It’s hard to keep a franchise fresh, and if “Pirates of the Caribbean” taught studios anything, it’s that some storylines should be given a serious cooling-off period before beginning the next installment. This didn’t, however, prevent Sony from doing their “Spider-Man” reboot only half a decade after the Tobey Maguire blockbuster trailblazers. While “The Amazing Spider-Man” didn’t have enough creative meat on its bones to really distinguish itself from the original except for an “amazing” in the title, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is a marked improvement that brings healthy innovation where its predecessor left off.
The story picks up with Peter Parker (played by Andrew Garfield, the most all-American Englishman in movies today) a year or so after his first big adventure. Whether it’s progress made by the character or just progress made in CGI, he’s much more in tune with his powers now (although the movie’s light tone uses most of his spider-like abilities to land punchlines rather than actual punches). On the sidelines and full of worry are his endearing Aunt May (Sally Fields) and his quick-to-quip girl Friday Gwen Stacy (a radiant Emma Stone). Arriving on the scene are Spidey’s No. 1 fan, electrical engineer Max (Jamie Foxx), and the youngest billionaire in New York, Harry Osborn (a slimy Dane DeHaan).
This may sound like too many characters to work a cohesive story out of, but the film narrowly avoids the narrative bloat that killed “Batman Forever” (1995) and “Spider-Man 3” (2007). Director Marc Webb craftily segues between storylines just enough to keep them interesting and cuts to the chase whenever it’s needed. To help with this process, the story spins a web of coincidences in order to make its fantasy seem believable. Peter happens to be childhood friends with Harry, who runs the sci-fi creature factory Oscorp, which also happens to employ Gwen Stacy, who happened to know Max before he became Spider-Man’s mortal enemy Electro, etc.
Some connections feel more forced than others, however, especially the sudden best-friend relationship that develops between Peter and Harry after only three scenes — an obvious attempt to rush the character dynamic set up between the two in the previous “Spider-Man” films. Peter’s sudden, unprovoked interest in solving the riddle of a mysterious memo in his deceased father’s belongings — which exists solely to link him to some of the movie’s primary villains — feels contrived.
Also, unnecessary flashbacks to events in the previous film to showcase information already clear enough to the audience frustratingly get in the way of developing the new story further. But if one is willing to overlook these grievous sins of the improbable, the quick-moving plot provides a thrilling ride.
Foxx’s Electro is a bit too one-dimensional at times, although his backstory of just wanting to be noticed attempts to shade in depth that villains often lack. His and Harry’s involvement in the film is predictable and forces an inevitable union, but the trials and tribulations of Peter and Gwen’s relationship add some much needed realism to the characters. It’s really the movie’s stellar third act, however, that shakes things up. Some very memorable climactic stunts and fight scenes will supply the wow-factor for the audiences. Plus, narrative twists break a cardinal rule of the superhero genre that most films are too chicken to try.
“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” earns its place among the upper echelon of high-caliber Marvel films. It even clearly tries to capitalize on some successful traits of “The Avengers” (including a nearly identical end sequence). The elements of the story are at times cliche and tried, but Marc Webb’s sequel still adds up to be much better than his first, which is amazing indeed.
Ryan Koehn covers film. Contact him at [email protected].