Of all the modern Spider-Man movies, the worst is generally considered to be Spider-Man 3. The consensus regarding sequels around Hollywood has always been “more is better,” but the last web-slinging effort from Tobey Maguire and Sam Raimi was so bloated with villains and extraneous subplots, it collapsed back onto itself in a much-ridiculed mess.
As the trailers and commercials have revealed more and more of the newest Spider-Man movie in the lead-up to its release, the reboot-quel looked like it could fall into the same traps, with multiple storylines involving several villains. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 turns out to be leagues above Spider-Man 3 – but it still bites off just a bit too much.
When the Marvel character was rebooted in 2011’s The Amazing Spider-Man, many were surprised with how good the movie actually was. Much of the credit for its success belonged to its stars, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, who found greater depths and fierier chemistry in one movie than Maguire and Kirsten Dunst managed to achieve in three. The Amazing Spider-Man had three basic plot threads, which was just enough for the movie without being too much.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2, on the other hand, features no fewer than three villains. Its plot threads include: Peter and Gwen’s rocky relationship; Peter investigating his father’s death; Peter’s old friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) returning home to take over OsCorp; a nebbish OsCorp employee (Jamie Foxx) who fanatically worships Spider-Man; Gwen possibly moving to England; and a shadowy board of figures that arrange to seize control of OsCorp from Harry. Oh, and Aunt May (Sally Field) retakes her nurse’s training.
Despite all the plot, the movie does a reasonable job of filtering all its storylines into two major halves, built around two villains: Electro (Foxx), a vengeful being made almost entirely of energy, and the Green Goblin (DeHaan), a dying madman hell-bent on destroying Spider-Man. Everyone else in the movie, from Gwen to Harry to Peter’s father, generally is sorted into one group or the other
For the bulk of the film, the two storylines struggle to truly co-exist, but never quite manage. By the end, director Marc Webb and his screenwriters just give up on trying, writing a separate climax for each plotline and having one directly follow the other.
Garfield and Stone remain the heart of the movie and the best thing about it, although DeHaan’s unhinged performance as Harry Osborn comes awfully close. Webb’s direction is adequate, but even more ostentatious than last time and to an often-distracting extent. (The movie probably has the most “bullet time” of any movie since 2003.)
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 crams itself with as many plots and characters as it can bear, and mostly remains afloat despite that shortcoming. The action is intense, the visual effects are impressive, the humour is well-timed, and the performances are pitch-perfect. It had the potential to surpass 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, but by trying to be a jack of all plots, it can’t truly master any of them.
But hey, at least it’s no Spider-Man 3.