Everybody’s favorite neighborhood Spider-Man has already gotten quite a bit of silver screen time in past films, thanks in no small part to his kid-friendly nature and his unique backstory of a teenager struggling to balance his normal life of school, homework, and chores alongside his second life of battling deadly supervillains as a web-slinging vigilante. While the Sam Raimi-directed Tobey Maguire trilogy was a serviceable attempt to showcase Spider-Man’s origins and early exploits, it would seem the movers and shakers over in Hollywood felt that Spidey deserved a second go and thus fans were treated to 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man. Of course, these days any commercially successful superhero movie is bound to spawn a sequel and The Amazing Spider-Man was no different. But does The Amazing Spider-Man 2 live up to the hype of its predecessor? Or has Hollywood tried to spin Spider-Man’s web just one too many times?
For me, one of Spider-Man’s most endearing traits is how seriously he takes the responsibility of being a hero. He may seem anything but serious when spouting clever quips and one-liners, but you have to admire a guy who can stop an armored truck full of Russian mobsters and then zip on over to attend his high school graduation in the span of a few minutes, making the transition look easy while doing so. Andrew Garfield once again reprises his role as the titular hero and his alter-ego Peter Parker and he brings the same balance of quiet charm and spring-into-action determination that made him so compelling to watch in the first film.
Also returning is Emma Stone as Peter’s love interest Gwen Stacey. Despite promising Gwen’s dying father George (Dennis Leary), who shows up in the sequel as a vision that haunts Peter from time to time, that he’d keep his distance from her in the first movie, Peter and Gwen still retain a deep yet strained romantic connection that remains as an undercurrent throughout the entire film. Peter tries to break up with Gwen during the movie’s opening moments, claiming that it isn’t safe to be around him and that he can’t forget the promise he made to her father and yet the two keep finding their way back to each other despite the danger and the promise Peter made. To their credit, both Garfield and Stone do an excellent job portraying the genuine love between Peter and Gwen, marking one of the film’s strongest elements.
Sadly, virtually every other major element of the sequel doesn’t fare quite so well. The movie’s writers took on the task of penning a narrative that tries to interweave the return of Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan), Peter’s childhood friend and son of Oscorp CEO Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper in a one-off cameo), with the rise of electricity-wielding villain Max Dillon a.k.a. Electro (Jaime Foxx). It is a worthy attempt, but in the end it just makes the movie feel too bloated and ultimately unsatisfying. A third narrative thread, the mysterious circumstances behind the sudden disappearance of Peter’s parents, is sprinkled in as well, only instead of giving the sequel an air of mystery as it was likely intended to do, it just makes the big jumble of events even more diluted and implies that the hands of fate were what led Peter to become Spider-Man as opposed to random chance (an implication which might not sit well with more devoted Spidey fans).
While the battles between Spidey and Electro are given some extra cinematic flair thanks to a healthy amount of special effects usage, both Electro and Osborne end up feeling like cookie-cutter villains since neither of their backstories are explored in any detail. All we end up finding out about Dillon is that he’s a guy who’s obsessed with the idea of fame since he’s spent his whole life being ignored by those around him and all we learn about Harry is that he’s a spoiled rich kid with daddy issues. The few scenes where Peter tries to bond with Harry contain only the slightest hints of chemistry, making Harry feel like an even more generic character despite an admirable effort from DeHaan (I imagine it’s tough playing a character whose only two emotions seem to be smugness and anger).
Without going into spoiler territory, I will say that the sequel’s ending also feels very rushed and unsatisfying. A foreshadowed attempt to reiterate the same old “cost of being a hero” plot device ends up falling flat and instead just robs the entire movie’s narrative of any purpose. The movie closes out with a brief cameo of Aleksei Sytsevich a.k.a. Rhino (Paul Giamatti who clearly enjoyed getting to scream and shout in a Russian accent) and a heartfelt reminder of just how much Spider-Man has inspired the city he calls home but the previously-mentioned plot device moment makes even that final touching scene feel hollow. Columbia Pictures has already confirmed it is planning two more Amazing Spider-Man films (The Amazing Spider-Man 3 is set to release a year from now) but I think the writers of those films are going to have their work cut out for them if they hope to bounce back from The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s erratic and unfulfilling conclusion.
While The Amazing Spider-Man 2 didn’t quite manage to match its predecessor’s appeal, I’d say it’s still worth watching if you enjoyed previous Spider-Man films or if you’re just a big fan of the friendly neighborhood web-head. The character performances (which also include supporting roles from Sally Field, Colm Feore, B.J. Novak, and Marton Csokas) are, for the most part, compelling enough in their own regard and the special effects are top-notch. Just don’t come in expecting a coherent story or satisfying conclusion since, unfortunately, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is sorely lacking in both those regards.