On the 10-year anniversary of Sam Raimi, Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst’s first Spider-Man , Marc Webb, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone honored it by remaking it with Amazing in the title – although not everyone thought it was accurate. Now on the 10-year anniversary of Raimi, Maguire and Dunst’s Spider-Man 2, widely considered one of the best comic book movies ever – if not the last good Spider-Man period – Webb, Garfield and Stone take a second shot at a truly Amazing Spider-Man, yet again only get halfway there.
While Spider-Man has taken off as New York’s hero, Peter Parker is stuck between his responsibilities to the city, his love for Gwen Stacy, and his promise to her late father to keep her away from harm. But a greater danger comes from two sources – one who worships Spider-Man, and another who was once Peter’s best friend. In the case of Harry Osborne, he returns to take over Oscorp – the former employer of Peter’s dead father – but discovers he needs Spider-Man’s genetically altered blood to avoid the fate of his own late dad. In the case of Max Dillon, a nerdy, invisible employee of Oscorp, he develops an obsession with Spider-Man that turns deadly after an accident alters him into the supercharged Electro. Once these former allies become vengeful, Spider-Man – not to mention Peter and Gwen – must try to avoid paying the price.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn’t so much a clone of the original Spider-Man 2 as it is of Amazing Spider-Man 1. Once again, Webb tries to mix superheroic thrills with young love, but is on better ground with the young love angle, thanks to his luck in having Garfield and Stone. Once again, Webb shows occasionally breathtaking moments of Spider-Man flying through New York in IMAX 3D, but doesn’t have enough of them. Once again, about half the material in the ads and trailers don’t appear to have made the final cut – and once again, the material that works makes the elements that don’t all the more frustrating.
Striking a consistent tone is Webb’s biggest problem, to say nothing of veteran blockbuster writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. Between Peter and Gwen’s on again-off again drama, superheroics that range from thrilling to campy, and two villains that would probably be better off in their own separate movies, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is three or four movies in one. This was the same problem that sunk Spider-Man 3 and ended the Raimi/Maguire/Dunst era in a sudden thud, so this isn’t the best example for Amazing Spider-Man 2 to follow.
This tonal problem reflects itself in the main character, as Peter is heartfelt, haunted and serious as himself, and then goes right into campy one-liner mode as Spider-Man, which is not always Garfield’s strong suit. The hodgepodge of musical elements in Hans Zimmer’s theme for Max is another chaotic example. At the least, it makes one appreciate the consistency in how Garfield and Stone anchor the film together.
But despite the occasional eye-rolling elements, Webb’s second Spider-Man doesn’t sink to the depths of Raimi’s third, although that may not be high praise. One can see what Webb, Kurtzman and Orci were reaching for, as they link together the eternally lost Peter with the similarly invisible Max and the almost similarly abandoned Harry. There’s also something to be said in how pretty much all the chaos is Peter’s own fault in a way, despite his best initial intentions with Max and Harry – to say nothing of how his father unknowingly helped set much more in motion.
Webb also spends a share of time setting things in motion, as Amazing Spider-Man 2 is partly a long teaser for bigger events to come – like Amazing Spider-Man 1 was. This is technically no different than what the Marvel Cinematic Universe does all the time, as its solo superhero movies keep setting the stage for the next Avengers. However, Captain America: The Winter Soldier delivered a thrill ride that could stand alone while opening up new directions for the Marvel universe, while Amazing Spider-Man 2 feels more like it is crossing off a checklist.
Yet since Sony only rebooted the franchise because Raimi couldn’t rush out Spider-Man 4, and so it could keep Spider-Man’s movie rights away from Marvel, Webb has been behind a creative eight-ball almost from the start. What’s more, after backing himself into a corner where he has to recreate a seminal moment of the comics – in spite of the long term effects for this franchise as a whole – it leaves him with yet another hole to climb out of.
Fortunately, Webb does stick the landing in the last 10-15 minutes, with the hope of more epic action to come. But this was the same implicit promise made after his first Spider-Man , and he can’t get away with more teasing after this one. Given what he had to do in the ending, he’s going to need some big tricks to fill the hole left behind.
In keeping with the up and down nature of the film, the cast is both a strength and a downfall in a way. As mentioned, Garfield is far better as a troubled, awkward, conflicted Peter than he is as a wise-cracking Spider-Man, at least with the one-liners Kurtzman and Orci feed him. Fortunately, he has his real-life girlfriend to help him out again, with Stone uplifting even the worst moments with her usual lovable charisma and sparks of life – sparks more lasting than the ones Electro creates. Aside from Garfield and Stone, Sally Field has the most touching moments as Aunt May – but the fact that both Chris Cooper and Paul Giamatti are only given one minute of screen time each is inexcusable.
When it comes to Electro/Max, Jamie Foxx is pretty much handcuffed, as he can only go overboard as a creepy nerd and then fly around with CGI blue electricity. Although the script drives home Max’s loneliness and need for an idol – an evil origin story also used for Jim Carrey’s Riddler in Batman Forever and Syndrome in The Incredibles – Foxx himself is left high and dry with his electric makeup and an autotuned voice. The real evil scenery chewing belongs to Dane DeHaan, who already played a troubled youth turned super villain in Chronicle – and has a hair style reminiscent of Maguire’s infamous evil dancing Peter in Spider-Man 3 . While DeHaan certainly has more life than James Franco’s old Harry, his psychosis goes back and forth from chilling to overblown – especially in a final transformation that must be seen to be believed.
Now two new Spider-Man movies have only been good enough, but not enough to match the heights from 10 years and one franchise ago. Although this series certainly isn’t a shot-for-shot remake of the “old” movies, one has to wonder if they would have been better off doing that. No matter what the new film gets right, one can’t help but daydream a world with Garfield playing Raimi’s Spider-Man, Stone back in her red-headed glory as Mary Jane Watson, DeHaan getting a less deranged version of Harry and Cooper getting a Green Goblin version of Norman Osborne.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 may get a worse reputation than it probably should, due to the mixed reviews, its quick drop from the top of the box office and Marvel Studios setting the bar higher. This may really be the Batman Forever of the series, in how it nails certain aspects but still barely keeps the less effective and cheesier elements at bay — at least more than half the time.
Yet Webb and Sony can’t afford to have the next installment become their Batman and Robin. One new element set up in the ending suggests it might not be, but another leaves a lot more doubt. Hope is still alive for actual amazing developments in the future, yet it could come at too high a cost if Webb and his future screenwriters can’t take a bigger leap.