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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

| May 4, 2014 | 0 Comments

Of all the problems that plague Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – and there are many – possibly the most curious is that he is haunted by the ghost of Denis Leary.  That alone would bring any superhero to his knees.  If you have seen the original 2012 adventure The Amazing Spider-Man then you’re already up to speed on why he’s being visited by the spirit of the beloved comedian.  Surprisingly, it’s far from his only issue.

In The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Peter finds himself with enough personal problems to fill a year’s worth of therapy. Dealing with three supervillains, college, family history, a nagging aunt, a super-fan, girlfriend problems, and a night job that’s killing him, Peter probably faces more in two hours then any superhero should be asked to.  That’s part of what makes this sequel work.  It’s less about the posturing of villains and more about the business of being Spider-Man.

As the sequel opens, we find Peter taking care of business, dressed in the red and blue, taking down New York City’s criminal element.  He seems to enjoy his work.  He’s happy to throw off a one-liner while clinging to the side of a runaway semi, yet he goes home and finds himself nursing bruises and an endless series of tattered Spidey uniforms.  He also finds himself having to dodge explaining his alter ego to his Aunt May (Sally Field) who regularly puts her foot down when the kid gets out of line.

The business of being Spider-Man is not all that ails him.  If we complain that superhero movies these days come up short on story, this movie bears the weight of at least 12 different plots all jockeying for position.  Not the least of which are the villains.  The bad guys in Spider-Man’s world have always been bombastic, and over-the-top, so throwing three into the mix is a little jarring.

First is Electro, played by an oddly-cast Jamie Foxx.  He is introduced as Max Dillon, a nerdy Spider-Man superfan who becomes the lightening-spewing Electro after an accident involving electric eels (yes . . . electric eels).  Foxx does an okay job as Electro, but the actor’s abundant charisma makes him the wrong choice to play a put-upon nebbish.  When he becomes the superhero Electro, Foxx looks just plain weird, like a cross between Dr. Manhattan and Emperor Palpatine.  You’re not suppose to ask how this transformation fixes the gap in his two front teeth, so I won’t either.

Second is The Green Goblin, otherwise known as Harry Osbourne (Dane DeHaan), son of the Howard Hughes-like millionaire Norman Osbourne (Chris Cooper) who gives his son the massive responsibility of running Oscorp, a mega research corporation which – based on its role in this film and the previous one – seems to function mainly as an outlet to produce super villains.  Previously it helped spawn The Lizard; here it spawns not only Electro but also The Green Goblin.  Maybe someone ought to look into this.

Actually Harry’s story is quite sad.  He’s a lonely kid who gets some news from the old man that isn’t exactly positive, to say nothing of the fact that he doesn’t seem to have any real associates or friends.  Harry is an old schoolmate of Peter, but we can sense the uneasy union of two people who know each other but were never exactly friends.  That may be his lot in life; Harry is a sad kid whose familial bloodline becomes a death sentence.

Rounding out the villains is a creepy Russian thug called Aleksei Sytsevich who later goes by the moniker Rhino.  He shows up so late in the film that he might as well have been a cookie for Part 3 – maybe that was the point.

The villains are more or less perfunctory.  The best parts of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 are the moments that are quiet and intimate.  Yes, this is a crash-and-bash action picture but you can feel director Marc Webb trying to tell a story under all the cacophony (this legitimately is a sequel).  You can also feel that he’d rather tell a love story than make an action movie, but he has a lot to work with.  He has so many balls in the air at once that you can actually feel the screenplay struggling to sort them out.  At one point, Peter and Gwen hide in a closet and discuss Electro, Green Goblin and their own strained love story in one sitting as if they themselves are getting confused.

The real heart of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – and its predecessor – is the love story.  Peter continues his courtship of Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) which never feels forced, but is brought to life through a heart-felt and well written relationship that is tarnished, not by Peter’s alter ego but by Gwen post-college plans.  They have some moments together that are pure and sweet and even poignant once you know where the story is headed.  Webb and his screenwriters have (in both films) written a love story that feels so genuine and heartfelt that the third act of this movie actually means something.

It is clear that Webb wants to elevate the movie above just being an expensive special effects exercise.  He succeeds only in part.  The movie isn’t as surprising or as refreshing as the original.  It doesn’t have the straight-lined narrative of the first movie, but it is interested in its superhero beyond just having him swing around and beat up villains. There’s a heart beating just beneath this elephantine enterprise – despite its machine-made title.  True, this is a noisy action picture with a lot of problems, but with a central relationship that you actually care about.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.