For his first Amazing Spider-Man, director Marc Webb labored to establish his vision for the Web Crawler as angsty, smitten, and awkward.
Now, with the origin story and raw character development out of the way, the filmmaker gets to have fun with the franchise, letting loose on the city streets the most human of superheroes yet, a teenager full of contradictions and questions, who also happens to shoulder the burden of being Spider-Man.
Directed by Marc Webb. Screenplay by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Jeff Pinkner, and James Vanderbilt.
A Columbia/ Sony Pictures release, playing at Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence. Running time: 140 minutes.
Critic’s rating:★★★ ½
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Sally Field, Dane DeHaan, and Paul Giamatti.
★★★★★ Outstanding; ★★★★ Very Good; ★★★ Good; ★★Fair; ★ Poor
In the time since the first film, Spider-Man/Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) has moved from public nuisance to celebrated hero, swinging and slinging around skyscrapers and through crowded streets and into action as the city’s most potent crime fighter.
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After an opening sequence with Peter’s mother and father, and how they met their demise on a private jet — which has dramatic implications with the film’s unfolding plot and their son still grappling with being left behind — Webb gets to the good stuff as Spider-Man tracks down a group of Russian terrorists, led by Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti), who have stolen a semi-truck carrying plutonium.
And thus concludes Giamatti’s work, until near the end of the film.
But Spider-Man/Peter has enough problems to deal with. He’s haunted by visions of Police Captain Stacy (Denis Leary), the father of his girlfriend Gwen (Emma Stone), who made Peter promise to stay away from his daughter moments before he died at the end of the first Amazing Spider-Man.
He also learns more about his father, a top scientist at OsCorp Industries, and his involvement in revolutionary biotechnology with arachnids. He also has some new foes: the glowing blue shocker Electro (Jamie Foxx), and former friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), who becomes the Green Goblin. Between the action and destruction sequences is the compelling love story of a college-age couple who are clearly going their separate ways; Parker is rooted in NYC, while Gwen has been accepted into Oxford.
Given Webb’s breakout success with (500) Days of Summer, a witty and touching tale of a relationship gone wrong, the love angle between the pair isn’t a throwaway subplot, but integral to the trilogy he’s creating, and the director could not have cast the leads any better.
Garfield’s Parker/Spider-Man is gangly and wisecracking, a character more in line with the comics than Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man.
But even when dressed in the familiar red-and-blue Spider-Man suit, Garfield is playing Peter rather than a superhero alter-ego. He might have enhanced abilities, but Spider-Man is, more than anything, human, and Garfield conveys the emotional vulnerabilities behind the mask in an impressive performance that never wilts amid the CGI spectacle.
The same goes for Stone’s warm and funny Gwen. The actors ooze chemistry together onscreen.
The same can’t be said of Foxx, who is miscast in this world.
Electro was a nerdy and slightly unbalanced scientist named Max Dillon at OsCorp, who’s bullied at work, has no friends, and develops a Spider-Man obsession. And just to make sure we understand the depths of Max’s geekiness, the bespectacled nerd sports a bad combover, wears a full pocket protector, and has pants legs high enough from the ground to safely wade into a deep puddle.
It’s a workplace accident involving electricity and mutated electric eels that turns Max into pure energy, a madman who shoots what looks like Force lightning at police and can transform and disperse his body mass into energy at will. And, of course, he blames Spider-Man for all of this. It’s an issue that goes back to Spider-Man having saved Max and then later forgetting his name. Osborn has issues with the Web Slinger, too, after Spider-Man refuses to provide samples of his fast-healing spider blood, which could potentially cure Osborn of the deadly disease that claimed the life of his father. DeHaan, who played the geek-gone-bad super villain in Chronicle, has the creepy haircut and look, though the character’s best moments appear to be in the series’ third installment.
That’s the same predicament for the film’s third villain, the Rhino (Giamatti), whose appearance isn’t anything more than an in-film teaser to 2016’s The Amazing Spider-Man 3, though Giamatti looks to be having a lot of fun with the character and Russian accent. It’s just as well, since there’s already enough villainous mayhem in Part 2 to bloat the film to two hours plus.
Webb’s first Amazing Spider-Man struggled with its antagonists as well. At least his superhero films are really about their title character.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 screenplay is by Jeff Pinkner, Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman, who, collectively, have scripted tentpole releases (the Star Trek reboots, Transformers) as well as episodic TV (Lost, Fringe, Alias).
What works best in their film is also what worked best in the first Amazing Spider-Man, the quiet moments for the leads, and any scene involving Sally Field as Parker’s devoted Aunt May. Garfield and Field play off of each other well, whether it’s Parker comically trying to keep his aunt out of his room while still in his Spider-Man outfit, or in May’s emotional breakdown and confession to her adopted son about his wanting to know more about his deceased father.
Aside from the performances, the CGI action sequences are graceful and fluid, with no jerky cutaways to disrupt the spectacle and our attention. Webb lets the battles play out in mostly real time — albeit with the occasional nod to Spidey’s heightened awareness of his surroundings and impending danger to himself and others.
Webb also expands on the memorable brief first-person sequence of Spider-Man from the first film, with more video game-esque shots of the hero web slinging his way through the city, drawing audiences closer to the experience of being Spider-Man. Director Zack Snyder tried a similar tactic with Superman’s flying in last summer’s Man of Steel, with less successful results.
The film is too long and the plot too cumbersome, and Electro is a wasted opportunity. So, no, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is still not amazing. But after 2012’s rather unspectacular origin story, Webb is at least steering the franchise in the proper direction.
Contact Kirk Baird firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.