The first sequel to the Spidey reboot tries to weave a wicked web, but rapidly gets tangled up in its own convolutions.
NB: This review originally appeared on our sister site, Behind the Panels.
Simple economics dictate that Sony will continue to make Spider-man films until the end of time, or at least until they start to become unprofitable. As such, it was only a mere 5 years that separated the misguided final chapter of Sam Raimi’s Spider-man trilogy and Marc Webb’s 2012 reboot. The origin retread was all about “setting them up to knock them down later”, making way for endless sequels, so it’s particularly odd that this first new sequel seems intent on rushing through several key stories from Spider-man’s 50 year publication history.
Enough time has passed since the death of Captain Stacey (Dennis Leary) for Peter Parker’s alter-ego Spider-man (Andrew Garfield) to become a New York’s local hero. Struggling to keep a promise to the late cop daddy and stay away from his daughter Gwen (Emma Stone), Peter finds that his personal and heroic lives continually intersect. However, with the return of old friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), and the tragic origin of a new super powered being in the form of Electro (Jamie Foxx), Peter’s past and identity threaten to blow up in his masked face.
Almost immediately, The Amazing Spider-man 2 makes a tonal shift away from its predecessor, amping up the self-aware slapstick in place of the endearingly awkward moments of the previous entry. The film is in desperate search of an identity for the lengthy running time that follows, frenetically bouncing between some admittedly impressive action sequences and the classic comic book romance of Peter and Gwen. In both cases, it hits some high points: Spider-man’s early take-downs and his first encounter with Electro are comic books brought to life. Similarly, a scene in which the on-again/off-again couple set up relationship “rules” is magic. However, it never sustains a line-through for any of these loose threads, and is unable to separate a cheesy musical routine from an otherwise chaotic electrical plant fight. Jamie Foxx’s character of Max Dillon/Electro is a perfect analogy for the film itself: it begins as a weak caricature of something grander, but winds up just wanting the world to pay it some more attention, regardless of the mindless destruction.
The casting, on the other hand, is mostly spot-on, albeit just not used particularly well. It’s a shame that the momentum-heavy script never allows any of the new players time to be anything more than two-dimensional figures. Dane DeHaan may as well be stroking a cat and listening to My Chemical Romance for all the emo he leaves lying around, while a thickly Russian-accented Paul Giamatti is casually tossed in as a character actor more than anything. Foxx is perhaps the most frustrating player of them all, commanding a formidable presence as Electro, but completely failing to sell the cookie cutter geek that forms the basis of his self-worth issues.
As individual set pieces, The Amazing Spider-man 2 has some stand-out moments. Yet in attempting to run several parallel storylines without a strong narrative backbone, Webb and his scriptwriting team make many of the same mistakes as Spider-man 3. Worse still, the overloaded villain roster waits until the final act to introduce several rogues, rushing through a key turning point in Spider-man’s history for the sake of using a well-known sinister figure. Rife with Easter eggs and hints at coming attractions, this sequel is less of a feature film and more of an extended trailer for a Spider-man cinematic universe that has a long way to go before it develops cohesion.
The Amazing Spider-man 2 is released on 17 April 2014 in Australia from Sony. It is released on 2 May 2014 in the US.