As the title indicates, this review will be chock-full of SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen The Amazing Spider-Man 2 yet and don’t want to know what happens, don’t read any further. If you’ve seen the movie, or just don’t care about spoilers, read on. If you just want to know whether or not I recommend the movie, skip to the very last paragraph.
First, however, some general comments. I have to admit I was underwhelmed by The Amazing Spider-Man when I first saw it. I felt it was an unnecessary retelling of the origin. I’ve always been puzzled by why studios don’t treat superhero franchises like the Bond movies. Recast them, change directors, but don’t hit the reset button every single time. We all know who Spider-Man is and we could have just hit the ground running with The Lizard, who was already set up in the Raimi series.
Speaking of Raimi’s movies, the new Spider-Man franchise invites the inevitable comparisons. One way to justify a hard reboot, would be to do something completely different with Spider-Man’s origin. To be fair, the Amazing series does draw much more explicitly on the origin from the Ultimate Spider-Man comic, which is outside the main Marvel continuity. The first one established the mysterious death of Peter’s parents and his dad’s connection to Norman Osborn. This thread is carried forward in the sequel and provides sufficient motivation for Peter to become Spider-Man. Uncle Ben’s murder in the first outing felt too perfunctory; it’s there because we expect it. (There’s another one of these deaths in the sequel too.) I got the feeling that the filmmakers were playing it safe here, rather than taking a risk. I thought it would have been interesting if Uncle Ben had survived the first movie.
I should also add that I enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man much more on Blu-ray than I did in the theater. It looked dark and washed out when I saw it; maybe it was the fault of the projectionist. The Blu-ray looks great and the movie has its moments. I prefer Andrew Garfield to Toby Maguire. Again, the interweaving of Spider-Man’s origin with his father’s scientific work for Oscorp is interesting, if not fully developed until the sequel. I also prefer mechanical web-shooters to organic ones. And it was cool to see Spidey use his webs like trip-lines to detect movement, the way real spiders do. (After all, he’s supposed to do whatever a spider can, right?)
To return to the Raimi series, however, the high watermark for any of the Spider-Man movies is still Spider-Man 2. Although I’m sure we’ll see Doc Ock again (we see his mechanical arms in The Amazing Spider-Man 2) because this film franchise is building up to the Sinister Six, I doubt we’ll get as good a performance as Alfred Molina’s. I give The Amazing Spider-Man 2 some credit for not simply remaking Raimi’s sequel, but it didn’t achieve the same success for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it as a fan. If I were to take off my fanboy hat, however, and put on my critic hat, I admit that the movie has its faults. So this is really a two part review: first the fanboy review, then the critical review. By the way, we are now well and truly entering SPOILER territory. You’ve been warned.
The film starts off with Peter’s parents fleeing the country by private jet. Richard Parker is attempting to upload his research to something called ‘Roosevelt’ to prevent it from falling into Oscorp’s hands. However, there is an assassin on the plane who kills the pilot causing the plane to go into a nosedive. Before the assassin bails out, he kills Richard’s wife and attempts to kill him. The two men struggle, and Richard manages to eject his attacker from the plane. He then uploads his research before the plane crashes. This will be an important plot point later.
We then cut to Spider-Man swinging around New York in an effort to stop the hijacking of a truck containing radioactive isotopes. The main hijacker is a Russian gangster played by Paul Giamatti, who will later become the Rhino. By the way, the majority of Rhino’s scenes are in the trailer. He doesn’t play a major role here; I take it they’re just laying the groundwork for the next movie. Anyways, Peter keeps seeing the ‘ghost’ of Captain Stacey, played by Dennis Leary (maybe he’s stealing material from the ghost of Bill Hicks 😉 ), and he’s reminded of his promise — which he hasn’t kept — to stay away from Gwen. After summarily defeating the bad guys, Spidey rushes off to his high school graduation where valedictorian Gwen is giving a speech. Unfortunately, this speech — about how brief and precious life is — telegraphs what will happen to Gwen by the end of the movie. Anybody familiar with the original Spider-Man comics knows that her story does not end happily, but it should be obvious to any moviegoer familiar with the usual cliches, that she’s foreshadowing her death in this speech. This somewhat diminishes the drama of Peter breaking up with her because we know they’ll get together again, which will lead to her demise.
The main villain of the film is Electro, played by Jaimie Foxx. A friendless electrical engineer who works for Oscorp, Max Dillon is rescued by Spider-Man during the truck hijacking and becomes obsessed with Spidey and wishes he could enjoy the same adulation. Although they only met once, Max considers Spider-Man his best friend. Later, after he falls into a vat of electric eels, gaining the ability to absorb electrical energy, Max is drawn to the lights of Times Square. Spider-Man inevitably shows up, and Max is upset when Spider-Man doesn’t remember him. They fight. Max is further angered when Spider-Man steals his newly-found limelight. Eventually, Spidey prevails and sends Max to prison. As far as villainous motivations go, this one is pretty weak. Unfortunately, this weakness is shared by most of Spider-Man’s rogues gallery. They’re either mad scientists — with some connection to Peter Parker’s life — or they’re schmucks who stumble into some superpower or advanced technology and decide to rob banks and fight Spider-Man, so maybe I should give Electro a pass.
In the meantime, Norman Osborn has apparently died and Harry Osborn has inherited Oscorp. Naturally, Peter and Harry are old friends. Harry discovers that he has also inherited Norman’s genetic disease. He also discovers that his father and Peter’s father, Richard Parker, were working on a spider-human DNA hybrid that could cure Norman’s ailment. The testing never officially made it to human trials, but Harry figures out that Spider-Man must be the result of some such experiment. Since Peter takes pictures of Spider-Man, Harry enlists his aid to find the wall-crawler, so Harry can extract some of Spidey’s blood which Harry believes will heal him. Spider-Man visits Harry and tells him he won’t donate his blood because the effects could be dangerous and unpredictable. Of course, this causes Harry to hate Spider-Man. Harry proceeds to break Electro out of prison and the two vow vengeance on the web-slinger. Again, as far as motivations go, these are thin.
Peter discovers that ‘Roosevelt’ is a reference to an abandoned subway tunnel used to transport President Roosevelt during WWII. Peter’s father, Richard, has stashed all of his research in a subway car to keep it out of Norman’s hands. Norman was going to use the research to create biological weapons and sell them to the highest bidder, but Richard coded the spider venom to his DNA so only a blood relative could use it. This supposedly explains why it bestowed spider powers on Peter. However, this makes Spider-Man’s origin spectacularly improbable. By pure chance, the spider bit the one guy in the world who could possibly become Spider-Man! What are the odds? With great power comes great improbability.
The rest of the movie is pretty perfunctory. Harry gets his hands on the spider venom, which turns him into the Green Goblin. The suit and glider conveniently rise out of the floor ready for him to take flight. Spider-Man, with Gwen’s help, manage to defeat Electro by overloading his circuits or some such nonsense, before he drains all of New York’s power. The Green Goblin shows up, immediately figures out Peter’s identity through his relationship with Gwen, and Spider-Man and Goblin fight. As Gwen falls down a clock tower, Spidey shoots his web to save her, but the recoil snaps her neck and she dies. This is all comic book canon, but it felt really rushed here. There was a lot of compression in the movie. It felt like the Green Goblin showed up for the express purpose of killing Gwen because that’s what we expect him to do. This could have been deferred to the next movie and it would have had more impact. The film then rushes through a year of Peter moping and not being Spider-Man. Then, after a few minutes, he triumphantly returns to defeat Rhino. Again, this should have been saved for the next installment. It would’ve had much more impact. After all, these stories play out in the comics over years, not two hours, and there’s too much content here for one film.
The movie ends with a set-up for the Sinister Six. I can’t help but cynically conclude that the studio is rushing to this point. They also seem to be in a big hurry to reestablish the status quo. Now that Gwen Stacey is out of the way, I expect it won’t be too long before we see Mary Jane. I heard rumors that she was introduced in an earlier cut of this movie, but dropped due to running time.
And that’s another thing. This movie is a bit too long. It could’ve used a more streamlined story and a stronger edit. There were a few long stretches without any Spider-Man action where I wasn’t engaged. Again, the scenes between Peter and Gwen — the will they, won’t they stuff — didn’t play well after her demise was so clearly telegraphed a few minutes into the movie. I know that the teenage romance elements are a staple of the Spider-Man story — the genius of the original comic is that it’s a soap opera — but it’s wasted here. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are a charismatic couple, but the cliched writing didn’t allow these scenes to have the impact they should have.
So would I recommend The Amazing Spider-Man 2? Yes, I would give it a mild recommendation. It’s visually interesting and probably the most faithful Spider-Man ever put on screen. Everything from the costume to Garfield’s performance is right out of the comic book pages. If you’re a hardcore fan, it’s a double edged sword. You’ll probably appreciate more of what’s going on, but you’ll also probably notice a lot more flaws. If you’re a casual moviegoer who isn’t burned out by the superhero genre yet, and just want some escapist fun, then check it out. If you go into it with moderate expectations, you probably won’t be disappointed.