May 2, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Film Review: “The Amazing Spider-Man 2″”


THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2:  Watch It At Home – The Webs Aren’t Very Tight This Time

The huge, lumbering pieces of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 rarely succeed in fitting together.  It’s as though the studio and filmmakers–director Marc Webb and screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner (plus co-story writer James Vanderbilt)–started with the proposition that for a movie to be a Summer Blockbuster Event, it had to cost a quarter-billion dollars and run well over 2 hours, and they worked backwards from there.  So endless action sequences and quip-happy heroics are piled onto romance, drama, sentimentality and revelations about the past, and as they thud into one another, the impact of it all lessens while you watch.  The same was true, to an extent, of Amazing 1, but that one had its sturdy origin story to lean on, as well as the quirky rom-com chemistry of its Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey, the charming Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone.

The two of them are back, of course, but burdened this time by a darker tinge to their romance.  You may recall that near the end of the first Amazing, Gwen’s dying cop father (Denis Leary, who returns here as a ghostly figure to glower at Peter) made Peter promise that in order to keep Gwen safe, he’d stay away from her.  That’s a vow the couple finds difficult to keep, and much of their time in Amazing 2 is filled by one of them breaking up with the other and then getting back together, which becomes repetitive even to them.  There is a point to all their back and forth, but it would be a Spoiler to reveal what that is (even if those watching the TV commercials carefully may see it coming).  Suffice it to say that unlike some other fantasy-adventures that have had a similar plot turn, Amazing 2 is only prepared to deal with this one on the most superficial level.

The script isn’t all bad–in fact, as these things go, it’s been constructed with a certain amount of craft, as themes and motifs mentioned early on have resonance later in the game.  It suffers, though, from weak villains, and an overabundance of them, as well as from a fatal lack of ambition.  More than any of the other superhero sagas, Spider-Man is obsessed with the physical evolution of one kind of human being into a mutated Other–it’s what entangles Peter and all the foes he faces–and yet the franchise has no interest at all in exploring the potentially perverse and ironic implications of this.  It leaves everyone, no matter how colorfully drawn, basically bland.  (What vintage David Cronenberg could have done with a Spider-Man‘s budget!)

This time around, the main antagonist is Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), an unassuming, put-upon low-level employee at Oscorp who’s electrocuted and plunged into a tankful of monster eels, turning him into Electro, a being who feeds on and consists of electricity.  (He craves power, get it?)  Electro has been marvelously visualized by Webb and his CG artists, blue eyes blazing out of a face of churning energy, but his aims as a villain and even his corporeal substance are never particularly clear, other than including a desire to cause blackouts by sucking up all New York’s electricity.  Meanwhile, Harry Osborn, now de-James Francoed from the Sam Raimi movies into Dane DeHaan, has much clearer motives–he’s dying of the same disease that killed his evil industrialist father Norman (Chris Cooper) and blames Spider-Man/Peter for not providing the mutated spider venom in his blood that might be a cure–but he’s so instantaneously transformed from a person into a comic-book beast, complete with ready-made, form-fitting costume (it was supposedly made for Norman, but Chris Cooper is twice DeHaan’s size), that he’s unintentionally funny.

While all this is going on, we get extensive backstory on Peter’s dead father Richard (Campbell Scott), which tells us very little we didn’t know or guess from the story told in the first Amazing.  During the pauses in between set-pieces, there are stretches of kindhearted complaint from Aunt May (Sally Field) about what Peter is doing with his life.

It’s all too much, and not enough.  While you’re watching the giant final battle between Spider-Man and Electro, the plot comes to a halt and all there is to think about is that once this is over, there’s still going to have to be yet another giant final battle between Spider-Man and Harry–and that doesn’t even allow for yet another big battle that serves as an epilogue and set-up for Amazing 3.  There’s always something going on–the movie can’t be called boring–but without an involving plot or any narrative surprises apart from the One Big Twist, it’s not nearly as much fun as last month’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which had a consistent style, a variety of sharply drawn characters, and a story that never stopped moving.

Amazing 2 is admirable as a piece of workmanship.  Webb, cinematographer Dan Pindel, editor Pietro Scalia, production designer Mark Friedberg (the sets manage to be huge without that soundstage look that this genre often engenders) and the CG teams have done an exceptional job with the film’s look.  The sequences of Peter flying among Manhattan’s skyscrapers have come a long way since the Sam Raimi series, and the CG web-slinger moves in a remarkably lifelike way; Webb also makes judicious use of slow-motion to extend the action sequence beats.  (Some of these scenes actually make the 3D premium ticket price justifiable.)  All of the acting is fine, even if just about everyone in the cast is using a small fraction of their talents.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 gets where it wants to go, but at this point, the superhero epic is such a mature genre that being big and efficient isn’t fully satisfying.  Winter Soldier was distinctive enough to set itself apart, but Amazing 2 just goes through its very expensive motions.  If the rest of the upcoming spectacles are equally small-minded, it’s going to be a long summer.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."