The Amazing Spider-Man separated itself from Sam Raimi’s trilogy of Spider-Man movies by taking a more grounded direction. Rather than focus on spectacle, the movie delivered on smaller moments that had the character out of costume. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 still has a few of those moments, but it’s clear that the focus has shifted. It is a brighter, louder film that’s laying more groundwork for films down the road. The final product is still sometimes compelling, but as a whole it struggles under the weight of its clashing priorities.
The plot offers up a web of story threads. At its center is still Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), who fights crime in New York City as Spider-Man. Still guilty over the death of Captain George Stacy, he decides to break it off with his girlfriend Gwen (Emma Stone). But the two continue to be drawn to each other, even as their paths seem to diverge. His old friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) returns to the city to take over Oscorp following his father’s death. Harry has inherited his father’s deadly disease, and resorts to desperate measures to save his own life. Over at Oscorp, lowly engineer Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) gets into an accident that grants him power over electricity. Meanwhile, Peter still searches for the truth about the death of his parents.
There’s a lot of ground to cover, and the narrative obviously strains to get to all of it. The film follows multiple plotlines that don’t really intersect for much of the picture. There’s enough material here for three movies, but the film stuffs it all together into one long picture. In the process, it sacrifices nuance. This is most noticeable in the Max Dillon thread, which largely features a series of broad clichés that closely resemble other villainous origin stories. Dillon comes off as terribly cartoonish, and that makes him a rather weak villain. The multiple plots fray at the seams, with sequences that reveal information but don’t make much sense in the long run. There’s a sequence, for example, that has Gwen Stacy evading Oscorp security. The consequences of her actions are never brought up again, however, the sequence seemingly existing in a vacuum.
As with the first film, the best moments are markedly subdued. Marc Webb’s talent for shooting dialogue remains his best weapon, the film finding its charm in quieter moments that just have the characters hanging out. The film gains much from the flirtations of Peter and Gwen, and the chummy history between Peter and Harry. The film also gets to the core of the Spider-Man character in small moments that happen in between big fights, as he interacts with the people he’s saving. It all gives the film a personality beyond the series of CGI-heavy fight sequences.
But there are much fewer of these moments now, the film beholden to the largeness of its plotting. It’s a shame because it is these sequences that make best use out of the talented cast. The chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone is as palpable as it was in the first film. It is actually pretty rare for superhero movies to have a love interest worth caring for, but the interactions of the two leads lends genuine weight to the relationship. Dane DeHaan lays it on a bit thick in his villainous moments, but he’s pretty charming when just hanging out with Peter.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is palatable enough, but it feels like a step backwards. Its predecessor had managed to find a nice balance between teenage drama and superheroics, delivering its charm through the contrast of its two sides. Here, the balance is tipped as the film is forced to deliver a surplus of plot. There is just too much being setup here, leaving the film little time to fit in those tiny moments of human interaction that helps ground the superhero action.