‘Amazing Spider-Man’ sequel gets major lift from leads Garfield, Stone
This is not the same Peter Parker we met in 2012.
This Peter exudes a swaggering confidence, one created by an adoring populace praising him for his web-slinging heroics across New York City. And how can you blame him? That amount of attention — positive or negative — will go to anyone’s head, especially if you’re deemed a city’s shining beacon in a world of crime and deceit, all the while leaping across the city and performing miraculous feats of physicality.
But, in this high-flying sequel directed by Marc Webb and written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner, there’s yet another Peter. This one throws out Hamlet, is haunted by the ghosts of two fathers and is coming to a head in an existential crisis over whether he can continue to be with the woman he loves. This Peter is all about conflict, and seeking to find resolution (or at least solace) for the drama that wounds him.
The problem in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” though, is that this dissonance between the exploration of of human emotion and the flashiness of superherodom dilutes what otherwise were fantastic performances by the movie’s leads, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Their compatibility — whether when they were fighting over real-life issues such as moving away after graduation or working together to take down a super-villain — was perfectly on cue. (I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that these two are dating in real life.) But a plethora of emotional arcs, major villains and downright angst (a vestigial from “The Amazing Spider-Man,” no doubt) overwhelms these two and any connection they’re trying to establish.
“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” takes place shortly after the events in its 2012 predecessor. Peter Parker (a returning and still lanky Garfield) finds himself facing the same dilemmas every iteration of Spider-Man has faced: How do you balance your personal life (especially your love life) when you feel you’ve been charged with a greater duty (such as saving NYC from the constant flood of baddies roaming the streets trying to steal plutonium for some reason)?
As if that weren’t enough, Peter is haunted with father issues — and not just his own. It’s traumatizing enough to not know what happened to his own parents (though the movie does flesh that in both flashbacks and current-day reveals) or to feel completely responsible for the death of your father figure (the murder of his Uncle Ben). But to feel that you’re betraying the father of the girl you love, a man you swore to — as he was dying — that you’d leave his daughter out of all this chaos and then promptly fail to do so? That’s a whole other level of personal conflict. It doesn’t help that he sees his girlfriend’s dead father (a grim-faced Denis Leary) everywhere he turns, leaving us wondering just how emotionally distraught Peter is.
So what else do you expect to happen with all of this baggage riding our costumed superhero? He lashes out at his blonde-haired girl, Gwen Stacy (an excellent Emma Stone), which causes riffs between the two.
But all that falls to the back burner as Spider-Man has to contend with two super-villains (and a third at the very end, but that one doesn’t really count). Now you can see how why I said we just have way too much going on. The personal conflicts prove engaging enough on their own, and the battles will sate most comic book and/or action fans, but to mash them together into a two-hour-plus extravaganza is unnecessary and, ultimately, the movie’s undoing.
Our villains have familiar names: Electro and Green Goblin. But the movie, which goes out of its way to sympathize with our wounded baddies, introduces them to us in a more humanistic nature: as the socially awkward, incredibly brilliant engineer Max Dillion (Jamie Foxx), whose nearly non-existent self-esteem will shock even the most cynical; and a tortured Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan), bought back to the city to take over Oscorp after his father dies, only to realize he’s suffering from the same ailment that felled his father.
The former only becomes Electro after a freak accident turns him into a walking power plant (with a desire for more power and a powerful vengeance). For the way the man was treated, it’s hard to blame him when he snaps and attacks the city. His actions aren’t excusable, but they are incredibly human.
As are Osborn’s, who seeks Spider-Man’s help in preventing his nearing death. With his father’s personal files in hand, he deduces that the web-slinger’s blood contains the life-saving elixir he needs, only for a mumbling Spider-Man to refuse. (How Osborn doesn’t recognize Peter’s voice, despite being best friends and having talk to him right beforehand is a question for another day.)
But he does eventually figure it out, and the battle between him as the Green Goblin and Peter as Spider-Man leads to a stunning, life-changing event well-known in comic book canon.
But even in that battle, you can’t help but be impressed with the visual beauty of it all. The movie makes fantastic use of digital effects, and every twist and fling from our battling super-beings is shown in gorgeous detail.
In the end, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is salvaged by its personable leads, the constant wit from Stone’s Gwen and solid performances by Foxx and DeHaan. But despite being immensely relatable, Garfield and Stone and their superhero antics — no matter how great they look — aren’t enough elevate this sequel to “amazing.”
Three web-slinging stars out of five.