The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is an egregiously beautiful film that has places to be. Just about every shot in this movie was made to be a desktop background or a Tumblr post, much like Zack Snyder’s 300 but without a lot less dude chest. And while it finds its head, it never finds its heart. Great cinematography and fantastic actors can’t do much with an empty story and poor writing.
Picking up where the first Amazing Spider-Man left off, Peter Parker is still in New York City fighting crime, living with his Aunt May, and dating Gwen Stacy. As they graduate from high school, Peter is still haunted by the death of Gwen’s father’s death and the hollow memory of his mother and father abandoning him on his aunt and uncle’s doorstep so many years ago. Once his old friend Harry Osborn returns to the city with his own father’s diseased death imminent, things get complicated as a Spidey-obsessed electrical engineer from Oscorp gains incredible electrical powers.
If that sounds like a rather busy plot, then you’re right. It’s incredibly hectic, and that’s only the setup to the first quarter of the film with 90 more minutes of intertwining developments in hiding. There are a lot of moving parts, and in an effort to get to through it all, the movie operates much like a bulldozer going through paper walls. There are so many moments in the story where, cognitively, you can recognize that there is emotion in a scene and you can tell the actor’s are appropriately emoting, but you just feel bored.
It’s an awful lot like how a child would tell a story. Instead of This happened because That happened but Another Thing happened because Disaster occurred, it’s just and then and then and then and then and then… It’s a tiring experience, one that drains you for no particular reason other than to push out plot arcs as you get from point A to point B. It’s an entirely soulless, humorless film.
A lot of this can be attributed to the new writing team, I’m sure. Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci worked together on a number of emotionally void films including Watchmen, Star Trek, Transformers, Cowboys & Aliens, and Ender’s Game (some of those worked, other didn’t). Combine their dry style with director Marc Webb’s impossible-to-suppress indie flair and you have a movie that just doesn’t know what it wants to be. Stilted, imprecise dialogue can be covered up only so much.
But aside from that, there is an awful lot to throw into the Like column. As stated before, this is simply a beautiful-looking film. Let alone that it contains two irresistibly attractive leads in Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield (actually one of the reasons he doesn’t really work as Peter Parker, though his confidence and zip as Spider-Man is dead-on), Webb and cinematographer Daniel Mindel really excel at finding ways to bring color and life and absolute beauty to ostensibly empty or filler scenes.
Of the few things they find the time to dwell on, the action scenes simply stew and luxuriate in the visuals. While the impetus behind a lot of it feels clinical (especially the climactic ending where you can almost hear someone ticking off items on a checklist), seeing it unfold is a treat. Not only is the movement and fighting exciting, but there’s also a visual logic that happens as Spidey fights, and it all is laid out so clearly. Other director’s could learn a thing or two about directing action from this. Unreal as it all is, much of it feels supremely authentic.
As for the acting, you could really attribute that facet’s success to the actors themselves. Under the guidance of a director that highlights natural charisma, this movie is stocked with actors that excel at being both natural and charismatic. Garfield can make these incredible swings from punk to stoic to heartbroken so easily and swiftly that he’s just about all you can watch in the moment. Whether the things he says and does as Peter make sense or not, he makes you believe that he believes it.
And Stone as Gwen Stacy is just pitch-perfect. Charming like you wouldn’t believe and effortlessly attractive. Not in the sense that she is superficially beautiful (as much as she is), but so much of how she moves in concert with the directing makes her impossible to not pay attention to. Granted, she (and her tumultuous relationship with Peter) rarely amounts to much more than trite drama, but Stone makes it bearable. And while Jamie Foxx as Electro is sufficiently compelling as well, his talents feel wasted on two slices of an incredibly one-dimensional character.
The surprise was Dane DeHaan. He looks very much like an inherently demented fellow, so much so that 2012’s Chronicle seemed single-handedly about showing the world how much pure evil this one guy can exude. Past that, forgetting all about him is perfectly acceptable, but his role as Harry Osborn brings back to light that DeHaan can get raw. When he lets his rage loose and allows his naturally lazy, smashed vocal cadence to rupture into anger, he is legitimately impressive. Harry is a quagmire of characterization problems, but DeHaan is aces.
Of course, good acting and better visuals can only get you so far. There’s still a pit that needed filling with gravitas and weight, but instead it was just dumped full of plot points. You know that whole thing about less is more? Everyone involved in this movie would have done well to remember that, focusing on making a few critical pieces work instead of hammering in mismatched puzzle pieces onto the board, some of which exist only as a franchise continuance. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a treat for your eyeballs, but your heart will be found wanting.
+ Stunning cinematography and action
+ Topnotch acting by the core cast
– Overflowing cup of unresolved, useless, or unwarranted story developments
– Stilted, unnatural writing
Final Score: 5 out of 10