Review: ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ (Gwen drama good, villainy origins bad)

It’s like they took one good and one bad script and mashed them together.

After defeating the Lizard on his last outing, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) aka Spider-Man fails to keep the promise he made to Captain Stacy (Denis Leary) in staying away from his daughter, Gwen (Emma Stone). Their on-again/off-again relationship is a source of stress between them, but just because Pete can’t get over his overdeveloped sense of honor and heroism doesn’t mean the late police Captain was wrong to fear for her safety around Pete. Meanwhile, a mild-mannered Oscorp engineer named Max (Jamie Foxx) falls into vat (insert mandatory Joker joke here) of electric eels while Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan) decides that no good relationship should go unpunished (insert mandatory Joss Whedon joke here). Never mind all that Rhino stuff with Paul Giamatti in the trailer; it happens… eventually.

In an effort to keep their Marvel licensing going, Sony hurried a new Spider-Man franchise into production before everyone forgot the Sam Raimi trilogy. While the first new film, The Amazing Spider-Man, managed to fix a few things missing from Raimi’s first outing as well as creating an interesting new back story for Pete’s parents, the sequel hints at much more while showing far less. While the second Raimi Spider-Man film with Doc Ock was arguably the best of the series, this sequel couldn’t make up its mind on the tone of the film, undercutting not only itself but the first film as well. Much like the weakest parts of first Captain America film spent too much time building up to The Avengers, there’s a pervasive feeling that setting up additional franchise installments is far more important that getting a second story to actually work. That’s sad, too, because while Andrew Garfield still doesn’t seem very much like Peter Parker, he absolutely nails being Spidey.

The new film features the infamous Gwen Stacy story from the comics – they even got her outfit right – but the rest of the story feels cribbed from another superhero: Batman. MINOR SPOILERS TO FOLLOW: the new Electro (Jamie Foxx) falls into a tank of presumably enhanced electric eels, inexplicably turning the Spider-Man super-fan into a living capacitor, later being imprisoned in Arkham Asylum… no, wait, sorry, make that “The Ravencroft Institute for the Criminally Insane and Spidey Rogues Gallery Proving Center, funded by Oscorp.” Can you say sequels? While it’s true that a Sinister Six film featuring Marvel Spidey villains has been in the works, it’s disappointing that they would sweep so many good things done in the original film under the carpet to make a two-hour foreshadowing of things to come. If audiences ever needed proof that the box office has become all about the franchise, they need look no further than this.

While Jamie Foxx did a fine job as Electro, it’s more than a little amusing that a man who has essentially been transformed into living electricity keeps putting on clothing and devices that can inexplicably transform into pure energy right along with him; wouldn’t that be essentially be reordering matter at the subatomic level, a way-cooler power than hurling lightning bolts? Oops… my geek is showing! At one point, Electro is even seen wearing a full body suit that looks more like Abe Sapien from Hellboy. The character of Max Dillion – as written before his empowering to become electro – left a lot to be desired, a cliché mish-mash of hero-worship turned into jilted obsession and kept to the blue-collar origin.

Not to be outdone, Harry Osborne injects himself with a drug that could likely kill him, happens to find a battlesuit in his size that can fix anything wrong, and immediately heads out somehow able to use equipment and weapons he’s only ever glimpsed before… yeah. In spite of the need to make every Spidey villain personally obsessed with destroying the Wallcrawler, the Gwen Stacy story still resonates, thanks in no small part to Emma Stone making a far better Gwen than Kirsten Dunst ever made as Mary Jane Watson.

With this sequel’s story fading into the background, the audience is left imagining the lineup of supervillains itching to take their shot at Spidey. While that might sound cool seeing it written on the page, the filmmakers could really crib some notes on plotting and pacing from what’s happening in The Avenger’s universe if they want to stay both relevant and profitable.

(a two skull recommendation out of four)

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