Once the end credits for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 began to roll, my friend Zach leaned over and asked me, “Did you take any notes for this film?” I told him I almost never jot anything down during movies, a practice I gave up in college, with my bad hand writing trumping good intentions. In the case of the new Spider-Man, the first sequel in the new series, I just sat there and grew frustrated. Very much in the same way one would sit at a bus stop, waiting angrily for a ride that never arrives.
Ten years after Sam Raimi’s critically acclaimed, wildly popular, Tobey Maguire-starring Spider-Man 2, we have a sequel to the new version, with a new director and cast. Spidey 2.0, with (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb helming and Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, worked beautifully the first time. Garfield’s moody, teenage Hamlet with web shooters was well matched with Emma Stone’s plucky Gwen Stacey. More so than in previous incarnations, the love story truly got my spider senses tingling.
The sequel goes wrong immediately and really never recovers. A pre-title sequence depicts a vivid plane crash, always a fun way to start a summer movie geared towards children. Then, we follow our hero pursuing Paul Giamatti as a Russian villain with a tattoo that circles his forehead. Like much of the movie, this set piece is flashy, noisy, frantic and obnoxious. Giamatti isn’t merely hamming it up–he appears rabid and ready to eat the scenery.
We’re introduced to Jamie Foxx’s Max Dillon, an awkward, meek employee of Oscorp (the science-based company that gave us Spider-Man, Lizard Man and is seemingly only good for spawning dangerous mutations). Dillon was once saved by Spider-Man, and he’s turned into a full-blown Spidey-stalker who “talks” to his hero while rummaging through the fridge. I enjoyed Foxx in the role, even when he transforms into Electro and the character becomes an extended special effect. Dillon’s uber-nerdy demeanor-turned-empowered-evil-doer brings to mind Michelle Pfeiffer’s Selina Kyle in Batman Returns. Whereas Pfeiffer had time to shape her character and turned in a tour de force, Foxx has to rush the character development and strain to keep up with the other subplots in this overly busy movie.
Thankfully, the scenes where the characters just talk to one another provide narrative rest stops from the constant barrage of mayhem. Garfield’s scenes with Stone are soulful and sweet. The love story should have carried the film (as it ably and movingly centered the prior installment). Instead, our charismatic leads, sometimes while still embracing from a romantic interlude, have to shift gears and blurt out mouthfuls of exposition to set up the next action sequence.
The third act offers truly embarrassing sights. The big reveal of Dane DeHaan (very good playing Harry Osborn) in the clanging second climax made me laugh, though I doubt it was intended to be humorous. Then there’s Giamatti’s last minute return to the film. Giamatti is such a wonderful actor, I wonder if it saddened him, as much as it did me, to see what his requirements were for this movie. The role is small but he manages to look foolish and bellow “I am the Rhino!” The indignities he faced acting opposite Howard Stern in Private Parts seem minor by comparison.
Children may enjoy this intense, though not graphically violent movie but the web slinger slips and trips up almost as badly as he did in the woeful Spider-Man 3. I recently showed my film class the 1989 Batman, which had a simple plot, one hero and one villain. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is so overloaded, you may forget all the abandoned subplots and supporting characters left in the rubble.
Score: ** (1-5 Star Scale)