Spider-Man 2′ Review
Most of what I know about complex science comes from comic books, so forgive me if my understanding of quantum mechanics is a little off. But, I think it can mean that particles can exist in two states simultaneously. 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2,' a film loaded with such half-understood notions of difficult scientific concepts, is a quantum movie. It manages to be both awful and entertaining, frequently at the same exact time. The script is ludicrous, even by summer blockbuster standards. The characters behave irrationally and without motivation and the story makes lengthy, frequent pit stops into dull backstory. But, for every moment of tedium and confusion there is a tiny explosion of joy. Director Marc Webb just barely ties this collision of half-baked ideas together in a sticky Spidey bow.
We open with Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker doing the things a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man does in his second movie. (After all, we saw Tobey Maguire do this not all that long ago.) As he's zipping around the city he bumps into his number one fan, a borderline psychotic named Max (Jamie Foxx) who works for Oscorp and “invented the power grid.” Max is a super nerd and has bad hair and is awkward around women and soon falls in a tank of electric eels. Much like Joel Schumacher's villains from his 'Batman' films all had some sort of connection to their eventual alter ego (Poison Ivy likes plants!), Max becomes the electricity-powered Electro. Electro is unable to handle being dissed by Spidey, who doesn't recognize the guy now that he is blue and absorbs power from the street grid, so he decides to kill the world or something. I dunno.
Electro is only one of the villains. The other is Sullen Sulkenberger, also known as Dane DeHaan's version of Harry Osbourne. He wears cool vests and expensive sunglasses, but is also dying of some degenerative disease. The only thing that can save him, so he believes, is Spider-Man's super blood. ('The Amazing Spider-Man 2' is co-authored by the 'Star Trek Into Darkness' team of Kurtzman & Orci, making this their second film in a row to feature a deus ex transfusion.)
The love story between Garfield's Parker and Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy remains the best thing in this franchise. The two walk through New York at night (from Union Square to the High Line to Times Square in about three minutes, but let's not quibble) and are really, really cute together. When Stacy's life is threatened by Electro's thunderbolts, Garfield sells Parker's panic quite well.
Indeed, when 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2' is actually about Spider-Man it's something of a solid movie. There's a bit where Spidey saves the lives of a bunch of civilians that is, straight-up, one of the best superhero moments period. Parker's home life with his grieving Aunt May is surprisingly emotional. (And Parker's room is chock-a-block with cool props: from Michelangelo Antonioni to David Foster Wallace to the Velvet Underground to DIIV.)
The trouble kicks in with the actual story: a completely rote threat, a disinteresting quest (sorry Campbell Scott, your character is even more boring in this film than the last one) and action scenes that don't all land. The first chase looked particularly “video gamey,” especially when the VFX shots conclude and we cut to actual images of a human in a suit. The ending(s) fare better, which has me theorizing that either the production just sank more money and focus into the later sequences so you'll leave the theater happy, or the eye just grows accustomed to the very “fake” look. (It's probably a combo of the two.)
At the end of the day one must accept that 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2,' even more than the official films of the superior Marvel Cinematic Universe, is not a complete story. We're rather inelegantly set-up for the 'The Amazing Spider-Man 3' and 'The Sinister Six'. I just hope Electro comes back because the absurd way they digitized Jaime Foxx's voice made me giggle each time I heard it.
'The Amazing Spider-Man 2' opens in theaters on May 2.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.