By Sam Adams | Criticwire May 1, 2014 at 1:32PM
It's hard to argue that there's any real reason for "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" to exist at all; the franchise was, after all, rebooted for the not especially compelling reason of letting Sony Pictures retain their rights to the character. But then, movies don't need much of a reason as long as they're good, or at least, good enough. So the question with "ASM 2" isn't really if it outdoes the ten-year-old second installment in Sam Raimi's original trilogy -- virtually everyone except Indiewire's own Eric Kohn agrees it fails on that account -- as if it stands on its two arachnoid feet.
The consensus is that "Amazing Spider-Man 2" is on much more solid ground when Andrew Garfield is playing Peter Parker than when he dons his Spidey suit, in large part because that usually means he's playing opposite real-life girlfriend Emma Stone as Spider-love Gwen Stacy. (Comic-book fans know where their story is headed, if not precisely when, and numerous critics hint at the film's denouement, but we'll set that aside until next week.) Garfield's frenetic, quip-shooting Peter verges on schtick at times -- no wonder Slate's Arie Kaplan compares him to a Borscht belt comedian -- but Stone is, to steal one of Spider-Man's other adjectives, spectacular. Her super-smart high-school valedictorian's real-world opportunities clash with Peter's need for an understanding, always-available girlfriend, and unlike Raimi's trilogy, "Amazing" isn't always on his side. (The one real innovation in the first "Amazing Spider-Man" was that it made Peter Parker kind of a cocky jerk.)
Unfortunately, "Amazing" is duty-bound to be a movie about Spider-Man, and often that duty feels like a chore. Director Marc Webb yanks overscaled performances out of Jamie Foxx as nerd-turned-human-battery Electro and Dane DeHaan as future Green Goblin Harry Osborn, but the movie doesn't take place in a comic-book world the way Raimi's did. That allows for a much more involving romance, but it also means far, far less engaging scenes about the web-slinger's origins and his enemies. The dubstep-inflected score, credited to Hans Zimmer and an ad hoc supergroup that includes Pharell Williams, Junkie XL and Johnny Marr, is a desperate hodgepodge of the "You kids like this, right?" variety, and Dan Mindel's cinematography features some of the most arbitrary and pointless use of 3D I've ever seen: There's no need to pop the foreground character in an over-the-shoulder conversation 10 feet out of the frame unless you're showing off, or simply bored. Perhaps it's just the recent talk of gender inequality in genre movies, but I found myself thinking how much more interested I'd be in a movie shot from Gwen Stacy's point of view, about a brilliant young woman who's in love with a man struggling to balance responsibility with happiness. Too bad that one's never going to happen.
Reviews of "Amazing Spider-Man 2"
Manohla Dargis, New York Times
Mr. Webb has some fun with the image of Spider-Man swinging through the urban canyons, and there are moments -- as when the image freezes on the tucked, airborne Spider-Man ready to spring into action like an Olympian -- the movie taps into the giddy freedom and near-unboundedness that the character’s physical transformation has brought him. Once he comes down to earth, though, the movie does, too, with scenes of heavy destruction that quickly grow monotonous.
Matt Prigge, Metro
Returning director Mark Webb, of the sprightly break-up saga "(500) Days of Summer," has grown more confident with action. But he’s also gotten better at finding a coherent, enjoyable tone, and one that's not a mirror of the deceptively light one rocked by Sam Raimi in his superior, only decade old trilogy. If the 2012 reboot/remake was clumsy and emo -- like a sludgy, overly sincere cover of a rock classic -- this remembers it's based on a bright, colorful, fun comic about a young'un slinging around the five boroughs with webs.
Drew McWeeny, HitFix
In some ways, "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" is the perfect modern franchise film. I'm sure that any executive in town who sees it is going to walk away raving, and it won't matter if they like it or not. It is an exercise in franchise management, and it hits every single entry on the checklist perfectly. By the end of this film, they've done a very good job of setting up the next three or four films in the series, but at the expense of this film telling any sort of cohesive story.
James Rocchi, the Wrap
There are a few well-tuned moments, from the charming, charismatic interaction of stars Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone to the occasional flash of excitement in its wide-screen action. To get to those, however, you have to wade through a two-and-a-half-hour running time that encompasses three costume-clad villains, two shadowy string-pullers, four distinct climaxes and still finds room for every single cliche of big-budget franchise screenwriting.
Tim Robey, Telegraph
We all know Spider-Man can multitask -- those wrist-mounted gizmos fling out the sticky stuff every which way. But can his director? At times, with its many villains, this one veers perilously close to the overplotted trouble zone of Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man 3" and Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight Rises": a case of too many crooks spoiling the broth.
Leslie Felperin, Hollywood Reporter
The eponymous hero hits his super-heroic stride here, as does Andrew Garfield in the role, especially when Spider-Man's alter ego Peter Parker learns there's always some fine print in a contract with this many benefits. The plot gets itself tangled up in multiple villain strands, but in the main, this installment is emotionally weightier and more satisfying than its predecessor.
Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
A decent superhero franchise product, lent some personality by Andrew Garfield's skyscraper hair and the actor's easy, push-pull rapport with co-star Emma Stone, who plays the eternally disappointed Gwen, freshly graduated from high school, frustratingly in love with Peter Parker.
Alison Willmore, BuzzFeed
It takes the romance dovetailing with the supervillain shenanigans for "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" to achieve a sense of having consequences. And that speaks to how good Garfield and Stone are together. So good, in fact, that they outweigh the spectacle in which the rest of the movie is so invested.
A.A. Dowd, the A.V. Club
Wedged among the endless introductions, the flashy light shows, and the groundwork for future sequels are the occasional grace notes, most of them courtesy of Garfield and Stone. It’s no surprise that the director of "(500) Days of Summer" most excels at the romantic side of Spider-Man, the scenes of playful rapport between the superhero and the geeky dream girl he’s somehow snagged.
Ty Burr, Boston Globe
True, the scenes between Peter and Gwen feel shockingly underwritten and flabbily edited, as though cast and crew were making it all up as they went along, but when was the last time you saw one of these Marvel juggernauts where every last digitized rivet didn’t seem obsessively fussed over? The aimless drift of the Peter-Gwen scenes, their dazzled banality, almost feels like something new.
Dana Stevens, Slate
Stone has a knack for giving a just-OK line a dry Rosalind Russell snap, and her character, the valedictorian and molecular-biology whiz Gwen Stacy, does get in a few amusing retorts. But Garfield, a tremendously appealing and intelligent presence in "The Social Network," seems misplaced and a bit wasted as a human arachnid.
Ian Buckwalter, NPR
As Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone don't just have chemistry on screen. They've got a rare Hepburn-and-Tracy-esque naturalism that flits from awkwardness to ease to unquestioned devotion in the space of a few shared glances. It's a pity, then -- both for Peter and Gwen, and for the movie -- that they keep getting interrupted.
Scott Tobias, the Dissolve
None of these elements are handled badly -- in fact, the love story and Spidey's conflicts with Electro and Harry reach a satisfying crescendo against the New York skyline at night. The trouble is that none of it is handled with much inspiration, either. Each Happy Meal comes with the same cheap plastic figurine.
Oliver Lyttleton, the Playlist
The sequel doesn't just double down on what didn't work in the first film, it manages to undo some of the good qualities of the original as well. The result is a film that kicks off the summer blockbuster season with a resounding thud.