At the end of the preview screening I attended for the follow-up to the 2012 “Spider-Man” reboot, there were arguments among members of the press. Those among them who like movies more than comic books were saying, ”Hey, this was better than I expected!” The ones who are more into comic books than movies were referring to it as a travesty.
Oh, those darn purists! Don’t they know that superhero movies aren’t made for them, but are aimed at general cinemagoers (many of whom, like myself, also have an appreciation for comic books)? Most of those snooty folks complain about pretty much all of the comics films.
“Spider-Man 2” is an effects-heavy, action-packed, sometimes too-plot-busy movie that gets you up close and familiar with characters you care about – shy Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and his love interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) – as well as characters you might initially like but grow to fear – electrical engineer Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) and Peter’s old pal Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan).
The film opens with an incredibly tense and dramatic sequence in a plane that directly follows bits of the storyline from the first film, finally letting viewers in on what happened to Peter’s parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) after they hurriedly left young Peter off at his aunt and uncle’s home, then vanished. Yet that doesn’t exactly set the tone of the film, since that harrowing flashback scene jumps directly Peter/Spider-Man today, gleefully web-swinging above and through the streets of New York, on his way to his high school graduation, but being detoured by a heist involving many guns and a huge truck barreling down those same streets.
One of the reasons these kinds of films work so well and keep audiences so entertained is that they hop between nail-biting scenes, bits of introspection, intimate moments and explosions of all-out wildness.
In this case, it would be wise to have seen the previous film because there are quite a few references to it – for instance there are wordless scenes of Gwen’s dad (Denis Leary) that will only make sense if you know what happened to him in that film, and that make his imaginary presence in the mind of Peter all the more poignant.
But don’t worry about being confused. This film certainly stands on its own, story-wise. Max Dillon works at Oscorp, the research company run by brilliant Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper) who, on his deathbed calls for his son, Harry, who he long ago sent off to boarding school, to return, to learn about the genetic disease afflicted upon the family, and to take over the company. In another soap opera-ish area of the story, Peter and Gwen seem to be headed toward breakup mode due to the angst he suffers over her life being in danger due to his Spidey alter ego.
Page 2 of 2 - Of course, in a Marvel Comics film, something always has to go terribly wrong. This time that thing happens to lonely, ever-overlooked Max, who suffers an extraordinary accident at Oscorp, dies, then wakes up in the morgue, a changed man. Really changed. Like glowing blue and sucking up every bit of electricity around him changed. Before the accident he was a nice guy. Now he’s calling himself Electro, speaking in a bass-enhanced voice, and firing bolts of electricity at everyone and everything. Foxx eats up the role, and brings it to just the right edge of craziness.
Things only get more complicated from there, but the script and direction work together in a way that keeps the story clear and concise. Garfield again proves that he was the right person to take over the role when Tobey Maguire was finished with it in the first batch of Spidey films. Garfield plays it very physically, which is what the role calls for, but he also gives us a glimpse of the character’s soulful side, usually via an array of facial expressions. He has some great scenes with Dane DeHaan as well as with his Aunt May (Sally Field). But I’m still not convinced that Emma Stone was the right choice for Gwen Stacy. Her acting is too mannered for me, and her character appears to be telegraphing what she’s going to do next, rather than surprising us.
The ending feels a bit hurried, especially where it starts letting us know what will happen in “Spider-Man 3.” But I’m OK with being hung over a cliff for a couple of years. For those keeping track, Marvel Comics honcho Stan Lee makes his obligatory cameo in the high school graduation scene.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2
Written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner; directed by Marc Webb
With Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan