I must admit that I had low expectations for The Amazing Spider-Man 2. I tire quickly of the comic book movie tropes and formulaic approach. So imagine my surprise as I watched the film soar past my expectations, come near greatness, and then fall back into a middling mess at the end. There is too much stuff going on in Spider-Man 2 for it to really achieve greatness. It wants to have Marvel studios style levels of universe continuity, which is a shame because if they had cut out the nonsense and streamlined the plot this could have been a masterpiece.
Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone reprise their roles as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy respectively. Their relationship forms the crux of the film and it’s at its best when the plot stays focused on Peter trying to balance his responsibilities as Spider-Man, his love of Gwen, and his fear and guilt of endangering his loved ones. The film also introduces Jamie Foxx as a nobody turned Electro, and Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborn. There are plot threads all over the place and that is what ultimately holds the movie back. Peter is dealing with his relationship and feelings for Gwen, while he’s also trying to uncover the mystery of the disappearance of his parents, intercut with him doing his typical superhero stuff. Jamie Foxx’s Max Dillon is a hapless electrical engineer who suffers a terrible accident and must acquaint himself with a very different mindset. All of this happens while Harry Osborn returns from boarding school as his father passes away and he is handed the reins of Oscorp while he is simultaneously trying to find a cure for the disease that has been passed down his family line. That’s an awful lot of plot for one film and even the two and a half hour running time isn’t enough to let each of those stories breathe on their own.
The most fleshed out storyline, and not coincidentally the most effective, is Peter Parker trying to deal with the implications of his superhero life on his personal life. Hidden in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a wonderful romantic love story about a guy who just happens to have superpowers. It is heartfelt and realistic and you can feel director Marc Webb’s sensibilities most often in these scenes. I was completely engaged in this storyline and the film suffers when it strays from it. I feel that this is partly because the villains seem tacked on. We have no investment in those characters and there isn’t enough time to give their backstories any weight. Too often when the film switches away from Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy the emphasis is on world building for sequels and spin-offs. It feels cheap and fake and detracts from the good thing they had going.
What infuriates me about this film is how utterly useless and contrived the additional plot elements are. It infuriates me because I really enjoyed vast portions of this film. With a little tinkering this whole film could have been streamlined into something wonderful. The 10 minutes fight sequence on a plane should have been cut completely due to it being totally unnecessary and the way it’s shot makes it incomprehensible to watch. The last ten minutes are virtually a trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man 3 and have no bearing on the plot whatsoever, and I think it’s those last ten minutes that really really drove me crazy. There is a logical endpoint to this film that carries emotional resonance and brings the story to a satisfying conclusion. Instead of ending the film there we are given ten minutes of marketing material. Ending the film in that way tainted my whole experience and is still irksome to me long after seeing it.
There are a few technical issues I had with the film as well, but they seem like minor inconveniences when presented next to the story problems. There is some truly awful editing in this film and at times is actually appalling. The CGI does a pretty respectable job of envisioning the web slinging scenes through New York, but the battle sequences get a bit muddled. There are many scenes, especially in the Spider-Man/Electro battle, that look like they were stolen straight from a video game. There are no realistic elements and the fakeness is glaringly obvious. I found much of the sound design to be muddled as well, but that could easily be chalked up to personal taste. The technique of the film is not the problem and this is certainly the best looking Spider-Man movie we’ve had yet.
I thought I would hate this film, I wanted to love it, and I ended up just liking it. With some editing this could be one of my favorite superhero movies of all time. Instead I thought it was decent enough that I would recommend people see it in the theater, but not the great movie that it so easily could have been. There was far too much wasted potential and clear studio interference to elevate it as one of the greats. Sad, because it was so close. I think the best option for audiences is to walk out of the theater about five minutes or so before it ends and you will have seen a much better film. Grade: B