Review: ‘Amazing Spider-Man 2’ Goes Through All the Motions Again

By May 1, 2014

The new Spider-Man 2 is here! They added the word Amazing to it, but that’s really just a marketing tool, like New & Improved. And yes, the old Spider-Man 2 is only 9.8 years old and still functions perfectly well. Nonetheless, you’ll need to trade it in for the upgrade, as Sony is no longer offering support for the older models.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2, again directed by Marc Webb (no pun intended), has a scattershot tone, solid action, real chemistry between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, and three useless villains. (Two and a half, really: the estimable Paul Giamatti has all of 90 seconds of screen time as the Rhino.) The screenplay, credited to Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner, relies heavily on TV news, pre-recorded computer announcements, and other lazy gimmicks to relay information.

Of which there is a lot. Information, I mean. While certain moments and scenes stand out, overall the film is a listless exercise whose primary purpose seems to be setting up characters and situations for future Spider-Man movies. The whole thing is starting to feel like a Ponzi scheme. “Come see the latest adventure! Don’t worry if it’s not great — the next one’ll dazzle you!” But that’s what you said last time!

As usual, angst-ridden teenager Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is worried that his Spider-Man escapades will endanger his girlfriend (Emma Stone), and the Daily Bugle is debating whether Spider-Man is a HERO or a MENACE. In keeping with that theme of “familiar plot points already covered in four previous movies,” an insane man named Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) accidentally obtains superpowers (electric eels are involved), then uses them to seek the destruction of Spider-Man, for whom he has a petty, disproportionate hatred.

Meanwhile, Peter’s best friend, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) — whom he hasn’t seen or spoken to in eight years, but who is still his best friend — comes home from boarding school to watch his billionaire industrialist father (Chris Cooper) die from an illness both gross and hereditary. Mysterious research that Peter’s late father (Campbell Scott) did for Oscorp may hold the key to its cure, and Spider-Man’s blood is also involved, and eventually Harry Osborn joins Max Dillon in having an irrational, poorly explained motive for hating the web-slinger.

As with the previous entry, the film’s greatest strength is the cutely romantic interaction between Garfield and Stone (no doubt aided by their real-life couplehood, though they’re good actors too). Peter and Gwen ground the movie in real emotions — an important element in an effects-driven fantasy spectacle. But Peter changes when he puts the mask on, becoming a cocky braggart who delivers a constant patter of jokey wise-cracks even when no one’s around to hear them. It makes sense that he’d be freer and less inhibited when he’s in character, but the personality differences between Spider-Man and Peter are so stark they might as well be two entirely separate people.

Dane DeHaan is ludicrously over-the-top as the sniveling Harry, making him interesting to watch if nothing else. But Max, who becomes Electro, is an embarrassing dud, performed by a version of Jamie Foxx who seems completely lost and unsure of himself. Max is a comical doofus at first, complete with a bumbling musical theme; then, somehow, he’s supposed to be a fearsome menace. His story isn’t tragic, funny, or compelling, and his powers are vague. Sometimes he’s corporeal and you can capture him; other times he’s pure electricity and can travel through the power lines.

Webb handles the action and fight sequences better this time around. Scenes of Spidey flying, swinging, and falling through New York City are exhilarating, maybe the best of the series so far. It’s only in those moments and the quiet Peter-and-Gwen interludes that the film has any sense of joy or wonderment. The rest is shiny, busy, and boisterous, more perfunctory than fun.

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Eric D. Snider
Eric has been a film critic since 1999, and a beard wearer since 2008. He holds a degree in journalism and used to work in "the newspaper industry," back when that was a thing.
  • Zayne

    I really wish these movies had come out first and Raimi’s never existed. Then people might give them a real shot and stop comparing them to a franchise that does not deserve the fierce loyalty it inexplicably commands.

    • Matt Thompson

      Yes, because it’s all one big conspiracy. It has nothing to do with the fact the AMAZING SPIDER-MAN films are just bad on their own, regardless if there was another adaptation of the comic before.

      • Zayne

        Amazing Spider-man was a solid film. Much stronger than any of the 3 Raimi films, in my opinion. Andrew Garfield outshines Tobey Maguire in every way, ditto with Emma Stone to Kirsten Dunst. I think some people look back on the Raimi films with rose-colored glasses and they dismiss the ASM movies outright because it did something different from those movies.

        • Matt Thompson

          So basically, you’re mad that we dislike the films because of comparisons to Raimi’s, and yet you’re the one who keeps making the comparisons?

          AMAZING SPIDER-MAN has no sense of urgency, features a number of plotlines haphazardly cut off halfway through (“I”m searching for Uncle Ben’s killer! Well, I’ll pick that up later. I’m going to discover what my dad was working on! Eh, I’m sure I’ll find out in the sequel.”), and an incredibly weak villain. Literally the only thing the film has going for it is the chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone.

          • Zayne

            If you dislike them, that’s your prerogative but my original comment was directed at the reviewers that make comparisons and treat the Raimi films as if they were flawless interpretations of the characters, which it certainly is not.

          • Matt Thompson

            No, your original comment complained that people weren’t giving the new films a shot because of Raimi’s, and that’s entirely untrue.

            Nobody walked out of BATMAN BEGINS grumbling because of how different it was from Burton’s. People slag Webb’s films because they are legitimately bad movies. Critics would trash them whether Spidey had been on screen before or not. (See also: FANTASTIC FOUR.)

      • Zayne

        Also, I don’t think it’s a mass conspiracy but as soon as I see a reviewer reference the Raimi films, I take the rest of what they say with a grain of salt.

        • Art Salmons

          Hey a bunch of people like something, but I don’t. So they’re ALL WRONG!

      • Jason Kramer

        Raimi’s films weren’t very good either, to be quite frank. Highly overrated. Spider-Man really needs a quality director akin to Christopher Nolan (not in terms of emotional tone, but directing talent and skill) to do the character justice. Raimi was a poor choice because he’s an off-beat and kooky niche director who felt like a fish out of water directing three huge blockbusters, and Webb is just flat out dull.