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Overall Rating

Awesome: 2.22%
Worth A Look: 4.44%
Average: 22.22%
Pretty Bad: 33.33%
Total Crap37.78%

5 reviews, 15 user ratings

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Amazing Spider-Man 2, The
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by Brett Gallman

"Webb runs dry."
2 stars

In 2012, "The Amazing Spider-Man" induced deja vu by retracing the steps of Sam Raimi's decade-old film, an approach I could grudgingly accept as a down payment on further, fresher adventures with its excellent cast. Unfortunately, the first follow-up inspires a different sort of deja vu, one that recalls some of the issues that weighed down the final installment of the previous trilogy, particularly the overwrought plotting and the feeling that it's been engineered via studio mandate. Try as he might, Marc Webb can't outrun it like Raimi did with "Spider-Man 3," as his "Amazing Spider-Man 2" is a flavorless bit of clockwork filmmaking more concerned with serving as a cog in the franchise machine.

It's a damn shame, too, because it features one of the best sequences in any Spider-Man film to date: after a turgid prologue meant to remind audiences that this new series is meant to illuminate the mystery surrounding Peter Parker's parents, the film segues to the closest thing yet to a James Bond-style opener for the franchise. Even though he's set to graduate from Midtown High in a matter of minutes, Pete finds himself tangling with Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti), a Russian mobster driving a runaway truck loaded with plutonium.

Spider-Man himself has never been more faithfully translated to the screen: not only does Andrew Garfield get to cut loose and wise-crack at motor-mouthed speeds, but Webb and company have also captured the reckless, bounding energy of the character. Everything about the sequence is perfect: the vertiginous shots that capture Spidey swinging through New York's chasms of skyscrapers, the awe he inspires in the masses below, the frenetic, panel-to-panel vigor of comic books. Within a span of about five minutes, Webb makes a thoroughly convincing case that he's a worthy successor to Raimi's throne.

He never really comes close, though, as the film's screenplay (written by an army that includes Alex Kurtzman and Bob Orci) consistently sidetracks and trips him up. The kernels of three great Spider-Man stories are here, yet none are even passably decent. In addition to balancing his on-again-off-again relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), Peter has to contend with Electro (Jamie Foxx), a former Spidey-devotee turned Oscorp monstrosity after a lab accident. Meanwhile, childhood pal Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) inherits the empire after his father's (Chris Cooper) death, only to learn that he's also inherited the family's genetic curse.

There's a fourth thread that I'm not counting among the potential great stories, and it's the vaunted "untold story" of Peter's parents. Even though several iterations of the comics have trucked with making Richard and Mary Parker special snowflakes in the Marvel Universe (they were originally revealed to be spies in the lore), it's something that's always seemed anathema to the everyman quality of Peter Parker. If there's any secret to doing this story any justice, "Amazing Spider-Man 2" certainly doesn't unlock it by treading down the boring old destiny path by revealing Richard Parker's role in creating the specifically engineered radioactive spiders responsible for turning his son into Spider-Man, a notion that robs the character of some of its appeal. Oddly, that's pretty much the extent of the reveals--for a subplot that was supposedly meant to drive this new trilogy (which has since bloated into a tetralogy and a spin-off), it's an afterthought here, resolved in non-plus fashion about halfway through the film.

Watching the rest of the stories unfold replicates the feeling of thumbing through the jumbled pages of multiple trade paperbacks all at once. It's as if the quartet of writers rarely conferred with each other and the thing was Frankensteined together with little regard for rhythm or thematic unity. Hints of sustained motifs emerge, such as Peter's constantly letting down everyone: Gwen, Harry, Aunt May, and even Max Dillon, Electro's alter-ego who becomes an obsessive Spidey fan after the Webhead saves his skin during that opening sequence. Likewise, Pete and Harry's symmetrical fates have both haunted by the sins of their fathers, but the screenplay rarely bothers to explore this because it's hurriedly shuttling along from one set-piece to the next, as if this film were just franchise busywork, existing only to continue laying the eggs as Sony's golden goose.

By default, the Peter-Gwen relationship is the most effective subplot and comes closes to giving the film a heart (when what it really needs is a backbone). Even though Garfield's all-too-cocky, smarmy take on Peter Parker is a little off-putting, he has tremendous chemistry with Stone. It's a testament to both that their characters' relationship can overcome some of the crap that's been written for them--this is often the stuff of twee, overly-precious indie dramas, rife with equal amounts of angst (Peter is haunted by the ghost of Captain Stacy) and adorability. In a better world, Webb would have been left to his devices to play to this strengths with these two--there's a perfectly fine, relatively small story in Peter and Gwen's struggle to maintain a relationship given the circumstances, even if it would be retreading Raimi's territory again (to this film's credit, it at least refrains from another dopey love triangle).

But in this world, the studio has burdened Webb with grafting profundity and mythological scope into each entry, so his franchise is immediately suffering from bloat. With so many plotlines fighting for space, none can breathe or have much impact, including a watershed moment in Spider-Man history that's brought to the screen for the first time. It comes pretty close by virtue of having spent two movies' worth of time with the principals involved (I am really skirting around some 40-year-old spoilers here, guys), but something about its inevitability is palatable (maybe because Gwen's graduation speech lays on the foreshadowing thick as hell--seriously, there's no doubt as to her fate five minutes into the film).

Comparatively, the subplots involving Electro and Harry are woefully undercooked from the start, with the latter especially suffering from the stink of walking through the motions. Harry and Peter are old friends because we're told so, and we're offered a cursory scene as proof that the two can pick right up without issue, a notion that's already subverted by the fact that DeHaan seems like a shithead from the start. The film's attempt to treat Harry as a sympathetic victim of fate is undercut by the decision to have him creep into the film as an arrogant prick and leave little doubt that he'll become Spider-Man's arch-nemesis (and the fact that the full turn happens in this movie speaks to just how desperate Sony is to raise the stakes and rush to an even bigger story for the sequel).

Doubly weird is that the screenplay goes out of its way to paint Oscorp's conspiratorial board members as sinister, conniving villains (thus confirming which pages Orci got his hands on), only to have them serve as roadblocks to Harry's eventual plan to spring Electro (the two arbitrarily team-up because Harry needs Electro to draw Spider-Man's special blood in the hopes of procuring cure, only Harry also stumbles upon some discarded vials of radioactive venom anyway, so--wait, what in the hell is going on here again?).

With Kurtzman and Orci at the helm, there's plenty of other logic-defying head-scratchers (high school salutatorian Peter Parker has trouble grasping 8th grade science concepts and relies on Youtube tutorials), and maybe the sheer volume of the film's plot wouldn't be as much of a problem if there were any connective tissue. It's fitting--and perhaps a touch ironic--when Peter crafts a giant, crisscrossing board to pin down the mystery behind his parents' death. Lines sprawl and dangle much like the film itself, which isn't so much a tangled web as it's simply a mess of loosely-tied threads--for a film with a lot of plot, it's remarkably light on actual storytelling. It's just a convenient array of scenes and montages (two of which actually manage to be more cringe-worthy than the previous film's Coldplay-scored skateboarding bit--if nothing else, here's hoping the "Amazing" series will finally force people to realize how goddamn awesome dancing Pete is in "Spider-Man 3").

Webb's a hell of a visual stylist to be sure, and this is a film that looks every bit a Comic Book Movie with its four-color boldness and its expressive cues (Webb's use of slow-motion is a nice riff on bullet-time and allows for some nice cinematic splash pages). His action is often fluid and graceful, his set-pieces immense and energetic. However, the fact that I found myself more exhausted than awed underscores the importance that we give a damn about most of the characters or drama involved in such scenes.

Besides Garfield, Stone, and Sally Field (returning as Aunt May and given a throwaway subplot involving a nursing school that goes nowhere), there's nothing but poorly sketched cartoons: while DeHaan roars out of the gate with an over-the-top performance, Foxx at least is given a faint chance to drum up some sympathy as the stereotypically pathetic, twitchy nerd before giving way to a terribly dull, one-note performance as Electro, who is all one-liners and CGI-enhancement. His first encounter with Spider-Man after his transformation reveals a potentially nuanced dynamic that's swiftly eschewed in favor of a scenery-chewing turn; given how one-dimensional it is, you're left wondering why Webb bothered with such a talent like Foxx only to completely waste him.

Wasteful thoroughly sums up the "Amazing" series thus far. Not that the Raimi films needed much (if any) course correction, but, when given the chance to right some of their few wrongs, you wouldn't expect these filmmakers to rush head-long right back into them. That's exactly what they've done here, and, outside of absolutely nailing Spider-Man himself, these two films haven't done much to dispel the notion that Raimi was right to take a hike because I'm not so sure Sony is committed to making Spider-Man films--only a big, empty Spider-Man franchise that squanders great casting.

Notably, there is no post-credits stinger here, the franchise rigueur du jour to keep audiences mindful that more is to come, but that's only because the final five minutes of the film effectively serve as a teaser for the inevitable third film. By the time "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" ends, you get the feeling that it's always had one eye turned towards the future and hasn't learned anything from mistakes past.

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originally posted: 05/02/14 13:09:27
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User Comments

3/29/16 Aj wales No1 was missing something no2 has way too much. Electro no reason to be evil. Awful. 2 stars
10/11/15 Dr.Lao The uneeded subplont about Parker's parents dragged down an otherwise pretty good movie 3 stars
5/05/15 Jack Simply the worst of all the spider-man films. 1 stars
9/02/14 Jeff Not bad at all 4 stars
8/07/14 Albert Valentin Not a bad sequel, but wished they saved the Goblin for Part 3 3 stars
7/02/14 State-of-the-art superhero flick formula Heroes not particularly likable; Victims of circumstance inevitably become archvillains. 1 stars
7/01/14 I guess ES declined a role in next sequel How long can superhero genre prolong contorting itself to death? 1 stars
6/18/14 Heather Vole Must be computer-programmed to be as consistently painful as possible 1 stars
5/16/14 SID RUMKOWSKI Along came a spider man and sat down on a Hollywood hostess twinkie 2 stars
5/10/14 Toni Peluso The cardinal sin... boring. Plus Spidey is a douche. Pretty CGI though. 2 stars
5/08/14 Richard Brandt I don't know how snagged Young Leo DiCaprio, but what a lot of anguished youth on display 3 stars
5/04/14 Wzomwmxb In today's workshop it was all mom & pop shops. Once a Tsunami reaches shallow water., <a h 4 stars
5/04/14 mr.mike Passable Spidey flick. 3 stars
5/02/14 Mr Ed Complete bore; painful dialogue; walked out 1 stars
5/02/14 Donavon Bray I've been a lifelong Spider-Man fan. This is the best film version to date. 5 stars
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  02-May-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 19-Aug-2014


  DVD: 19-Aug-2014

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