As you're probably aware at this point from the inescapable marketing onslaught (damn that Evian Spider-baby to the darkest depths of hell), "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," Sony's sequel to the reboot of the series based on a comic book, hit theaters in the U.S. on Friday, after opening in much of the rest of the world in mid-April. Seeing Andrew Garfield's Spider-Man take on Jamie Foxx's Electro and Dane DeHaan's Green Goblin (plus, in a cameo, Paul Giamatti's Rhino) while continuing to woo Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy, it had a strong box office weekend, although falling short of the total of both the first and third Sam Raimi Spider-pictures, and last month's Marvel entry "Captain America: The Winter Soldier."
Perhaps more importantly, the film fell short critically, with lower Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic scores than any of the previous films in the franchise, while our official review pretty much straight-up loathed it. Not many members of the Playlist team are fond of the movie, so with the film now out for everyone to see, we've dug into it with more depth and laid out what we found good, bad and just plain ugly in the movie. Spoilers abound, obviously. And if you're someone who loved the movie, or if you hated things about it that we didn't mention, you can have your say in the comments section below.
The Romantic Leads And Their Chemistry
Let’s look at “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” in the most positive light, shall we? The lead cast is pretty terrific, and note when we say the lead cast we are not talking about: Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Paul Giamatti or Colm Feore. However, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have awesome chemistry together and you can’t help but smile and lean forward when the two characters are flirting, riffing or trying to play coy together. Obviously, the actors are dating off-screen too, and this helps. There’s palpable electricity between them that’s authentic and in a few scenes their collective charisma is off the charts. They make for a credible love story in a credulity straining movie (yes, even for a superhero film), and while the movie puts them in some dumb situations—Gwen's appearance during the climactic battle is both silly and unnecessary except for plotting purposes—they at least make every scene together work. Now if only a movie as magnetic and compelling as their romantic alchemy was built around them.
“The Amazing Spider-Man” series has gone the route of most superhero films these days; trying to cast some incredible actors in parts big and small, assuming and hoping their talents will really elevate the movie into something beyond your average comic book movie. Christopher Nolan arguably pulled off this approach best with his ‘Dark Knight’ series. But even great actors like Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan and Paul Giamatti prove that big talent given stupid and poorly written characters can't make them work any better off the page, no matter how hard they try. But one supporting actor in particular is terrific, and that’s Sally Field. In an alternate universe where “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” gets an Oscar nomination, the film’s Oscar clip would be the heart-to-heart between Peter and Aunt May. She reveals to Peter what she believes to be the truth about his parents, all while insisting she is Peter’s real parent and she fights for him to believe that. It’s a wonderfully awesome emotional moment full of honesty, truth and vulnerability on the part of both actors. You can almost see Andrew Garfield’s impressed “wow” as he steps up to match Sally Field’s heart-wrenching performance. And again, how fantastic would this movie had been if it could have bottled up the emotion in that scene and sprinkled it over the rest of the picture?
Marc Webb Knows His Emotional Beats
Much muck has been slung at Marc Webb for his messy direction and far be it from us to defend him fully. But credit where credit is due—the aforementioned scene and all the scenes with Peter and Gwen are genuine, honest and authentic. Coming from the indie world and the mature romantic comedy “(500) Days of Summer,” Webb knows how to really maximize the potential of any emotional scene and he nails almost all of them out of the park. Alas, the unfocused screenplay with several different and conflicting agendas—world building, villain arcs, and sowing seeds for future villains—eventually just dilute the emotional legitimacy of the film. And it’s almost remarkable how much these scenes pop in opposition of other “superhero” scenes where the movie drags so painfully. Taken on their own, maybe these aforementioned scenes could be used in a masterclass teaching demo on how to direct a love story. But within the context of the film they are good sequences that live beside the rest of the noise.
Early Action Scenes Are Good
Before “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” devolves into the noisy, incoherent mess that it is, it does have some flair (so do some of the set-pieces in the second and third act, but by then it’s almost too late). The early action scene with the Rhino is breathlessly shot, really maximizing the 360 agility and impossible physical abilities of Spider-Man. The camera pirouettes through New York City as Peter Parker spins his way towards the Rhino in a getaway truck full of plutonium. All of it is well-staged and well-framed, and while the movie’s attempt to make Spider-Man as quippy and fun as the comics tends to get a little contrived and forced, this scene is otherwise cinematically thrilling. And even later on, some of the action scenes are rather inventive. The slow-motion sequence where Spider-Man saves innocents from an electrified Times Square sightseeing bleacher is conceptually ambitious as is the set-piece where a bus is struck, flies through the air and the people inside ping-pong around to their would-be doom before Spider-Man arrives and saves the day. Unfortunately, both those scenes arrive deeper into the movie when you’re struggling to care and thus we are numbed and many of these sequences, ambitious as they may be, feel like hollow video game gestures in a movie that feels filled with hollow video gamey-like gestures. Taken on their own, again, they're visually kind of impressive. But by then, you just may not care, which is further reason why a movie has to work collectively on all fronts.