe to madman feels too quick, as Electro seems to instantly ditch all of his morals and values for the insane power he now possesses. He becomes more of a nuisance for Parker, rather than a first-class hero that Spidey can't beat with his fists. Webb does a nice job dealing with Electro's takedown, as Pete and Gwen actually use their brains to reign him in; but there's no heart or meat to the role and once defeated, he disappears from the timeline. The same goes for Rhino, who's reduced to a simple Russian thug in a mech suit. We're sure to see more of Giamatti in Sinister Six, but that should have been the place to properly introduce him, not here.

The only one with any real depth is Green Goblin, whose hatred for Spider-man and Peter feels like a friendship utterly destroyed. DeHann is very good here, caught between a man dying from a hereditary disease and a company trying to undermine his recent coronation. His seemingly miraculous cure via the Goblin suit feels totally forced, thanks to an all-too short sequence of a display panel on the suit saying so. But it's his icy glares and general creepiness that makes us worry for Parker and Gwen, leading to the film's gripping ending. Here, Osborn is a damaged soul, and his spat with dying father Norman (Chris Cooper) could have been a separate movie. Norman is a central figure in the Spider-man universe, and to dismiss him so quickly is just another example of a shoe-horned element that needed more time to grow.


What does work more consistently is the action: Director Marc Webb uses Spider-man's web-slinging to its fullest potential, as if both he and Parker have matured their powers into a greater force for good. Parker relishes in that role, from the wise-ass comments to an overwhelming desire to save as many people as possible from collateral damage during the first big action set piece. But it's Webb who delivers some of the best action of any superhero film we've seen, slowing things down to show us a destination or a goal, and pulling back just enough to allow the action envelope the moviegoer without overwhelming them. In many ways,Webb gets Spider-man, and that's a marvelous thing to behold. Garfield is the encapsulation of Spider-man from the moment he dons the suit, and Webb uses this asset fully. Stone and Garfield have tremendous chemistry, perhaps a by-product of their real-life relationship, and their smooching sometimes makes you want to direct them to a room. But when that ending arrives, it makes Webb's very smart direction incredibly poignant. This is the kind of film one should spend on an IMAX experience, which was as immersive as anything we've seen this year - how films like Transcendence got an IMAX invitation is beyond us.

And yet at almost 2 and a half hours, ASM2 feels at once over-stuffed and lacking in character development. There's so little room to breathe that the moments of fun which make Peter who he is almost feel superfluous. It's clear that what we'll now get is a franchise of Spider-man spinoffs, filled with minor characters who may never get their backstories fully fleshed out and who may or may not connect with audiences. Sure, they've introduced plenty of potential action figures for Christmas, but the way Webb and team have done it is frustrating. Marvel Studio's slow-burn and ultimately more satisfying program should give rival DC and Warner Bros pause as they develop their increasingly-top-heavy BvsS nerdfest.

The Amazing Spider-man 2 is filled with thrills that check off all the boxes for a typical summer flick. Its heart-wrenching ending elevates the price that Peter must pay for being Spider-man. And yet it's nearly crushed by its own weight, making us wonder why they continue to sacrifice story for iconic Spidey moments. We'll let you why that bothers us after we see it again, which we think should say something.

The Amazing Spider-man 2 is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence.and has a runtime of 142 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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