The Amazing Spider-Man 2, sequel to the moderately successful 2012 reboot of the Spider-Man film franchise brings the attitude and joy of the modern era Spider-Man comics (particularly the “Ultimate” Marvel Universe book-line) yet fails miserably to come together as a film. Director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer), returns for this iteration but instead of adhering to his quirky indie-young romance sensibilities that made the previous film such a charming effort (despite some narrative flaws) Webb instead opts to ramp up the blockbuster superhero action. The result here a mixed bag where the effects-laden heroics are grandiose and certainly capture some of the spirit and attitude of the comics but threaten to overshadow any of the film’s human elements. On top of that is a narrative structure that is as confused as it is messy, completely lacking a proper dramatic thorough line to tie and connect its set-pieces and multiple plotlines together let alone come to a cathartic conclusion. This film may be the best AND worst we’ve seen of this character and franchise on screen and that’s a big problem. The pieces of a great Spider-Man story are in place, but they’re never connected and executed in a way that is meaningful let alone cohesively. Much like the previous film, it gets by on the charisma of the cast and sharp production work, but perhaps due to the film’s bloated and inconsistent nature any and all merits of the film are drastically overshadowed by its weaknesses.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 succeeds in giving audiences a Spider-Man who, true to the comics, is just as fast with the jokes as he is with the moves. Andrew Garfield is much more comfortable with the role and is in full mind-meld with the role of Peter Parker, your average Joe teen-turned blue collar superhero. Equal parts quirky, eccentric Garfield plays Parker as the “adorkable” everyman of the film. He has terrific chemistry opposite co-star Emma Stone as Peter’s long-suffering yet ever-loving girlfriend Gwen Stacy. Make no mistake, Spider-Man may be the star, but Stone as Gwen carries much of the emotional and human core of this film. Their relationship feels lived-in and relatable, and the film does what it can to provide a sincere examination of their dynamic. The small moments between Stone and Garfield were probably the best bits of the film besides a few of the action sequences. While their scenes together in the movie often feel like the film is stalling out, they are much welcome stalls. The previous film played like a teen drama/romance and every subplot about giant lizards, developing superpowers etc was a metaphor that fed into the coming-of-age story that was the core of the film with the Peter/Gwen romance being an extrapolation of that core. Unfortunately here, the teen drama stuff gets treated as an aside, never given enough focus as the film switches back and forth from 3 other ongoing plots as if the filmmakers had a bad case of A.D.D.
The main problem with the film is that all of its threads feel completely separate from one another. There are about 4 ongoing plotlines happening at the same time over the course of the 2 ½ hour feature. None of these stories ever connect or intersect in any meaningful way and in fact you could easily excise more than half of the film and not much would change. For instance, there was much ballyhooed marketing concerning Jaime Foxx as Electro but his story feels cut and pasted from another film entirely, his presence and actions never impact the film as a whole nor the characters themselves. Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborn, Peter’s childhood friend, is given nearly as much screen time as Peter and Gwen in yet another subplot that exists tangential to everything else. DeHaan and Foxx seem to be off in their own films, which are big science-fiction bonanzas complete with notoriously bad acting, and they rudely intrude into the much smaller and compelling Spider-Man relationship film. Worse yet, none of the subplots are ever given anything resembling a complete and cathartic arc.
It’s easy to see what director Webb and writers Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orici were going for when they structured the film that way. In the comics, Peter Parker’s life and Spider-Man’s duties interfere with each other and much of the drama comes from that. Unfortunately due to a clumsy narrative with no dramatic thorough-line uniting everything, what ends up happening is a film that is constantly colliding with itself unsure with what it ultimately wants to be about. The disparate elements of the film constantly collide: just as you’re rolling with the theatrically oversized sagas of Foxx and DeHaan you’re jumped back in the naturalistic world of Garfield and Emma Stone being all cute and the transition is so abrupt and jarring your neck might actually hurt from the narrative whiplash. The film is in desperate need of a single unitary vision and theme to keep it together. Like Man of Steel and Star Trek: Into Darkness this is one of the worst examples of structural writing in a blockbuster. Unlike the first film, this one has no central story pulling it forward, leaving it directionless. “Stuff” just happens with nearly every dramatic development never quite landing or resonating.
Kurtzman and Orci have laid a foundation for the film that is essentially a checklist of ideas and concepts both from their imaginations and the decades-long history of Spider-Man mythology. Like their previous works (Transformers 2, Star Trek: Into Darkness), they seem averse to having any sort of connective narrative tissue between each scene. At worst characters don’t behave consistently from scene to scene, altering their behavior in service of the plot as opposed to driving it. It’s unfortunate the story and script has to be such a nightmare because director Webb has finally evolved into a skilled visual story-teller and has made a good-looking film. While his previous effort seemed uncomfortable with the comic book elements, Webb has fully embraced them. The Manhattan of the film feels brought to life from Marvel comics where the populace and setting feels like its own character: tourists take selfies as Spidey swings by and Spidey himself takes moments to high-five and fist-bump bystanders and law enforcement alike. Out of the many on-screen adaptations of Spider-Man’s power set, this film has brought them to life in the most vivid and creative ways. The production of the film itself is so polished it’s almost heartbreaking that they weren’t utilized in a better film.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is exactly the kind of sequel that can tarnish a franchise’s reputation for years to come. All of the stuff with the various side characters, subplots and “villains” drags down and obscures everything that works in the film. Spidey’s look and moves were certainly realized perfectly and Garfield and Stone are so good that it’s lamentable that they weren’t in a better film. Why are they forced to have their sweet scenes lost in this pile? In the end, the film truly succeeds where decades of convoluted comics history and a growing fictional rogues’ gallery have failed: it has defeated Spider-Man.