The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Review: Dissected

Amazing Spider-Man 2

WARNING: The following review contains what we here at CraveOnline consider MINOR SPOILERS, but opinions about what constitutes a “minor spoiler” may vary.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is the Batman Forever of the Spider-Man movies. On the surface it looks like a welcome return to the fun and games of the franchise, but in reality there’s a good chance we’re going to look back and say that this was where all the problems started.

Many of us already felt that Marc Webb’s first film in the franchise, 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, was a step in the wrong direction, reframing a hero defined by overwhelming guilt as a vigilante motivated instead by revenge (and full of plot holes besides). But at least it was the story of one young man on his way to maturity, even though that maturity took the final form of breaking an oath to his girlfriend’s dying father. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 can’t even commit to that much of a character arc. Peter Parker winds up more or less the same at the end of the movie as he does at the beginning, swiftly brushing off the emotional turmoil of the storyline and suddenly living in a world much riper for exploitation in future sequels and spin-offs.

Amazing Spider-Man 2 Andrew Garfield Dane DeHaan

Exclusive Video: Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield explain why Uncle Ben isn't important in Amazing Spider-Man 2.

In The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) finally breaks up with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) months after the events of the last movie, but spends the whole film reenacting some weird superheroic version of Say Anything as she debates whether to move to Europe and he debates whether to let her go or stand up for what he wants. Meanwhile, Peter’s boyhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) is back in town with an unexpected request for Spider-Man, and Spidey fanboy Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) winds up falling head first in a vat of mutated electric eels and menacing New York City as the supervillain Electro.

That would be enough for any superhero movie – more than enough if we’re being honest – but The Amazing Spider-Man 2 also throws in corporate intrigue, mad scientists from multiple institutions, a subplot about Aunt May’s new job, a too-brief appearance by Chris Cooper as Norman Osborn, a small role for Harry’s personal assistant played by a suspiciously high profile actress, the ongoing and now officially ridiculous mystery surrounding the death of Peter’s parents and plenty more plot points besides that all rush by so quickly that none of them have any emotional impact, but not, unfortunately, so quickly that we miss the fact that half of them are pointless and the other half don’t make much sense.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Andrew Garfield Dane DeHaan

Exclusive Video: Jamie Foxx and Dane DeHaan discuss playing emotionally needy supervillains in Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Worse, these endless distractions also keep the film’s biggest moments – some of them well known to fans of the Spider-Man comic books – from achieving their desired goal of making us care. Peter’s relationship with Harry is summarized in one brief scene before the plot kicks in and tears them apart, ruining a potentially powerful storyline about friendship and betrayal by making their childhood connection feel like just another stray plot point. And the film’s big climax suffers the reverse fate, failing to capitalize on a successful dramatic build up by forcing Spider-Man to completely get over a personal tragedy in time for the closing credits.

And what do we get in exchange for sacrificing a decent storyline? The promise of more films just like The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which hardly seems like much cause for celebration. The second film in this franchise plays like a big, ambitious commercial for all the toys, sequels and spin-offs that will emerge from the wake of its shaky subplots: an endless parade of villains that, if this movie is any indication, will be treated like perfunctory plot points with motivations that sound great on paper but aren’t going to be treated like they actually mean something.

Amazing Spider-Man 2 Electro Fight

Exclusive Video: Emma Stone talks about having Green Goblin's love children in the deleted scenes from Amazing Spider-Man 2.

But The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is, if nothing else, more fun to watch than its immediate predecessor. Director Marc Webb has lightened up a bit, embracing his dryly humorous superhero’s antics and filming them with an energy that was sorely missing from the first Amazing Spider-Man. The action is superior this time around, even though the action sequences themselves feel directly inspired by the various Spider-Man video games, complete with chasing the villain across New York City to a square location filled with repetitive attacks and finishing moves that play like QuickTime Events. Look no further than Spider-Man’s first fight with Electro in Times Square, which plays almost exactly like the boss battle in Activision’s Ultimate Spider-Man video game from 2005, complete with shoving the villain into electronic billboards that he uses to recharge himself.

And yet dear god, the cast is trying. Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man reminds one of Matt Smith playing The Doctor, a spectacular performance trapped in mostly disappointing situations. His chemistry with Emma Stone is impeccable and almost saves their repetitive romantic subplot from complete tediousness. Paul Giamatti is having way too much fun as The Rhino and Jamie Foxx does his best to add proper tragedy to Electro, even though the film demonstrates a lack of faith in his performance by forcing the orchestral score to literally scream his interior monologue just in case the audience doesn’t get it. And poor Dane DeHaan, one of the most talented young actors of his generation, seems to suffer the most as a villain with nearly Shakespearean motivations who’s forced to race from one “important” plot point to the next with barely any room to cultivate a genuine character.

Amazing Spider-Man 2 Kid

Second Opinion: Fred Topel thinks they should rename this franchise "The Insufferable Spider-Man."

But to give credit where credit is due, the scattershot nature of the storyline allows Marc Webb to sometimes digress and show us – if only on occasion – Spider-Man at his very best, joking with New York’s finest and saving kids from bullies and walking them home afterwards. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 takes the “friendly neighborhood” part of the hero and runs with it, presenting a genuinely lovable hero who’s more interesting in these brief vignettes than in the sprawling feature-length story that has supposedly been crafted to showcase him.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a Jackson Pollock painting with ambitions towards being a proper film. Yes, it’s a little fascinating, and yes, it’s worth examining closely, but no, you can’t quite shake the feeling that director Marc Webb is throwing everything he has at a wall and expecting us to marvel at what sticks. The film is a slapdash collection of disjointed and underdeveloped storylines, some of them distractingly familiar, but what works in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is often entertaining, infrequently endearing and always – always – a total mess. It may be better than the first Amazing Spider-Man, but it’s better in spite of its apparent mission statement: to transform the story of a fascinating character into an advertisement for future products.

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William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline's Film Channel and the host of The B-Movies Podcast and The Blue Movies Podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.