Suffice it to say that I was not a fan of 2012’s “Amazing Spider-Man.” Coming on the heels of Raimi’s trilogy, another origin story not only felt redundant, but also held up unfavorably in comparison to its predecessor. That said, its sequel – “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is a significant improvement. In thematic terms, this sequel is almost willfully shallow – no complex questions or nuanced character development here – but taken as pure entertainment it’s not bad at all.
The plot isn’t anything to write home about: Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is trying to balance saving people with his relationship with girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). A new villain named “Electro” (an underutilized Jamie Foxx) emerges as the result of an industrial accident. Old friend Harry Osborn (an impossibly unappealing Dane DeHaan) shows up and promptly goes the Green Goblin route. Bang, whiz, boom, repeat. (Also, a mildly spoiler-y comment addressed to longtime Spider-Man fans: something happens in this movie that you all knew was coming. It’s not handled particularly skillfully.)
In some ways, this new “Spider-Man” series illustrates the problems of a slavish reliance on comic-book source material. It’s clear the filmmakers are setting things up for a “Sinister Six” team-up (translation: Spider-Man’s best-known rogues’ gallery) but this risks creating a cynically franchise-oriented, paint-by-numbers approach to storytelling. The best superhero films of the last decade (“The Dark Knight,” “Iron Man,” “Spider-Man 2,” etc.) were effective precisely because they stepped outside traditional genre conventions to offer social commentary or emotional heft. That willingness to experiment is a lot less present in today’s climate of ever-more-massive budgets and heavy reliance on “tentpole” flicks. All that to say: I’m not holding my breath for anything particularly creative, surprising, or stirring to come out of this new series.
That’s the bad stuff. On the flip side, it’s not as if “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is boring or unwatchable. Garfield and Stone make a great pair of leads, and the script isn’t afraid to play up the funnier, more lighthearted elements of the comic (though this tendency results in some “dramatic” moments feeling unintentionally hilarious). Also, it bears mentioning that the special effects are great – by which I mean really, really, really great. If the entire GDP of a Central European nation is going to be spent on CGI for each summer blockbuster, at least in this film it was a wise investment. Fantastic slo-mo sequences couple the best of “The Matrix” with Rube Goldberg-style kinetic energy.
Is it worth seeing? Sure, if you’re a fan of Spider-Man or superhero movies in general. Entering with the right expectations is key: anyone hoping for something at the level of Raimi’s 2004 “Spider-Man 2” will be sorely disappointed. Those in the mood for something less weighty, though, will leave entirely satisfied.
A serviceable, surprisingly entertaining way to kick off the summer movie season.
Normalized Score: 2.4