Spider-Man has had a rocky cinematic history. The early 2000’s trilogy was a mixed bag of high flying action, upside down kisses and “emo Peter”. Not exceptional but serviceable escapist entertainment. After the disastrous Spider-Man 3, the series took a five year break and re-launched itself in 2012 with The Amazing Spider-Man. Directed by Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer), the reboot was a modernization of the classic formula. Spidey swings through Manhattan, saves the girl and fires off a few quips along the way. Unfortunately, the sequel is a frustrating waltz: for every one step forward it wakes two steps back.
Andrew Garcia (The Social Network) reprises his role as Peter Parker who since his adventures against Lizard, has a bit more jump in his step. He’s dating Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), has graduated high school and still spends his nights stopping New York’s low level criminals. Life is peachy. But when childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHann) comes back to take over OsCorp, things become complicated. To make matters worse, a new villain named Electro (Jamie Foxx) threatens to destroy the Big Apple, giving Spider-Man his toughest challenge yet.
To be a successful super-hero movie, you need three elements: fun action, a good villain and easy to root for leads. On the star performance front, Garcia is again quite good as the titular web-slinger. A bit too cool to be the unassuming and geeky Peter Parker, Garica is much better when behind the mask. His slim build and skill in expressing emotion through body language serves him well as he swings around the city. Garcia is also great at having boyish fun as he fights crime, important when trying to separate him from other, more serious superheroes.
But just when you think the cast may be decent, the film disappoints. Opposite Garcia is the horribly miscast Emma Stone as his love interest. Simply put, she does not look like a high schooler and despite her best efforts, never generates a romantic connection with Peter Parker. The biggest disappointment is the work of DeHann as young Harry Osborn. While he may have been great in the indie flick Kill Your Darlings, he’s out of his element here. As the film trucks on and his character becomes more unhinged, his performance improves but his scenes with Parker skipping stones and running the company are almost painful.
The other half of the villain circle is equally bi-polar. Electro, a man turned into a supercharged battery by a vat of electric eels, has a ton of promise. Starting as a stereotypical Spidey super fan, he’s one of the more sympathetic antagonists I’ve seen in a while. But just when you think the film may capitalize on this frailty, it’s snatched away with a silly costume and horrendous one liners.
But all of this could have been forgiven if Webb had stuck with the series strong point, high flying action. Swinging trapeze-like through the streets of Manhattan will forever be awesome. It’s the best mode of transportation for any comic hero as it combines grace, momentum and genuine danger to get from Point A to Point B. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 continues the original’s flare to great effect. Unfortunately, the action is dialed back in favor of a weak Parker / Gwen storyline and when things do ramp up, it never truly takes off. When a battle starts to heat up, a corny joke or dumb comic reference flies in to muck things up. The biggest offender is a nursery rhyme reference during a critical fight scene. I’ll give you three guesses on what it is but you’ll only need one.
After the moderate success of the 2012 original, I had moderate expectations for the sequel. A base line of “more of the same” would’ve been just fine. But due to a weak central love interest, very suspect acting and storytelling so choppy, I wonder if the studio took a chainsaw to it to trim down the runtime. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has to be labeled as a disappointment, even when judged against an already low bar.
Still, I have to give Webb some credit. Despite all the criticism, a late film twist and an illuminating reveal has me excited for the third piece of the Spider-Man triangle. As a transition into what hopefully will be the trilogy high point, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is worth a Netflix spin for fans but as a standalone film, fails to live up to even the average original.
Score: 5.5 out of 10
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Jersey born and New York bred, Bill Tucker is a writer of short fiction, film reviews and articles across a variety of genres and media. He currently writes a regular movie column entitled “Behind the Cinematic Curtain” for Revolt Daily, contributes to a fashion blog for http://www.pop-market.com and has a number of short stories in various stages of publication. When not writing, he works as an IT Trainer for a fashion software company. He currently hangs his hat in Austin, Texas. Check out more of his work at http://www.thesurrealityproject.com.