Amazing Spider-Man 2 has the same problems, but worse. It also has the same charisma, but better.
For the first time in any Spider-Man movie, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is genuine and likeable while in the suit, Even when Tobey Maguire played him, one of the more easily likeable people in film, his one-liners fell a bit flat when the mask went on. This Amazing Spider-Man takes after the rapid-fire quipster from the Ultimate Spider-Man comics. He is caring. He likes people. He has some of that unmistakable New York swagger. He’s appropriately guilt-ridden. And most importantly, he’s hilarious. I especially loved the moment when Spidey sports a fireman’s hat as he uses a fire hose to vanquish a threat. Andrew Garfield is everything comic book fans deserve. He balances Spider-Man’s half-overt and half-accidental comedic timing. He even gives Spider-Man a Queens accent.
The first act of the film is touching. (Small spoiler for the first Amazing Spider-Man film here) Peter’s guilt over the death of Captain Stacey (Denis Leary) in the first film makes him question every action. Some things he should; some things he shouldn’t. He can’t tell the difference. Director Mark Webb demonstrates a deft cinematic hand by showing us why characters act irrationally. Sure, those moments are written into the plot, but they makes sense...usually.
The film is at its best when focusing on the relationship between Peter and Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone). In the best non-verbal cameo I can remember, Captain Stacey’s memory haunts Peter on the edges of his vision. Leary has one of those faces. His eyes look like they can pierce your thoughts and read your mind. His face may be placid, but somewhere in his expression, you can read disapproval. Or is it anger? Is it concern? His last words were for Spider-Man to stay away from Gwen. Peter promised him, but is too head-over-heals to abide.
This complicated melodramatic relationship is the heart of the film and, honestly, the action sometimes just got in the way.
The wheels come off when Electro (Jamie Foxx) shows up. The film’s problems are not Electro’s fault. That’s just when the threads come undone. The film tries to follow Peter and Gwen’s relationship, Max Dillon before he becomes Electro, and Peter's childhood friend Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan), whose father has something to do with Peter’s father, who may or may not have died a traitor while bioengineering a cure for all man’s ills, but, of course, it would be used as a weapon. There’s a subplot about industrial politics, oneupsmanship and backstabbing within Harry’s company, which somehow causes the final showdown with the Green Goblin. Just in case you don't have enough villains, Paul Giamatti plays an unintelligible mechanical Rhino in the film's worst performance. Oh, and Gwen is trying to get into college in England. The movie makes sure to cover every conceivable plot point from every genre in its nearly two-and-a-half-hour running time. It's too much.
It’s not that the plot threads are hard to follow, because they’re childishly simple, it’s just that there are too many. Sometimes we have to suffer through multiple expositions before getting back to something interesting. Sometimes, just to remind us that other stuff is going on, the film cross-cuts to other storylines for a few seconds, only to annoy the audience that more wasn’t shown.
Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield’s charisma carried me through the frequent flaws and while I couldn’t ignore them as they were happening, I was rewarded with solid action scenes and effective melodrama.
There is a A LOT of stuff to chew on in this movie and when it gets things right, the movie cruises. It has some of the best dramatic moments in any superhero film to date. When it tries to cram too many developments into tight editing, it has the opposite of the intended effect. It lags.
If you like action, you'll see plenty. If you like romance, it has that too. It has everything that sometimes works to cross purposes, but it's easily forgiven in a summer blockbuster.