Well…this is kind of awkward. Technically, I have in fact already reviewed this one during this blog’s much younger days. But this is a re-visitation, so regardless of prior coverage I’m not really breaking the pattern. What makes this awkward though is not the ‘repetition’ of my subject matter. What makes this awkward is at the time I first reviewed The Amazing Spider-Man 2…I kind of gave it four stars. Out of five. For…reasons? I must’ve had some! Can’t think what they were now, but I must have had some! So, in some ways, rounding off this ‘Road to Homecoming’ series comes with something of a sense of dutiful atonement. Don’t get me wrong, I never feel remotely obligated to toe the line of opinion consensus about any given film (to which my La La Land review should attest). I stand by the fact that I enjoyed this film at the time, and still do (albeit in a different fashion). This is just me, looking in a three-year-old mirror and thinking…”what on earth were you talking about?”
Spider-Man’s days as a wanted vigilante are done, as New York warmly embraces its crime-fighting champion. As Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), although now graduating from high school, life is more consistent. Deeply conflicted between his love for Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and the promise he made to keep himself out of her life for her own safety, Peter faces an uncertain future. But as the return of his childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) precipitates the emergence of new threats, including the maniacal and godlike ‘Electro’ (Jamie Foxx), Peter comes to realize a deeper web that binds both his enemies and his own past: Oscorp.
It’s impressive really that even though this franchise was rebooted a mere five years after the Sam Raimi trilogy, it not only ends up making most of the exact same mistakes, but somehow makes them to an even greater extent, and in addition to a whole heap of missteps of its own. Packed to the gunnels with bad guys, disjointed storytelling, playing fast-and-loose with plotlines, outright laughable creative decisions and ultimately torpedoing an entire studio-planned franchise in one fell swoop. Oh. And so. Much. Product placement. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is, effectively, a two-hour commercial. Whether its flaunting Sony products and properties like its QVC, or drawing a map to establish budding sequels, spinoffs and crossovers in the franchise’s pipeline, the film is perhaps the earliest modern example of a studio getting entirely too ahead of itself and sacrificing the best interests of the film that audiences came to see. Granted, Marvel Studios has recently ventured more into this territory of catering to ‘the bigger picture’ and receives comparatively sparse criticism for it, but that’s been earned through a lot of origin story legwork and sequel-baiting that never really takes the audience for granted. Also, they rarely hit you over the head with it quite as hard as is done here. The result: like Spider-Man 3, there’s enough material to justify at least two separate films crammed into one, and it’s a messy fit.
This isn’t to say the film is unwatchable. A number of its elements are actually a step up from its predecessor, both in substance and spectacle. Peter and Gwen’s troubled love affair reaps the benefits of its then-actual couple co-stars, by far the most believable of any romantic pairing in superhero cinema. The experience director Marc Webb gained from the first film shows especially in the film’s action, easy to follow but much more visually dynamic, and boasts a couple of standout sequences such as Spidey saving civilians from a blast of Electro’s energy and a Goblin battle climax which comic book purists have good reason to hail. The film even takes the step of providing a genuinely interesting twist concerning how Peter got his powers, the final piece in the Oscorp puzzle. The rest of the conspiracy premise may be half-baked and predictable, and makes for much of the film’s misplaced prioritization of sequel seeding, but it nevertheless offers a nugget of fresh interpretation of the Spider-Man mythos. Lastly, he may be utterly shoehorned in and provides no real contribution to the film whatsoever, but Paul Giamatti is just so wonderfully hammy in his cameo as Russian brute ‘The Rhino’. Like Stanley Tucci, he is never (or at least, very rarely) unenjoyable.
For its sporadic saving graces, however, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is all in a tangle. Foxx is completely underserved by his material as the film’s zap-happy central antagonist, often laughably so, and despite a gradual slide into madness that outshines anything we got from James Franco, there’s little satisfying payoff to DeHaan’s Harry. The opposite couldn’t be more true of Garfield and Stone in their roles, the former nailing Spidey’s everyman charisma and a (somewhat) more mature Peter whilst the later continues to be a love interest who actually accomplishes things outside of her relationship. Less a cohesive story than a conveyor belt of scenes littered with signs pointing in all different directions towards then-upcoming additions to the then-Spideyverse, it’s small wonder that the film performed considerably below expectations and ironically undid single-handedly all the plans it took the time to lay down. It’s not often that its deemed necessary and appropriate to effectively erase a blockbuster from existence, but with Sony’s subsequent licensing deal with Marvel Studios, this was certainly one of those occasions.
Final Score: 2.5/5