Stillanerd’s Retrospective: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) review


The last live-action Spider-Man film prior to Spider-Man: Homecoming. Was it bad enough for Sony to really risk ending and restarting their franchise again?

Three years ago, as a contributor for the Spider-Man Crawlspace, I wrote a film review for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014). Seeing as we’ve been doing a series of re-examinations of past Spider-Man movies, it only seemed natural to read what I had once wrote. Though I confess I did feel strange in doing so, reading something you once wrote (especially if enough time has passed) feels dissociating—not to mention awkward if you’re also a perfectionist.

Two things about that earlier review surprised me. Much of the criticism I had back then about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 hasn’t really changed all that much. I also graded it a “C+.” I may have been a bit too generous with that grade in hindsight. Perhaps that’s because it’s hard not to look at this movie in light of the aftermath which followed.

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Even when The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had mixed critical reviews and less than enthusiastic box office numbers, there was still talk about a third film. Rumors circulated, just as they did today, about a Venom solo movie. Sony gave the go-ahead for the Drew Goddard-written-and-directed Sinister Six film. There was even talk about an Aunt May movie chronicling her adventures as a secret agent in the 1960’s, if you can believe it.

Then Sony had their e-mail servers hacked and WikiLeaks posted those same e-mails online. The whole world saw just how much financial dire straights Sony was really in. Afterwards, Kevin Fiege of Marvel Studios cut a deal with Sony to share joint-custody of the Spider-Man films rights. We know, of course, what happened next, seeing how Spider-Man: Homecoming will be in theaters nationwide next week. To divorce oneself from all this while watching ASM2 is next to impossible—likewise when you also know what Sony’s intentions for this movie were.

Credit: Sony/Columbia Pictures; from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

…one can see, almost from the beginning, just how thin [The Amazing Spider-Man 2] applies its glossy coat of cinematic paint.

Just as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy inspired the first Amazing Spider-Man, Whedon’s The Avengers clearly influenced the second. The film’s color palette is brighter. There’s a greater emphasis on achieving spectacle than there is realism. The dialogue seems more improv. Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s score sounds more triumphant. There’s even prominent usage of lens flare. ASM2 looks and feels so different from the first film that it doesn’t seem as if Mark Webb directed it.

It’s especially apparent once Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man appears on screen. Gone is the first film’s grungy costume. In its place, we had the most comic book accurate version of the red and blues to-date. There’s no dependence on Parkour stunt work either, as the armored truck heist sequence really shows off some creative usage of Spidey’s powers and skills, courtesy of some seamless CGI. Those five to seven minutes are still some of the best the wall-crawler has ever looked in live action.

However, one can see, almost from the start, just how thin the film applies its glossy coat of cinematic paint. I’d forgotten just how sudden and jarring the tonal shifts were. One minute, you could be laughing over the banter between Peter and Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy. Then, all of a sudden, there’s the ghost of Denis Leary’s Captain Stacy, looking like he just wants to collect his check and leave.

Credit: Sony/Columbia Pictures; from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

[The Amazing Spider-Man 2] a movie that doesn’t seem to know what it’s even about.

Another example is Jamie Foxx’s Max Dillon terrorizing Times Square right after transforming into Electro. It has some of the most stunning visuals in the movie—including an incredible, slow-motion, bullet time sequence. However, at the same time, you’re still distracted by the fact there are hundreds of bystanders standing around cheering behind barricades, as if they were … well … extras on a movie set. On top of the bizarre choice to have Electro’s “thoughts” as part of the music score, why did Spidey even bother putting on a firefighter’s helmet?

Worse, it’s a movie that doesn’t seem to know what it’s even about. Is it about Peter struggling between wanting to be with Gwen while also wanting to honor her late father’s wishes? Or is it about his life after graduation and balancing work, school, and being Spider-Man (something we never really see)? Maybe it’s the origin of Electro? Or Harry Osborn inheriting OsCorp? How about Aunt May becoming a nurse and hiding it from Peter? And what about the mystery of what happened to Peter’s parents?

The scene which perfectly encapsulates this is when Peter runs into Gwen just as she’s applying for her Oxford scholarship. He’s trying to tell her how much he loves her, and doesn’t want to her to leave him, but he just can’t quite spit it out. Instead, he rambles about how his parents might’ve sold OsCorp company secrets, and that Harry is dying and needs Spider-Man’s blood, but Peter can’t give it to him because it might make things worse. The more Garfield talked, the less it felt like he was acting, and more like he was trying to wrap his head around the cluttered, over-complicated script.

Remember, we’re taking about the theatrical cut. An entire subplot involving Mary Jane Watson got cut for the sake of time, and the film still clocks in at almost two-and-a-half hours!

I also remember enjoying the authentic chemistry between chemistry between Garfield and Stone when I first watched this film. Re-watching it this time around made me notice how inane the romantic drama between them was. That they both sounded natural in their delivery is a testament to them as actors. The same goes for Sally Field’s reprising her role as Aunt May. I even thought Campbell Scott as Richard Parker did a decent enough job.

Credit: Sony/Columbia Pictures; from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

The worse his [Harry Osborn’s] disease gets, the less seriously I could take [Dane DeHaan].

But, my gosh, did the acting take a huge step down after the first Amazing Spider-Man. Much has already been said about how over-the-top Jamie Foxx’s Max Dillon / Electro was. He definitely felt as if he was playing a character more suitable to superhero movies of a different era. Whatever Foxx was doing, it actually paled in comparison to the level of scenery-chewing done by Dane DeHaan’s Harry Osborn / Green Goblin. The worse his character’s disease got, the less seriously I could take him. When he pleaded to Max that he needed him, I almost started laughing.

Of course, if the Academy Awards gave Oscars for hammy performances, then Marton Csokas’ Dr. Kafka would sweep all categories. When Colm Feore’s Donald Menken delivers the most controlled performance of all the villain roles, that’s saying a lot.

It also still shocks me just how many wasted roles there were. I’ve already mentioned Denis Leary. But what about Felicity Jones as Felicia Hardy? She was a rising star at the time, and here she’s playing a version of the Black Cat that’s nothing but a glorified secretary? How about Paul Giammati as the Rhino? Sure, it looks like he’s having fun. But, again, you’d think the film would do more with him considering someone of his talent. What about Chris Cooper as Norman Osborn? Not only does his character die in the first act, he’s not even credited.

Credit: Sony/Columbia Pictures; from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

…unlike the first Amazing Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a lot more memorable. For as bad as it gets, you at least find yourself engaged with it.

There are still some effective scenes though. I still loved the scene where Spider-Man saves the kid from the bullies, then fixes his windmill, and walks him home. And yes, how that pays off at the end is silly, but it’s sweet all the same. As a loose adaption of “The Night Gwen Stacy Died,” it’s still emotionally devastating—even when you know what’s coming. Other than the ridiculous “web-hand,” it’s one the best moments from all five films.

Perhaps this is why, unlike the The Amazing Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a lot more memorable. As bad as it gets, you at least find yourself engaged. You still feel as though you are watching a faithful, lifted-right-from-the-comics Spider-Man. It’s too bad he’s in a mediocre movie worthy of being made fun of at RiffTrax.

Next: Stillanerd's Retrospective: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) review

Watching Spider-Man: Homecoming after seeing these past Spider-Man films will definitely be an interesting experience. If it’s one thing these film retrospectives have reinforced, it’s that a film’s quality isn’t determined by how faithful it holds to the source material—of course it wouldn’t hurt. Like I once joked with some friends, if you could take the best parts of Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man films and paste them together with the best of the Raimi versions, we might end up with the most faithful comic book movie of all time.