Article By: Dan Clark
After the debacle that was Spider-Man 3, Sony Movie Studios set out to remove the bitter taste it left by rebooting the franchise only ten years after it began. Now only two films in it appears that sour taste has returned. Lessons learned from past mistakes have quickly been forgotten. Subtly and articulate storytelling have been sacrificed in favor of manipulative world building. There is such a fixation on setting up for the future that the present is nearly disregarded. Amazing Spider-Man 2 has a great deal of talent behind it, including actors who may even fit into their roles better than their predecessors. What it lacks is the discipline and patience needed to tell this story right.
That story picks up shortly after the conclusion of the last film. Peter Parker has fully ingratiated himself into his role as Spider-Man. For many he is a symbol of hope for his beloved city, while for others he is a menace that should be stopped. Spider-Man may have figured out crime fighting, but Peter Parker is still struggling with his relationship with Gwen Stacey. He fears his presence is a danger to her. At the same time he cannot deny his feelings.
Director Marc Webb has shown he knows how to depict young love in a convincing manner. The relationship between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey is far more effective than the relationship between Peter and Mary Jane in the Raimi films. For one, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have great natural chemistry. Their dialog is messy and awkward as if they are both on the constant search for the right word to say. Gwen is also not made out to be a hapless soon to be damsel in distress. She has as much if not more control than her superhero counterpart. For all the films faults, it at least established a strong human element inside all the blockbuster fluff.
The majority of that fluff comes in the form of the two major villains. Many feared having multiple villains will lead to a story that is too overstuffed for its own good, and those fears were quickly realized. From the moment Jamie Fox’s character Max Dillon walks on-screen it is apparent we are getting a villain who is light on restraint. Dillon is this socially inept scientist with a small grasp on reality. When he is not being taken advantage of he is being ignored. Things change for Dillon after an accident at OSCORP Labs transforms him into the supercharged villain Electro. With his new-found power he sets off to make the world remember exactly who he has become.
Every fiber of Electro is filled with tired clichés and overblown stereotypes. Dillon acts like a cross between Milton from Office Space and a reject from Revenge of the Nerds. Electro feels like he came from the mind of mid 1990’s Joe Schumacher. Some of the lines he was forced to spew out would be too ludicrous for a Saturday morning cartoon show. His motivations for turning evil were underdeveloped and rather nonsensical. Perhaps worst of all he took away time from a storyline that actually had potential.
Harry Osborne returns to New York City as his ailing father is nearing his final days. Peter, who was childhood friends with Harry, attempts to reconnect with him to help him during this difficult time, like Harry did when Peter’s parents abandoned him. Dane DeHaan fits into the role of Harry Osborn with much more ease than James Franco did. He has the rich kid bravado, but there is a cloud of inner turmoil that always surrounds him. The time he shares on-screen with Garfield is brief but effective. Again showing how the film knows how to establish the human element.
Maintaining that human element is where it has issues. With so many subplots and side stories the narrative progression appeared to be on fast-forward. Character development was forced to be broad and drastic. If something was not sped through it was forgotten. The coherency of the story became completely reliant upon traditional Spider-Man lore. Harry Osborn becoming Green Goblin makes no sense in the context of this film, but we know the story already so why bother give reasoning behind his motivations to become a sadistic monster. Let’s just get to what we all know is a forgone conclusion. Opportunity was there to have a story with real weight and consequences. Minus one key development that opportunity was wasted.
Most of those issues do not come off as a surprise. What was surprising was how overall forgettable most of the action was. Initially the action started off strong was a highly enjoyable chase sequences that feels like you are experiencing web slinging firsthand. It has that combination of comedic wit and high energy that we want with Spider-Man. The rest of the action never reached that level. Certain aspects, like the use of Spider-Man’s spider sense or the use of speed ramping, added a little flair to otherwise mediocre sequences. Most of the battles between Spider-Man and Electro looked like CGI confetti thrown at the screen for no particular purpose.
Purpose was the one key component that Amazing Spider-Man 2 had on short supply. Our worst fears are realized as a once glorious franchise has become just another addition to the over bloated and over produced summer blockbuster club. People look at what Marvel Studios did with The Avengers and say, “We want that!” They want the fanfare, they want the hype, and of course they want the box office dollars. However, great comic book movies are not about building universes or connecting storylines. They are about supernatural beings dealing with real-life issues in humanistic ways—characters that have nuanced traits inside all those crazy getups. Amazing Spider-Man 2 has much of what makes a great comic book movie, it simply cannot get out of its own way to make it work.