I hated 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man with every ounce of my being, and it’s not necessarily because the movie was all that terrible. It just felt like a waste of time for all involved; a cynical exercise that rehashed an origin story we had seen play out 10 years before, only with a tenth of the personality. There’s nothing wrong with making a Spider-Man movie with a new cast, but rebooting a franchise barely a decade old, and this blandly, was a dumb and dispiriting move all around. With the exception of Casino Royale, the Bond series never felt the need to start over whenever the actor was changed. It just kept on trucking and let each performer make the role their own thing. That’s what The Amazing Spider-Man should have done, and didn’t do. The sequel, at the very least, turns things a bit more in that direction. That doesn’t mean it’s any good, but at the very least it seems to be going for something. Any ambition at all is an improvement over its predecessor.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 still shares many faults with Marc Webb’s first film. Every idea and character is half-baked, the abundance of CGI removes most action setpieces of any visual weight, and each scene feels like it was directed by a different filmmaker. There’s no clear visual identity to what Webb is doing here. Some scenes, like the initial car chase involving Paul Giamatti’s cartoonish Russian mobster, feel like something we would have seen in one of Sam Raimi’s films. Then there are the sequences involving Jamie Foxx’s Electro, which are CGI’d into oblivion and feel like something out of Green Lantern. Some scenes are just a collection of your simple medium shots, but in others the film decides to break out some crazy angles and editing tricks to give the proceedings a sense of style or bite it otherwise doesn’t have. However, this plays in to why I slightly preferred this hodgepodge to the first film. Even a horribly erratic personality is better than none, at least when it comes to blockbusters. Take, for example, the effeminate German scientist who shows up here for a couple scenes. It’s an utterly weird choice, and he seems to have been beamed in from another movie.
The same could be said of some performances here. The two primary villains in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 are the aforementioned Electro and Dane DeHaan’s Harry Osborn, and the respective actors are able to generate some nice moments in their smaller scenes, but in others they decide to go way over the top. I have a hard time blaming the performers, since both of them have been very good in other movies. (If anything, I feel Foxx’s work in Django Unchained was a touch under-appreciated.) It’s just that Webb’s filmmaking isn’t all that accommodating to over-the-top work, at least most of the time. Every scene feels completely out of whack with the one that came before, and I’m fairly convinced Webb is not exactly suited for subject matter like this. I’m a big, big fan of his first movie (500) Days of Summer, but through two Amazing Spider-Man films he hasn’t been able to leave much of a creative mark. Obviously when you make a movie like this, there are going to be half a million other cooks in the kitchen with you. He just does a poor job of bringing all these disparate influences together into a cohesive package.
The one undeniably great aspect of both Amazing Spider-Man films is the chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Whenever the two of them are onscreen together, I wanted them to run away and find another movie to star in. Their scenes feel so refreshing in the middle of a film that completely lacks any sense of humanity. Their characters aren’t even particularly well-drawn, but their performances elevate the material significantly. This is a world where everyone’s motivations feel foggy at best, and everything gets caught up in the usual superhero movie nonsense, but their work is fine proof that the most powerful cinematic tool can be two talented actors simply talking to each other. Much of the credit goes to them for making the ending even remotely effective, since I’m not sure the script or filmmaking completely earned those final moments. Thanks to them, the climax is one of the few objectively “good” things to be found in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
Just about everything else is clunky and dumb, and the film often finds a way to be at once feel rushed and frustratingly slow. And yet, it’s a fine example of how much more interesting things get when the origin story is tossed away. Early on in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I came to the conclusion that this film is what the first Amazing Spider-Man should have been. Toss out the origin garbage, and just give us a solid story using an already established Spider-Man character. This film doesn’t completely accomplish this, obviously, but at long last this new iteration is starting to feel more like its own entity and less like a useless, toothless clone. I still do not like that there is a new Spider-Man series out there, but if there is one thing The Amazing Spider-Man 2 accomplished it’s that I am no longer outright resentful of its existence. Hooray for small victories.