The results of their success has seen a ripple effect throughout the industry. Fox is hard at work trying to establish a connective tissue between their X-Men franchise and the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot andWarner Bros is starting work on Man of Steel 2, but that hasn’t stopped them from announcing a Justice League film to follow it. Which brings us to Sony and their recently restarted Spider-Man franchise.
2012’s Mark Webb reboot of the webslingers origins was met with mixed results, but I should say here, I personally loved the film. I found it to be a fresh and still faithful take on the character, with some of the better acting from it’s two leads than is seen in most genre fare like it. In The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Sony and Webb have managed to improve on nearly ever aspect of their original while taking plenty of time to set up their newly planned cinematic universe, even if there are a few times where logic and ambition butt heads.
Andrew Garfield is back as Peter Parker along with Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy, and both are in the same excellent form they were when last we saw them. Enough good things cannot be said about the two’s on-screen chemistry, they do a wonderful job selling the highs and lows of Peter and Gwen’s relationship. Garfield hits the ground running, continuing the angst-driven teenage ways seen in the first Spider-Man movie, but with an added air of confidence about him just under the surface. The film takes great care to show it’s audience that being a world-renowned super can be great, but comes with more than a few disadvantage as well. Much of the first half of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 focuses entirely on the Peter and Gwen relationship, and it’s better for it. One of the things I felt that prior entries into the Spider-Man franchise had lacked was a well-developed human element to them. Toby Maguire and Kirsten Dunst never felt natural in their roles during the Raimi years, so it’s nice to see a fully developed relationship with two more-than capable actors at the forefront of a comic book story.
This is a Spider-Man film, however, which means plenty of action. While it’s hard to say that Amazing Spider-Man 2 goes quite as big in it’s set pieces as this summers earlier blockbuster adaptation, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, there are still plenty of pulse pounding moments. Jamie Foxx has been the most advertised villain here, and he gives us an entertaining turn as Max Dillon and eventually the electronically charged super villain Electro. Foxx is at his best prior to his usual comic-book turn, where Max is introduced as an introverted, nearly invisible low level technician for Oscorp who has a devastatingly debilitating social complex about this fact that he has developed an unconventional relationship with Spider-Man in his own head. The schizophrenic nature of the role is handled well enough by Foxx, even if it is slightly too comical at times. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for his super-powered alter ego. Electro looks amazing on screen, thankfully, but his dialogue was handled with the subtlety of a hammer and he is far too often reduced to terrible one liners that never even come close to hitting the mark. It is worth mentioning, though, that the scene in which Max is revealed to the citizens of New York in the heart of time square is handled nearly flawlessly by Mark Webb. With Max being confused and scared, not knowing what’s happened to him, the dichotomy of his two clashing personalities are on full display in that scene. From the subtle undertones of insanity in the music to the back and forth between Max and Peter and the full range of emotions Max displays, first elation that the city has finally recognized him, then jealous rage that they reject him and cheer for Spider-Man over him is all handled wonderfully and is probably my favorite moment in the film.
Thankfully, though, Electro isn’t the only antagonist here. Dane Dehaan turns in an absolutely stunning performance as Peters lifelong friend, Harry Osborn, who goes on to become his greatest enemy, The Green Goblin. While it’s hard to ask fans to believe that this relationship was so important to Peter and Harry despite it having zero acknowledgement in the prior film, that is forgiven with a conveniently placed boarding school plot device, explaining that the two had been estranged for some years due to Harry’s absence. The subtle changes that Harry goes through over the course of the film, culminating in a disastrous breakdown in a moment of despair are some of the strongest acting moments I’ve ever seen in a big budget film like this. While it may not be on the Ledger level of comic baddies, Dehaan has certainly set himself up for a bigger spotlight in the future.
Not everything about Amazing Spider-Man 2 is perfect, though. The series has always promised us a new look into the past life of Peter Parker, and answers about the reason for his parents disappearance, however much of it was wasted in this film. The early moments of the film feature an action sequence set in a flashback, in which Peter’s parents flee on a private jet, only to lament having to leave their son in his aunt and uncles care and eventually be attacked. The scene is hard to follow due to some shoddy camera work and is overly long, especially considering that the exposition dedicated to the Parker parents later in the film is better delivered and covers anything that was revealed in this scene. Along with that comes some hard to swallow logic toward the end of the film. If you want to set up a macguffin that demands a certain character is included in a scene, please make sure it’s worthy of that dedication. Gwen makes a very strong case for needing to be present for the final showdown between Spidey and Electro, but in the end, her involvement turned out to be something any small child or simian could have performed, which was unfortunate because it made her inclusion feel terribly forced.
Lastly, much of the film is spent setting up that connective tissue that makes a cinematic universe that can be a turn-off to some. In the past, films like Iron Man 2 have dedicated entirely too much time to this and have ended up feeling like more of an advertisement than a plot device, and thankfully Spider-Man avoids that particular pitfall. However, I would have liked to see just a bit less development toward that larger world and more time spent on making Electro seem like an important threat to Spider-Man. It’s hard not to be excited for Sony’s plan for Spider-Man’s future, but that cannot overshadow the need for a coherent film on it’s own, which is a line that this film just barely avoids.
Still, it’s hard to argue the fun in Amazing Spider-Man 2. The character has always held a special place in the hearts of audiences, largely owing to how connected he is to the people of New York, and thus the audience as well. There are plenty of moments that show just how much New York loves and embraces their masked vigilante, as opposed to other adaptations where the hero is almost always painted as a menace. With a third installment coming in just a few years and an entire film dedicated to a group of villains from this universe, there’s plenty of great times ahead for comic book fans.