Topping Sam Raimi’s ‘Spider-Man’ trilogy was always going to be a difficult task (even if Spider-Man 3 was a mess, which it was). Sony nonetheless gave it another go by rebooting the character, this time with Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) portraying Peter Parker and donning the Spidey costume. Sony tapped 500 Days of Summer director Marc Webb (what a fitting last name) to helm their rebooted franchise starting with 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man. I consider that to be the second best Spider-Man film behind Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. Controversial opinion, I know. Webb then returned to direct the sequel The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in 2014, which many were looking forward to with the recycled origin story having been covered in the first film. It was a chance for Webb to distance his take on the character from Raimi’s, and provide a fresher, less familiar story.
Unfortunately, while The Amazing Spider-Man 2 succeeded in offering some new characters not portrayed in Raimi’s films in villains like Electro and Rhino, it suffered from what I’d call “Spider-Man 3 syndrome”, in that its bloated plot and an overabundance of villains severely hurt it. Its 3 villains; Electro (Jamie Foxx), Rhino (Paul Giamatti), and Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan) were all showcased in marketing, which drew some concerns from fans that it’d be Spider-Man 3 (which had Sandman, Venom, and New Goblin) all over again. It had been announced that Sony would be releasing a Sinister Six film just two years later, so it was clear they were hoping to use TASM 2 as a platform to set up a few villains that would be featured in that film. Hilariously, we have yet to get said film, and the Amazing Spider-Man franchise has since been put to rest. Good job, Sony!
Then there’s Peter’s childhood friend, Harry Osborn. Harry enters the picture when he returns to Manhattan to visit his terminally ill father, Norman (Chris Cooper), CEO of Oscorp. Harry learns that his father’s illness is a genetic disease. Harry later contacts it, and finds out that he could be cured via Spider-Man’s blood. From there, you know the story I’m sure. Peter, being the good friend that he is, expresses concern over the potential effects his radioactive blood could have on Harry. However, this irks Harry, who then vows his revenge on Spider-Man for not “saving” him. He later gets a hold of the venom, crawls to a suit his father made, and becomes Green Goblin. Unfortunately, there’s no emotional impact when we see Harry going downhill. We get one scene of him and Peter hanging out and that’s it. He’s pretty much a whiny brat the entire movie, which is a shame because he can be a tragic character if written properly. Instead, he’s shoehorned into this film so he can kill Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), like he did in the comics, and proceed to be in the Sinister Six movie. More on the death of Gwen later.
So there’s too many villains to allow for one to truly shine, so how’s the rest of the movie? Well, if you like relationship drama, boy, do I have the movie for you! A good third of this movie is spent on Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy discussing their future together. Webb is no stranger to exploring the complexities of relationships after doing the terrific romantic dramedy 500 Days of Summer and while the Peter and Gwen relationship in both The Amazing Spider-Man and now this is both well-written as well as well-acted by Garfield and Stone (who were dating in real life at the time), there’s just too much focus on it. The dialogue is good and all, but there’s no progression in this subplot. It’s scene after scene of “I love you, but I don’t know if we can be together”, and a resolution isn’t made until Gwen bites the dust in the clock tower.
Man, Gwen’s death scene was rough. It was really well done, especially the whiplash sound effect when Gwen’s neck snaps on impact. That was absolutely brutal. Gwen has played a big role in the first two films, and to see her go out the way she did was heartbreaking. Her graduation speech earlier in the film was pure and heartfelt, and I liked how that was used to help Peter recover from the pain of having to live with knowing that had he followed through on Captain Stacy’s (Gwen’s father) request to no longer be romantically involved with Gwen, she probably would’ve been alive still. Speaking of Captain Stacy, I could’ve done without Peter “seeing” him numerous times. I figured Gwen’s father’s final request would’ve stuck with him, I didn’t need the cheesy “imagining someone that’s not really there” cliche to be reminded of that.
We’re also given further explanation as to what Peter’s father Richard Parker (always think of Life of Pi when I think or see that name now) was doing at Oscorp that was so secretive. This was teased in the first film, but wasn’t explored much at all until this film. Honestly, I didn’t find this subplot particularly interesting. I totally get why it’s there, but it just wasn’t doing it for me. Especially the part where Peter learns he can gather this information by locating a hidden underground lab in an abandoned subway station that can be activated via a subway token and a switch. Like, really?
The action’s solid, as are the special effects. It’s a very CGI-heavy film, but at least the CGI looks good. There’s some stylish slow motion shots that are pretty cool. It’s definitely showier than its predecessor in the effects department. The fights between Electro and Spider-Man are fun, it’s basically Electro zinging bolts of lightning at Spidey, who is swinging around, dodging being electrocuted. Meanwhile, the fight between Spidey and Green Goblin is super forgettable (save for the Gwen part) and the battle between Spidey and Rhino had the potential to be entertaining, but it’s interrupted by the closing credits. I guess we’ll never find out who came out on top in the end, will we?
It may sound like I didn’t like The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but that’s not the case. It’s more of a disappointing movie for me. The film really should’ve stuck to just one villain; either Electro or Harry, but not both. I wish the Sinister Six film wouldn’t have been planned so fast, because its looming presence was really felt here. TASM 2 feels more like a setup film than anything else. An appetizer for the main course. It’s unfortunate, because there’s some great elements buried underneath this hot mess of a film, whether that’d be the handling of Gwen’s death, Spidey’s new comics-inspired costume, or a nice sequence in which Spider-Man fixes the science project for a young boy that’s being bullied. It’s not a complete disaster of a film (it’s no Batman & Robin like some have compared it to), just one that’s tarnished by Sony’s dirty hands.
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