The following is my review of the new film The Amazing Spider-Man 2 for ScreenPicks.com
What I love most about superhero movies is their directness. It’s generally a simple concept: A hero emerges and rises, out of necessity, to protect his or her city from evil. A good film based on a comic book takes this simple plot and adds on layers; layers of emotions, conflicts between desires and perceived responsibilities, life lessons and maturation, and the complex yet matrixed worlds in which we place these heroes.
In The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are once again engulfed in Marc Webb’s depiction of modern New York City. Andrew Garfield, again portraying Peter Parker and his webbed alter ego, is probably the most convincing 18 year-old young adult played by an actor in his thirties. Parker’s clumsy nerd works well coming from a lanky Brit with a fairly convincing Brooklyn accent, and Spider-Man’s quips are even smoother as Garfield becomes increasingly comfortable in his blue and red spandex.
Our story begins with the high school graduation of Peter and Gwen Stacy (again played by Emma Stone), where the two seem considerably happier than when we left them at the end of The Amazing Spider-Man, following the funeral of Gwen’s father. Throughout the film, Peter struggles with his love for Gwen and his desire to honor Captain Stacy’s dying wishes: that so long as Peter is Spider-Man, he stays away from her for her own protection. This internal battle is accentuated by Stone and Garfield’s real-life chemistry, which permeates their characters, and the resulting back-and-forth between the two on screen provides satisfying entertainment throughout the film.
Another pleasing element to the movie is the mystery involved. The first installment in this series provided a few suggestions that Peter’s conversion into Spider-Man may not have been an accident and that his father, a scientist working with Dr. Curt Connors (The Lizard) may have been partly responsible. In the current installment, Peter begins to actively investigate these clues to his parents and their disappearance.
Far and away, the character that I enjoyed the most was Max Dillon, portrayed by the undeniably talented Jamie Foxx. It’s difficult to imagine such a charismatic and handsome actor as a socially inept nerd, but Foxx pulls it off. Max pre-electrocution was a lonely and sad but well-intentioned Oscorp scientist, and the actor manages to maintain that underlying personality somehow even when Max transforms into Electro. I admit that, after seeing the previews featuring Electro, I was afraid we were in for another Lizard-like villain, but I was happily surprised.
If dealing with his new electrically-charged foe, his star-crossed romance, and his growing curiosity regarding his parents’ disappearance weren’t enough, Peter reconnects with an old pal, who happens to be the new man-in-charge at Oscorp. Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan) arrives just prior to his father’s death, and we quickly learn he’s dying of the same mysterious illness that sent his dad to an early grave. While Peter is connecting the dots between his own father’s research at Oscorp and subsequent disappearance, Harry is experiencing unpleasant changes, and quickly begins to take drastic measures in order to save himself and take back control of his father’s company. Predictably, this causes a bit of a riff in their rekindled friendship.
The appropriate balance of action and story can be difficult to find in a movie such as this, but I found this to be another aspect that was improved upon from the 2012 original. Gwen Stacy, a very likable character, is both Peter’s support and foil, and she contributes more than just serving as a damsel in distress for Spider-Man. And the intriguing plotline of Peter learning about his father’s research, while a bit hurried, is one that I hope they continue to build upon, as Peter discovers more about Oscorp, his strongest opponent. All the while, Spider-Man must battle the many products of the organization, and the audience is left with a sense that, in the next installment, we will be a seeing our hero up against even more of the evil they churn out.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 corrects much what I felt was wrong with its predecessor – a slower introduction to a concept we all knew, with a fumbling villain – and takes it in the other direction entirely. With multiple foes for Spidey appearing one after the one, the pacing was considerably better than the first, but left this reviewer feeling as though one was simply used as a plot device to conjure up another. This theory is supported by the knowledge that installments three and four of this franchise have already been ordered.