Review by Jim Reed
Going into a superhero movie I always know that I need to readjust my expectations. Superhero movies are not intended to win Oscars, they’re intended to blow you away with spectacle and impressive feats of physical and moral strength. They’re intended to win Best Kiss at the MTV Movie Awards. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 will not win Best Kiss, but it does have enough visceral enjoyment to keep the young ones entertained.
This chapter in the Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) saga starts with a rousing vehicle chase down the streets of Manhattan. Peter seems to be enjoying himself quite a lot. He’s great at being Spider-Man, and he’s got the girl (Emma Stone reprising her role as Gwen Stacy). But Peter is haunted by the promise he made to Gwen’s father at the end of the first film. He wants to protect her, but he also wants to be with her, and the entire film he struggles with whether he can have both. That’s the emotional thrust of the film… that and the side story of him trying to figure out what happened to his parents.
The more I’ve thought about this side narrative about his parents the more I feel like it either needed to be the main driving force of Peter’s emotional ride, or entirely saved for another chapter in the saga. There is too much going on in this movie, and I’m not sure this narrative thread served any purpose at all. I thought it was interesting, but the key information enclosed in this thread could have been disclosed in another. If they had done this, instead of trying to cram everything into a robust run time of 2:20, they could have shaved it down to 2 hours AND used up the extra space to develop underdeveloped characters and relationships.
For instance, apparently Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan) and Peter were best friends growing up, but there was so much happening that the filmmakers didn’t have time to flesh out their intriguing dynamic. Also, Peter and Aunt May (Sally Field) are hiding vocations from each other—Peter as Spider-Man, and May as a nurse. This seemed to be a device designed more to give May a purpose in the story rather than contribute anything significant. Otherwise her character would have been relegated to merely obligatory. It adds intrigue, but is never resolved.
Sticking with the theme of ‘too much going on’, this film suffers the classic superhero movie sequel mistake of having too many villains. I think they do a fine job of setting up villains for the next film or films, but looking at this movie as an enclosed whole, there were too many villains for the narrative to overcome.
The thing about any sequel is that it has to raise the stakes from the first film. The challenges have to be more intense, and the emotional turmoil more real. You don’t want to see the superhero solving the same boring issues; that makes for a boring movie. The fatal flaw of these movies is that in raising the stakes they skimp out on important character development. This is what made The Dark Knight so great; not only was it focused, but also the characters actually grew, and over time became something more/different than they were in the beginning. This movie never falls into true ridiculousness, but it does leave behind the characters in favor of spectacle.
If you’re looking for a good summer superhero movie, and don’t mind shelling out the money to go to the theatre, then this one is pretty good. It’s kid friendly(ish—I mean it is PG-13), and has enough to keep everyone at least mostly interested. It will keep you interested enough to forget that some of it doesn’t make any sense. My biggest pet peeve of this or any movie (I shouldn’t say “any movie,” but this definitely drove me nuts) is that the filmmakers were too lazy to change the format on Gwen’s valedictorian speech when Peter watches it later in the film. They just use the same footage we are shown at the beginning, as though someone in the audience filmed her in perfect close-up, with perfect lighting, using a 35MM camera and telephoto lens. C’mon, Marc Webb, you’re better than that! Other than this there are effective emotional moments, executed quite well (to make up for the ones that are not executed well). Anyway, if you’re looking for what I’ve described above then I recommend this film, otherwise it might be good to Redbox.
Directed by Marc Webb
Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, and Jamie Foxx, with Sally Field, Dale DeHaan and Paul Giamatti.