Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2
By Matthew Huntley
May 6, 2014

Are we sure this isn't from a Pink Floyd laser lights show?

In terms of overall quality, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is about on par with The Amazing Spider-Man, although it’s slightly better. This is the hope and goal of any sequel, I suppose, particularly of the superhero variety, because the filmmakers are now freer to explore the saga’s deeper themes and expand the characters beyond their origins.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 delivers well enough on both counts, but it’s the characters we remember most; they possess more weight, personality and conviction than those usually found among the prolific genre. The screenplay allows them to have natural–sounding conversations that really resonate and sound authentic. In fact, these one-on-one, personal moments actually have the most screen time - in some cases, too much screen time.

The story picks up not too long after Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), teenage scientist and photographer, was bitten by a genetically enhanced spider that yielded him superpowers such as increased strength, resilience and pre-cognition. As Spider-Man, he’s become more confident, not to mention playful, in serving the city of New York by helping rid it of criminals, particularly the colorful ones.

Not that being Spider-Man is all fun and games. Peter has a hard time balancing his role as a superhero with his personal life, especially when it comes to his girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). While chasing down a stolen truck full of plutonium, for instance, which seems to draw just about every police officer in New York, he misses Gwen deliver her valedictory speech at their high school graduation. He also has visions of her late father, Captain Stacy (Denis Leary), giving him a disapproving eye. You might recall at the end of the last film that Peter promised Captain Stacy not to involve Gwen in his life as Spider-Man, out of fear it would jeopardize her safety. However, neither Peter’s feelings of guilt nor feelings of love have subsided, which explains why his and Gwen’s relationship is often on the rocks.

On top of that, Peter’s beloved Aunt May (Sally Field) is having a hard time making ends meet. She’s forced to work double shifts as a waitress while attending nursing school to help pay for Peter’s college tuition. Garfield and Field share a touching scene together when she reminds him she played the role of his mother and tells him, heartbreakingly, “You’re my boy.”

And if things weren’t complicated enough, there’s a new super villain in town (but isn’t there always?) by the name of Electro (Jamie Foxx). Like most villains, Electro started out harmless - as a friendless, geeky engineer at OsCorp - but a freak accident caused him to fall into a tank full of eels that were being bred for their bioelectric capabilities. And, wouldn’t you know, he awakens to find he has the ability to manipulate electricity and travel through wires and circuits.

To give you an idea of the movie’s patience, Electro and Spider-Man’s first encounter takes place in the middle of Time Square, but before the mayhem begins, the two characters actually talk to each other. The scene is surprisingly calm and it was refreshing to see the hero and villain actually have a heart-to-heart discussion. Of course, it doesn’t end as well, but the scene lets us know the movie is more interested in substance than non-stop special effects.

Speaking of effects, though, the filmmakers have spared no expense and the visuals in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 are pretty top-notch. I especially admired the scenes that show Spidey maneuvering around with his web shooters and predicting forthcoming events with his precognition. The camera jumps, zips and ricochets, which you’d think would be dizzying and distracting, but it all comes together smoothly and we feel induced in the action.

Peter’s other dilemma comes in the form of his childhood pal Harry Osborn (effectively played by Dane DeHaan), who’s recently returned from boarding school in light of his father, Norman (Chris Cooper), dying from a degenerative disease. Harry learns he’ll not only be inheriting OsCorp, but also his father’s illness. Naturally, he feels angry and cheated, but he stumbles upon secret files that reveal the same mutant spiders that created Spider-Man could be his cure, although he’s ignorant about a key factor later revealed by Peter’s deceased father (Campbell Scott), which also explains why he and Peter’s mother (Embeth Davidtz) had to leave him so suddenly.

With its somewhat complex plot, thoughtful characters and often-rousing action, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a solid, although not exactly inspired, entry in the longstanding Spider-Man movie franchise. Like its predecessor, it takes too long to get from point A to point B. Many scenes linger and director Marc Webb and his editor Pietro Scalia still seem unsure of when enough is enough - both with the action sequences and the character-driven moments. More cuts would have made it tighter, tenser and given it a greater momentum. This is a 142-minute movie that could have easily been 130, tops.

Eventually, though, the story does build into something powerful. Faithful readers of the Spider-Man comics, begun by Stan Lee and Bruno Kirby, will likely be impressed by the ending and surprised that it goes where it goes, but all viewers should be glad that it does. It makes this latest installment more relevant and effective, which is good, because a lot of the time, I felt we were simply getting more of the same. Not that “the same” is bad, but after so many Spider-Man movies, the series needed to find a way to stand out. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 helps it do that, even if it does take too long.