When it was announced that Sony would be revamping (or rebooting) the Spider-Man franchise just a few years after Spider-Man 3 hit theaters, and only a measly ten years after the original broke new ground and all but started the superhero craze (along with X-Men, that is), I was a bit dumbfounded. It was far too soon for that to happen, but being the movie buff that I am, I was going to see the new version the day it came out anyway. Though not necessarily better or worse than the Tobey Maguire version, the Andrew Garfield version (now with the word “Amazing” as part of its title), was different, with a much closer feel to Marvel’s current slate of Avengers Initiative films. Now we have The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a darker, sadder, but no less thrilling adventure that, for my money, is just as good as both the original trilogy and its rebooted predecessor.
Andrew Garfield is back as Peter Parker, a much more sarcastic, almost arrogant version of the character, though it fits Garfield’s own personality, just as the nerdish, introverted style Maguire brought to Peter matched his. Garfield is fun to watch and empathetic as he battles not only the outside forces of mayhem, but also tries to come to terms with his own inner turmoil, fighting to separate his personal relationships from his superhero persona while searching deeper into why his father left him so long ago.
There’s so much going on in this film, it becomes a delicate balance keeping all of the story lines integral to the overall stary arc, while not sacrificing a subplot or thread for the sake of any others (as Spider-Man 3 so poorly did). So much so, that we are given what amounts to two opening sequences and two closing sessions. The first opening sequence gives us an extended back-story into the disappearance of Peter’s parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz), which helps pave the way for closure while opening up a new avenue of discovery that may eventually help Peter along the way in future installments; it’s sort of presents Peter Parker with his own mini-bat cave, if you will.
In retrospect, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is chock-full of set-ups for future installments, pulling back on the “villain-of-the-week” style story-telling to develop a much larger world mentality. Because of this, the main villain, Electro (played with just enough subtlety by Jamie Foxx) draws the short straw when it comes to screen time. It’s not that he’s unimportant, far from it; his transformation from a disgruntled Oscorp employee into the mega wattage vengeance seeker is what ends up connecting all of the threads together. He just isn’t given a whole lot to do.
Which is fitting, since the character’s entire story arc revolves around his need to be noticed — to mean something — even though when he is finally noticed, he’s still thrown aside as someone without meaning. It’s in this that causes Max Dillon, energy expert and invisible introvert, to cling to his rage after Spider-Man inadvertently steals his spotlight. This inner desire to be needed, to be cared for by someone, turns out to be one of the main themes, and the deepest flaw, in almost every character in the film, including our hero. But it’s in these flaws that make the characters much more human.
As Peter fights to keep the city safe from Electro, he must also make two of the hardest personal decisions he’s ever had to make. The first is choosing not to help his long-time best friend, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) when he needs it the most. It turns out, Harry has the same genetic disease that his father (Chris Cooper) has spent a lifetime trying to cure through his genetics work at Oscorp. He believes that Spider-Man’s blood may be his only saving grace, however, Peter isn’t so sure he should allow that to happen. There’s no guarantee it will work, and there may be greater ramifications if it does.
At the same time, Peter made a promise in the first film to protect Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone, adorable and likeable as ever) by staying away from her, which proves much harder than he expected. Gwen is Peter’s true love and no amount of will power can stop the magnetic forces of attraction. So when Gwen is offered a scholarship to study abroad at Oxford, Peter has to make the decision to keep his promise and let her go, or declare his love and keep her close. It’s only when Peter learns of his father’s decision to leave that he understands what he must do.
I won’t say that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn’t without its own flaws. A lot of the motivations for the characters are rushed, thereby sidestepping the dramatic suspense in order to move the plot forward. There’s enough there to give reason behind why characters do what they do, but because they jump from one emotion to the next so quickly, the meaning behind their changes are completely watered down. And though the action sequences are all very well done, the first one, in which Peter chases down Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti) to stop him from stealing an armored Oscorp truck, has absolutely no relevancy to the story, except maybe to set-up the final sequence of the film.
Far better is the climax of the film, which has a surprising, bittersweet end that I did not see coming. It, along with the last few sequences that give us some hints as to the story arcs in subsequent films, helps set-up the turmoil that Peter is no doubt going to be dealing with in the next inevitable outing. And with an ending straight out of The Incredibles, it’s hard not to want the next installment as soon as possible.
My Grade: A-
Next week, new movies include Neighbors, Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return and Moms’ Night Out. If you would like to see a review of one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.