The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Review
Reviewed by Phil Boothman.
The first Amazing Spider-Man film was a divisive entry into superhero movie canon: some people enjoyed it despite its flaws, while what seems like a majority of others considered it to be too soon for a reboot of the franchise and generally took against the film. Much of what you take away from the sequel will depend on your reaction to the first film, as it continues in the same vein and picks up on some of the dangling plot threads and themes from the first instalment.
For full disclosure, I thoroughly enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man, and actually thought it was a more faithful depiction of the character than the original Sam Raimi film: it was by no means a perfect superhero movie, but I still don’t understand the vitriol with which it is attacked by its detractors.
So with that in mind, how does The Amazing Spider-Man 2 hold up?
In my opinion, quite admirably: the threat is amped up, it is much richer thematically, and Andrew Garfield portrays our favourite wall-crawler at the top of his game, having more fun in the first ten minutes than Tobey Maguire seemed to have in the entirety of the original trilogy.
The plot of the film consists of a number of different strands: firstly, the emergence of Jamie Foxx’s Electro after an unfortunate accident in Oscorp’s electric eel storage area (I’m not entirely sure what the eels were doing there, although I may have lost concentration for a moment when they explained this). Electro makes for a much greater threat than the Lizard did in the first film, displaying power that Spider-Man is only able to overcome by getting lucky, and his motivation as a lonely, insignificant guy suddenly given power and attention is much more interesting than the average supervillain: it makes Spider-Man as much a victim of his own hubris as of a nasty coincidence with some electric eels.
Secondly, there’s the return of Peter Parker’s old friend Harry Osborn, shipped off to boarding school by his father Norman at a young age and now back to visit his dying father. After some distressing news, his mission becomes one centred on self-preservation at all costs regardless of who that forces him to come into conflict with. Dane DeHaan injects some pathos into Osborn’s journey, but without the advantage of appearing in the first film his struggle can come off as somewhat shallow and devolves into standard crazy-villain fare a little too quickly.
Regardless of the problems with Osborn’s character, reservations about there being ‘too many villains’ in the film, inevitably drawing comparisons with the issue-ridden Spider-Man 3, are largely unfounded. While one villain of the two major ones featured is somewhat short-changed, and doesn’t get a particularly satisfying resolution to their arc, the film doesn’t feel over-stuffed with threats and, while there is a lot going on, it doesn’t feel cluttered. Besides, Paul Giamatti’s Aleksei ‘Rhino’ Systevich, a third villain featured heavily in the film’s promotional material, gets roughly four minutes of screentime and has no real bearing on the plot of the movie as a whole.
The third major plot strand concerns Peter’s search for more information about his parents, and this is probably the area which is the most problematic, and was the most problematic part of the first film for me as well: in a blockbuster market over-stuffed with characters who are ‘destined’ to be heroes, taking away the more incidental part of Spider-Man’s origin story, that he just happened to be bitten by a radioactive spider, takes away some of the uniqueness of the character. In this version, the spider which bit Peter was modified by his father while he was working for Oscorp, and makes his origin more pre-determined than it ever was in the comics. However, some of these concerns, carried over from the first film, are allayed through Peter’s discoveries and mixes the pre-destined with the random in a moderately satisfying way.
Finally, the most satisfying and affecting plot strand revolves around Peter’s on-off relationship with Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy: possibly due to their off-screen romance, Garfield and Stone have fantastic chemistry throughout, and inject their on-screen relationship with all the complicated emotions that come with a pairing literally shadowed by the ghost of Gwen’s father. More importantly, while it is an important part of her character, Gwen is by no means defined by her relationship with Peter, having a life and ambitions of her own. This gives her considerably more agency than the average superheroic love interest, and makes the relationship feel a lot more real: a reality which makes certain events in the film far more emotionally affecting, and to comic book fans, heart-breakingly inevitable.
Overall the film, while not perfect and not quite as great as it could have been, is a lot of fun throughout, and feels much emotionally weightier than the first film: whereas The Amazing Spider-Man was concerned with scientific hubris and the dangers of one person considering themselves superior to everyone else, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is all about the legacies passed down from fathers to children, and feels more satisfying for the more sophisticated theme. However, it never feels bogged down in a ‘message’, and flies as freely through the 142-minute runtime as Spidey does through the streets of Manhattan.