Mark Reviews Movies

The Amazing Spider-Man 2


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Marc Webb

Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Colm Feore, Sally Field, Felicity Jones, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Paul Giamatti

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi action/violence)

Running Time: 2:22

Release Date: 5/2/14

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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 1, 2014

The specter of death hovers over the proceedings of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a better and ultimately more developed look at the web-slinging superhero than its predecessor. Unfortunately, its maturity does come ultimately—as in the movie's schizophrenic denouement, which juxtaposes catharsis with routine sequel setup. The rest of the movie has a similar quality: It can't figure out what it wants to do with Peter Parker/Spider-Man.

Part of the movie has Peter (Andrew Garfield) soul-searching. He is finding it more and more difficult to rationalize his relationship with his girlfriend after having made a promise to her dying father that he wouldn't involve her in his dangerous lifestyle. He is still torn up over his parents abandoning him with other relatives and dying shortly after that (If one thought Bruce Wayne's parents had bad luck, wait until that person sees this movie's prologue, which has the Parkers being killed by gunshot and strangulation in the middle of a plane crash). Then there's the return of his old friend Harry (Dane DeHaan), whose own father has died. He wants Spider-Man's help, but Peter isn't too keen on the idea of handing over his blood and possibly turning his buddy into a genetic freak of nature like the last reptilian villain he faced.

With all the confusion, it's difficult to tell if Peter even has any plans after his high school graduation, which he nearly misses on account of a Russian mobster's attempt to steal an armored truck—"a traffic jam," he explains to Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), his worried girlfriend, over the phone as the principal reads the graduates' names. Gwen has big plans, and they seem to have less and less to do with Peter as the screenplay (by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner) moves forward.

It's tough being Spider-Man, too. Peter tries to hide his identity from his Aunt May (Sally Field), who is still dealing with the murder of her husband—Peter's uncle (He doesn't seem as upset about this death, but then again, look at all the others with which he has to deal). Then there's yet another bad guy. This one is Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), who is Spider-Man's biggest fan. That changes when he is electrocuted in a vat of electric eels and turns into the electricity-eating-and-controlling Electro, who wants to kill Spider-Man because he's taking away attention from his own freakishness. The villain's motivation is so dubious that, during his first confrontation with the web-slinger, the movie actually plays his inner monologue alongside a driving electric guitar riff.

The problem isn't the myriad plot threads. It's that there's no clear through line that unites them (The unfairly maligned Spider-Man 3 proved that multiple villains and complications can work if there is a bonding element—in the case of that film, Peter trying to determine if he's out for revenge or justice—for them). These dilemmas arise for the sake of raising them. Apart from Peter's relationship with Gwen, there's little in the way of defining either Peter or Spider-Man.

Peter isn't sure why his parents left, and when he's at his lowest point, he decides—on a whim—to examine the mystery of the briefcase his father (Campbell Scott) left him. The episode feels like a distraction—a loose end that needs to be knotted. It circles around on itself, explaining why the radioactive spider bite didn't adversely affect Peter and offering simplistic emotional closure. Spider-Man faces Electro in Times Square and lucks out in stopping him while saving civilian lives. With nothing else for the villain to do until the finale, he's shipped off to an asylum, although that's at least more convincing than the way the screenplay forces in a second bad guy in the movie's final act in order to trigger the movie's genuine climax, which comes after another battle with Electro over the fate of New York City's central power plant.

Director Marc Webb is much more confident with the action in this movie compared to the previous one. The sequences are clean (There is nothing approaching the visual noise of the first movie's neon-soaked climax) and feature some impressive effects, even if the laws of physics don't seem to apply to Spider-Man (long plunges followed by last-second saves that would probably rip his arms from their sockets). The heist of the armored truck near the beginning is especially effective in portraying controlled chaos.

A lot of the movie, though, belongs to Peter outside the costume. He's half the punk kid he was in the previous movie this time around, but that just means he's doubly bland. It doesn't help that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 spends so much time with dead-end disruptions for him and subplots for its supporting characters. The movie does come alive in its scenes with Peter and Gwen, who must figure out their future together or apart amidst super-heroics and ordinary post-high school decisions. The majority of the movie may be messy and uncertain, but its finale is surprisingly definitive in its choices. The question is whether its obligatory sequel will embrace or dismiss the consequences.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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