Similar to “Spider-Man 3” (2007), so much is going on in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (2014) that – even if all that stuff is pretty good on its own – a viewer can’t appreciate any of it as much as he should. In this sequel that probably was not intended to be the final statement in the “Amazing” series but ended up that way when Spidey got rebooted over to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for “Captain America: Civil War” (2016), director Marc Webb and a team of four writers cram in a ton of ideas.
“Amazing 2” chronicles the up-and-down love story between Peter (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen (Emma Stone), Electro’s (Jamie Foxx) plan to smash the NYC power grid, and Harry Osborn’s (Dane DeHaan) attempt to save his own life through mad science. I wasn’t bored, but I was left reeling.
Mostly this is because of the extremely unsatisfying choice to kill off Gwen in the final battle. To its credit, “Amazing 2” digs into a theme introduced way back in “Spider-Man” (2002): that Spidey must eschew romantic attachments because the girl – Mary Jane there, Gwen here — will be in danger from his enemies. Despite attempts by both of them to break up, Peter and Gwen are too in love to make it stick, and although their chemistry isn’t as good as Tobey Maguire’s and Kirsten Dunst’s, Garfield and Stone have many solid scenes – often helped by gorgeous backdrops of Chinatown or Times Square, with soft-pop needle drops playing behind them.
It’s so bizarre that this film sides with the view of Captain Stacy (Denis Leary) and other people who say superheroes must be loners. Granted, I understand that there’s an element of chance here. Mary Jane could’ve been killed in several battles in the Sam Raimi trilogy, and luckily is not; Gwen isn’t so lucky here. It’s not that I don’t believe in bad luck, it’s just that it’s unsatisfying to watch it play out in a movie. In my opinion, a more satisfying thread would’ve found Gwen proving herself in the battle and surviving, demonstrating that not only is it beyond Peter’s purview to shield her from everything, but also that he’s better off if he doesn’t, because she’s an asset.
Although it almost got erased from my mind by the time of the end credits, “Amazing 2” starts off with a lot of focus on Foxx’s Max, a put-upon Oscorp electrician who has a cool transformation scene where he falls into a vat of electric eels. His villain arc also has something to say about how easily America’s power grids can be shut down, if a critic is being generous. Foxx is great before the transformation, creating a sympathetic lonely guy a notch less pathetic than Milton from “Office Space.” But then Foxx and his performance are lost behind Electro makeup that causes him to resemble Tobias Whale from “Black Lightning” (which actually would be a good alternate name for Electro if it wasn’t already taken).
Then a whole ’nother movie starts: Childhood chums Harry and Peter reconnect in the wake of the death of Harry’s father. Continuing this series’ aim to be closer to real science than the Raimi trilogy, Norman (Chris Cooper) almost looks like a green goblin on his deathbed thanks to a genetic disorder, and his son has the same affliction. Peter/Spidey declines to give Harry a potentially life-saving blood sample, citing the risks.
DeHaan, looking like a smarmier Leonardo DiCaprio, makes for a suitably oily villain, but I actually see Harry’s point when he says he’s dying anyway, so what does he have to lose. I wish Spidey said “Look, I’ll give you the blood sample, but let’s be careful about this. Let’s keep you in a totally controlled environment in case it doesn’t work.” Instead, Harry skips several steps of science and finds his own solution, and predictably turns into the Green Goblin.
If a viewer is generous, there’s a thread of trust and secrets running through all the relationships, including between Peter and his late father, Richard (Campbell Scott), who – as was hinted in “Amazing 1” – developed the super-spiders in the first place.
If you like spectacle, “Amazing 2” makes a case for being the best of the franchise, with the power-grid-smashing light show of the final act. Personally, I found the battle too computer-generated, looking like something out of the fully animated “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” in the moments when no non-costumed humans are in the frame. That’s a negative for me, but I know many people love the look of “Spider-Verse.”
But for all the sound and fury, Peter-and-Gwen had become the heart of the saga for me. It doesn’t redefine cinematic love stories by any means, but the writers and actors have a deft touch with the material. A high point is when they are in a maintenance closet hiding from Oscorp security and Peter points out the clichéd nature of their situation. This also could’ve been a turning point where Gwen more clearly becomes a fighter at his side, and perhaps where Peter accepts that notion. Instead, he fights against it – often seeing visions of Gwen’s father admonishing him for not keeping her safe. At any rate, there’s not much he could more he could do to protect her, since Gwen is her own person and since city-wide battles among falling buildings and power lines are naturally chaotic.
I know the “Amazings” are an attempt to ground the franchise in reality, but I guess this one got little too real for me.