Disclaimer: I went in fully expecting to hate The Amazing Spider-Man and found it to be very enjoyable. Enjoyable enough, in fact, that the sequel might be worth checking out. Not enough to see it opening weekend but maybe at a later date. Then Amazing Spider-Man 2 was released and was critically panned. Is Amazing Spider-Man 2 the awful movie the Sony reboot was expected to be? No. It’s just not very good.
A viewer can tell within the first 15 minutes if they’re going to like the movie or not. It starts with Richard Parker recording a video message to explain his disappearance, dropping Peter off at Aunt May and Uncle Ben’s before segueing into the private jet that he and his wife have chartered. The jet crashes after a nebulous well-dressed figure murders the pilot and has an action scene where he tries to kill the Parkers. From there, we go to the present day sometime after the first movie where Spider-Man is in the midst of thwarting a Russian mob from stealing Oscorp materials…on the day of Peter’s high school graduation ceremony which he is nearly late for.
Within the first 15 minutes (roughly), we’ve gone from an action thriller set-up (Richard’s video message) to a sad scene where Peter’s parents leave him with his aunt and uncle before the action sequence on the plane. When we get to the present, we shift from action (Russian mobsters hijacking Oscorp materials and Spider-Man attemping to stop them) to drama (Gwen calling to wonder why Peter hasn’t arrived at high school graduation ceremony) to comedy (Spider-Man’s quips, Peter’s denial of sirens when talking with Gwen). That’s a lot of tone shifts for a movie to juggle and Amazing Spider-Man 2 doesn’t do a terribly good job of it.
Nor does it do a good job of handling multiple plot threads. We have Peter still trying to figure out the truth behind his parent’s disappearance, which is suitably fleshed out although it feels like there’s more information to come later. Peter’s conflicted between his duties as Spider-Man vs. his love for Gwen. He’s haunted by Gwen’s father, who’s dead and didn’t want Gwen to end up like him since heroes attract enemies. This latter point is not suitably addressed. Peter and Gwen break-up early in the film, go through a few spells including Peter’s stalking of her while he’s dressed as Spider-Man (which is more creepy than romantic) and then they get back together rather unceremoniously before the film’s climax.
A whole movie could be made about the conflict between the hero’s desire and wants vs. his duty and responsibility. In fact, that conflict was the whole crux for Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. Peter had told Mary Jane at the end of the original Raimi Spider-Man that they couldn’t be together for their own safety. Spider-Man 2 is then about Peter and MJ trying to figure out how to make the relationship work. It’s an issue that’s not resolved until the end of that movie. In AMAZING Spider-Man 2, this plot point feels rushed…and even unnecessary since Gwen says her and Peter have had this talk before.
All these threads and we haven’t even got to the villains yet. Electro’s the main villain and he’s superbly played by Jamie Foxx. His character is essentially summed up with “what happens when you give socially awkward nerd who’s scorned by his superiors super-powers”. Electro’s characterization isn’t something I’d have given Jamie Foxx but he makes it work. Paul Giametti also shows up as a Russian mobster who will become the Rhino but that’s not enough action to get the billing of “supporting villain”.
The supporting villain then is Harry Osborn. Harry returns to New York to run Oscorp after his father dies. He also learns that the disease that killed his father is also genetic and that’s he begun to show symptoms of it. Peter and Harry were also friends when they were younger but difted apart after Harry got sent to overseas boarding school. They re-unite soon within the film’s opening but come at odds when Harry learns that the only cure to the disease is Spider-Man’s blood. Peter’s unwilling to help Harry since the blood transfusion could make Harry insane or worse. This makes Harry resort to striking up a partnership with Electro, although he ends up getting radioactive spider blood through other bullshit means. Turns out the radioactive spider venom was extracted and placed in a
prop department vault containing the costumes of other Spider-Man villains to set up the Sinister Six appearing in the next movie! Harry manages to get the venom injected into his veins and then puts on the Green Goblin costume before flying off to fight Spider-Man.
Peter and Harry’s relationship here is not given enough time to develop, especially when it’s inevitably compared to the one in the Raimi movies. By the time Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 rolls around, we understand why Harry doesn’t like Peter. His father took more of a liking to Peter than his own son. Peter ended up marrying Mary-Jane, who was dating Harry in the first movie before Harry caught Mary-Jane and Peter holding hands in the hospital. From Harry’s perspective, Peter stole Mary-Jane from him. He stole his father’s affection from him. So when Harry finds out his father was the Green Goblin and that Spider-Man killed him, he has more than enough motivation to hate Peter.
In AMAZING Spider-Man 2, while Harry’s understandably angry at Peter, his descent into villainy feels rushed and what friendship they had is only contrived enough for the sake of the plot. Why not have Harry and Peter be best friends in the first Amazing Spider-Man? Or have Harry already running OsCorp and appoint Gwen Stacy as his secretary (after being an intern in the first movie). Have him and Gwen bond over their mutual interest in discovering a cure for Harry’s disease when Gwen and Peter’s relationship is on the rocks. Have Gwen’s discovery of what the radioactive spider blood will do to Harry coincide with her patching up her relationship with Peter. Have Harry know about that patch-up so when she tells him the symptoms of the cure, he ignores it because he’s emotionally enraged at Peter “stealing” his girlfriend from him.
Amazing Spider-Man 2 repeats the sins committed by Spider-Man 3: Having more villains and plot threads than your movie can feasibly hold. It doesn’t do a good job at managing these villains and plots so rather than having multiple elements have their own movie (or suitably develop over the course of the series), all the development feels rushed. The best way to compare Amazing Spider-Man 2 is that this is close to the result we would have gotten had Sam Raimi and Sony been able to co-exist on Spider-Man 3. Neither movie could juggle multiple plots and villains well but at least none of Amazing Spider-Man 2‘s villains get the Venom treatment (i.e. underdeveloped and only appearing in the last 30 minutes of the movie before being unceremoniously dealt with…Harry’s Green Goblin may fit the bill but he’s at least alive to see the sequel).
I did like the movie, though. When it comes to narrative and writing, Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a mess. The acting is great, though. The only blemishes in that category are Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker (although he’s still pretty good at portraying Spider-Man) and Dane DeHaan’s Green Goblin portrayal that’s like a poor Jack Nicholson Joker impression.
As a mindless summer blockbuster, Amazing Spider-Man 2 fits the bill. Too bad this movie has to clear not only the bar set by the Sam Raimi movies but the one set by The Avengers as well. The Avengers took elements from each of its respective character’s movies and brought them together in an epic. Amazing Spider-Man 2 does the inverse of that: Having too many plots/villains that could have been spread out over a series instead of crammed into 142 minutes. Spider-Man doesn’t have the luxury of The Avenger‘s ensemble cast but the Sam Raimi movies developed similar plots and villains over the course of its trilogy just fine.