2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, released 10 years after the Sam Raimi original, left fans split – some felt the love story was too strong, others (such as myself) loved Andrew Garfield’s version of Peter Parker and Spider-Man, resulting in what I felt was the best Spider-Man movie yet – just behind 2004’s Spider-Man 2. Now, 10 years after that momentous sequel, director Marc Webb and leads Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy) have returned to kick off the Summer 2014 movie season with The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 kicks off where the first left off, with Peter struggling with his feelings for Gwen Stacy – given that he promised her dying father that he’d leave her out of his superhero lifestyle. He’s never been better as Spider-Man, though, nor has the film, giving our first glimpse of the web crawler in action in a fun, hysterical chase scene through the New York City streets. Spidey inserts himself into a conflict between a few dozen cop cars, a Russian gang (lead by Aleksei Sytsevich, played by a scenery chewing Paul Giamatti) and oh yeah, a bunch of stolen plutonium. This sequence bops and weaves, is incredibly exciting, and gets you into a good groove for the film.
The biggest problem? It’s not actually how the movie starts. Instead, viewers are thrust first into an extremely tedious sequence featuring Peter’s parents, Richard and Mary Parker, showcasing what happened when they left Peter with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben, as they attempt to leave the country and have things go terribly wrong on their airplane – thanks to OsCorp, naturally.
It’s the juxtaposition between these scenes that showcases the core issue of the film – when left to the devices of being a pure Spider-Man movie, it’s pure enjoyment and excitement – but the film tosses away all goodwill by tying in the big “Parker/Oscorp” conspiracy that is – for some reason – becoming the focus of this series.
One of the elements which I’ve always loved about the world of Spider-Man is how anyone can become anything, by chance. Peter was randomly bit by a spider, and goes from social outcast to hero (or menace, depending on your perspective). Scientists, reporters, movie effects operators, your friend’s dad – they can all go wrong and become your worst enemy.
Instead here, everything – and I mean everything – is about OsCorp.
Take our villains, for example. Jamie Foxx’s Max Dillion, brought to us by way of Jim Carrey’s version of Edward Nigma in Batman Forever, works for OsCorp, is screwed over by OsCorp (specifically by yet another classic Spider-Man villain, in name at least), falls into a vat of OsCorp electric eels, and becomes the electrifying Electro. And it’s pretty obvious that Harry Osborn – played by Dane DeHaan, who brings the same creepy greatness that made him perfect in Chronicle – has to come from the OsCorp cloth, so I’m not going rest any blame there.
Instead, I’m left with many questions – Why is Norman Osborn in literally one scene? Why is OsCorp run by so many evil white dudes? And most importantly – why does OsCorp need to be the cause of every single villain in Peter’s life?
It is a terribly kept secret that this movie is designed to set into motion a “Spider-Man Movie Universe”, which is set to include a third and fourth Amazing Spider-Man, and bafflingly enough, solo films for Venom and the super villain team-up crew known as the Sinister Six. If this film is any indication, however, the “big plan” is to expand the universe by way of having literally everything connected to one giant company – turning the ambition of a universe into a small-scale issue. For as many people maligned Iron Man 2 for being the stepping stone for The Avengers, at least that gave us fantastic moments of Tony mouthing off to Nick Fury, or Captain America’s shield serving as a paperweight. In The Amazing Spider-Man 2, “world building” is done in tepid boardroom meetings and through an over-reaching conspiracy that Peter Parker never needed. Yes, the secret history of Richard and Mary Parker has always been an element of the Spider-Man mythos, but here, it removes the everyman side of the character. And besides, didn’t we show enough disinterest in this “untold story” last time that they cut out most of these elements from the first film?
I wouldn’t be so frustrated if the movie didn’t also get so many things right. As previously mentioned, the action sequences are incredible, and I really can’t get enough of Peter’s interactions with the women in his life. Sally Field continues to be a great Aunt May, and Emma Stone simply is Gwen Stacy. She’s a hardheaded, self-actualized part of Peter’s life, no shrieking violet, no damsel in distress. And when the film gives Gwen and Peter some true difficulties to deal with, Garfield and Stone shine bright. It’s just incredibly disappointing how hard The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is brought down by its corporate ambitions.
I realize – you’re reading this and applying context. I must be some giant fanboy. And yes, I’ll admit that Spider-Man is hands-down my favorite fictional character, period. But if anything – that should make me more inclined to love this film. That said, I didn’t hate it – I just found myself incredibly disappointed with how it turned out. For every positive step forward with frantic, jaw-dropping Spider-Man action or the indelible chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 took two steps back with the massive OsCorp conspiracy.
At an overlong, bloated 142 minutes, the movie simply falters under its own weight. It pains me to say, but there was an old saying that came to mind – “What do you get when you mix 5 pounds of Ice Cream with 5 pounds of manure? 10 pounds of manure.” The Summer 2014 movie season has not started on the right foot. Better luck next time, guys.
POST-CREDIT NOTES: Just a scene from X-Men: Days of Future Past. Nothing key to the movie. Apparently there’s something if you use the Shazam app on the credits, but I cannot confirm it.