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Right until the credits rolled at the end of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I kept thinking to myself: “This can’t directed by the same guy as the first one!” Sure enough though, Marc Webb’s return to directing the web-slinger is a vast improvement over the clunky mess that swung into theater in 2012. What a difference two years can make, eh?
Although far from a perfect movie, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is more than good enough to silence the haters (myself included) who have been against this series reboot from the start. Delivering intense action, star-studded acting, and some well-earned bursts of emotion, this newest entry to the Andrew Garfield canon does some things even better than the Raimi trilogy. That being said, it suffers ever so slightly from some minor pacing issues as well as character overload.
As is the case with most sequels (particularly superhero ones), the film chronicles Spidey’s forced maturation as he develops his personal relationships, makes new enemies, and seeks to learn more about his family’s clouded past. Front and center is his relationship with Gwen Stacy (played once again by Emma Stone), and The Peter And Gwen Show would be an apropos title for the film. Although I personally believe Tobey Maguire to have been the better Spider-Man, there is no doubt at all that the romantic content in this new series is light-years ahead of the often-clunky relationship drama facing Peter and Mary Jane in the older movies. Garfield and Stone have an almost criminal level of chemistry, and their witty banter seems like it came from (500) Days Of Summer (another Marc Webb film), not a summer popcorn action flick.
But don’t worry, the movie has action in spades as well. Boasting the best CGI of the year so far (except for Electro’s face, continuing the series’ issue with villain anatomy), the film follows admirably in the Raimi footsteps in depicting Spider-Man’s aerial adventures through New York City in inventive ways. Fight scenes in Times Square, a power plant, and more I don’t want to give away pop with an array of eye candy and some legitimately cool choreography. I usually am not a big proponent of slow-motion, but darn it if I didn’t find the slo-mo sequences to be exciting. We even get a Richard Parker fight on an airplane to begin the movie, and surprisingly it works extremely well.
The cast is a display of some of Hollywood’s finest talent out there today. In addition to Garfield and Stone alternately thrilling us and pulling on our heartstrings, the supporting cast does a lot of heavy lifting as well. Dane DeHaan is devilishly good as the jealous and desperate Harry Osborn. It takes a while to grow accustomed to his deadpannish wit, but once he really gets going towards the end of the second act, he is a force to be reckoned with. Add another role to the list of reasons why many believe DeHaan to be a star in the making. As the other high-profile newcomer to the series, Jamie Foxx is as you’ve never seen him before playing Max Dillon, the painfully awkward electrician who becomes consumed by the power which transforms him into Electro. Some of his quips throughout the movie are cringe-worthy, but for the most part, Foxx does a good job humanizing his character and making him sympathetic in many ways. Sally Field and Campbell Scott reprise their roles as Peter’s closest of kin, and even Chris Cooper shows up to deliver a brief, yet effective turn as the sinister Norman Osborn.
This movie gets the humanity of its characters so right time and time again, even moreso than the Raimi trilogy. Even moments as simple as Spidey interacting with an adoring kid fan fit so well with the image of Spider-Man that thrilled me when I was a child. In addition, there wasn’t a moment throughout the entirety when I was anything less than fully invested in the stakes of Peter and Gwen’s relationship, and that is a majorly impressive feat for a comic book movie. Furthermore, Webb and his team of screenwriters take some major risks throughout the movie, as the plot transitions from a reasonably gleeful action movie to something much darker with real stakes. This element of relevance is something the first installment lacked, so I am quite pleased at the direction the series appears to be heading.
The only things holding this film back from surpassing the Raimi films in my book are the structural flaws which plagued The Amazing Spider-Man. First and foremost, the “hipster” portrayal of Peter Parker has always bugged me, but for the most part it fits with the tone. That is, until it’s time for the classic Marvel one-liners. They don’t always seem the thing Peter (as he’s portrayed) would naturally say, and they occasionally dilute the very authentic dialogue the film frequently presents. Also, the multi-villain model borrowed from Spider-Man 3 leads to similar pacing issues, stretching the film to nearly two and a half hours. I don’t mind a movie being that long, but there were a handful of scenes that either dragged or lasted a hair too long. My final complaint with the film is its awkward score/soundtrack combo. Although Hans Zimmer’s score is an improvement from James Horner’s work last time, there are still some moments where the musical cues don’t match up with the emotion on the screen (particularly in the Times Square scene). Combine that with a soundtrack that runs the gamut from nondescript indie pop to diegetic use of Phillip Phillips on an iPod (I dare you to find me a hipster who listens to Phillip Phillips), and you’ve got music that is more obtrusive than anything else.
Other than that though, this film dazzled in quite a few ways, and I have no problem saying that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is the biggest surprise of 2014 so far. I was absolutely apathetic the first film, and I went in to the theater last night fully prepared to feel the same way about this installment. Instead, I walked out with the wonderful combination of deep emotional attachment to the characters and exhilaration from the visual delights I’ve come to expect from 2010s superhero films. Flaws still exist with this rebooted franchise, but Marc Webb has come a long way to rectify many of the issues. If this upward trend of quality intends to stick around, then you can count me in for Spidey’s return in 2016.
RYAN’s RATING: 3 Stars out of 4