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By Jacoby Bancroft
Remember “Spider-Man 3,” the overstuffed, franchise-killing third installment in the original Spider-Man trilogy that turned Peter Parker emo and cast the nerdy guy from “That ‘70s Show” as his arch-nemesis?
It was a horrible movie and ultimately failed because it tried to pack in too many needless subplots while delivering three underdeveloped bad guys, resulting in one of the most criticized superhero films in recent history. With that in mind, you have to acknowledge the bravery of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” the sequel to the rebooted Spider- Man franchise, because it attempts to do the exact same thing, meaning a bunch of subplots and three villains. It is far from perfect, but it manages to juggle everything well enough to deliver a cohesive, enjoyable superhero film.
Because of the massive success of “The Avengers,” every superhero franchise is now attempting to create a larger connected universe, and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is no exception. Already there are release dates set for a third and fourth Spider-Man movie, along with a Venom Spinoff and a Sinister Six-centric film. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” does a lot of set-up for those future installments, but fortunately it doesn’t overshadow the story that this movie is trying to tell.
Unlike other recent superhero films, the personal drama revolving around the characters is one of the highlights of the movie, thanks in large part to the very talented ensemble this film has put together. Being a real-life couple, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone share remarkable chemistry that helps make the oftentimes repetitious Peter/Gwen Stacy relationship storyline watchable. Peter is constantly struggling with his love for Gwen while trying to keep his promise to her now-deceased father to stay away from her for her own safety. It is a great internal struggle that could easily have been lost in the hands of another actor, (see: Toby Maguire) but Garfield handles it well. He also nails the wise-cracking aspect of Spider-Man that has been largely absent in previous films, so those looking for a Web-Head that is more in line with his comic book iteration will not be disappointed.
Although a vast improvement over “Spider-Man 3,” this movie still suffers from having one too many subplots that do not feel entirely necessary, namely one revolving around Peter’s search for answers regarding his parents. It feels shoehorned in and could have easily been left for a later film. It takes valuable screen time away from fleshing out the villains, which is a shame because they are the best part about the film.
Jaime Fox brings a strong sense of personal tragedy to his super-villain Electro. He starts as a bumbling, powerless nobody obsessed with Spider- Man, and it first seems like a cheap knockoff of Jim Carrey’s Riddler villain from “Batman Forever,” but after he falls into a vat of electric eels while holding a power line, (which sounds incredibly stupid when said out loud) he is transformed into an immensely powerful human dynamo. It gives him the chance to be noticed by a world that has ignored him his entire life. It is easy to see the motivations behind Electro’s actions, which is good because the best villains are ones that the audience can sympathize with and understand.
The other villain in the movie is almost equally as compelling, with Dane DeHaan bringing a lot of depth to the Harry Osborn character, even though his entire arc feels rushed. The movie should have spent more time building up the relationship between Peter and Harry, because his turn from ally to villain does not feel earned, but rather a necessary plot point to reach the final climax. Although underdeveloped in this movie, it will be interesting to revisit his character in future installments.
While it has issues, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” works as both a world-building installment and a standalone film. The action sequences look more polished and better edited than the first movie, and the character drama is strong thanks to a very talented cast, making it a solid, entertaining superhero movie to kick off the summer blockbuster season.
Jacoby Bancroft can be reached at email@example.com.