The Amazing Spider-Man 2 subscribes to the crash-bang hysteria of the summer movie season. A bloat of CGI-enhanced battle scenes where the more recognizable parts of New York City are reduced to rubble during Spider-Man’s battle with a new electric foe named Electro (Jamie Foxx). Yet, underneath all that mayhem and computer generated destruction is a superhero movie that doesn’t shy away from consequences. Rarely does the status quo change in the Disney/Marvel movies, here things change drastically.
As much as I enjoyed Marc Webb’s initial reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, this second movie outdoes the first in a lot of ways. Sure, there are a variety of complaints to be had with it, first and foremost the musical score is just the worst. When Phillip Phillips “Gone Gone Gone” pops on the soundtrack as Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is going through a character building montage trying to figure out what really happened to his estranged parents, it’s hard not to groan at the obviousness of it all – “And I would do it for you.” It’s one bad choice in a string of unwise decisions as far as the movie’s music goes. Intense battle scenes are infused with weirdly happy sounding electronica music. It’s discombobulating to say the least.
What makes this sequel stand out is Webb’s willingness to brush aside the more geeky aspects of superhero filmmaking and instead focus on the characters populating his story. He isn’t too interested in showcasing costume making, gadget building, and superfluous exposition. He chooses to gloss over those details in quick scenes or montages. What he does focus on is much more important.
There’s the strained relationship Peter has with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). In the last film he promised her dying father that he’d keep her away from him so she didn’t get hurt. Here he’s struggling with the guilt of her father’s blood on his hands, all the while trying to balance a tricky romantic relationship with her. There’s his bond with his adoptive Aunt May (Sally Field), which is fraught with the pitfalls of the secrets both of them are keeping from each other, and his uncle’s ghost looming over every interaction they ever have. There’s Peter’s best friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) who is dying from the same rare genetic condition that killed his rich, egotistical, unloving father. Harry needs Spider-Man’s blood in hopes that its superpowers will counteract the vicious disease. Peter cares for his friend, but doesn’t want to reveal his identity, and is afraid that giving his friend his blood may very well kill him. Finally, there’s Max (Foxx), a very lonely, nerdy scientist sporting a pocket protector that would make the guys on “The Big Bang” jealous. Max is an electrical genius, but like so many people who work at Oscorp, he’s transformed into a Spider-Man hating super villain after a work place accident with some genetically modified electric eels.
Max is in an interesting villain. He’s a quiet, unassuming outcast, trampled on by his managers. He’s weak. After being saved by Spider-Man early on in the movie, he forms an unhealthy obsession with the masked crusader. His character arc is one of the more fulfilling aspects of the movie. How does a man with no discernible power handle god-like power when it’s given to him? Once the final third of the film rolls around its easy to spot its blockbuster bloat. Villains seem to be popping up out of the woodwork. Spider-Man is engaged in an endless climatic battle, which results in so much climax fatigue.
Though, all this carnage isn’t without its consequences, and that’s what makes this movie special. No one is safe. Characters move on. Lives are changed forever. Spider-Man may be cracking jokes most of the time, but here’s a superhero movie that isn’t scared of weightier human issues like grief, loss, and death. It’s a nice change from other comic book movies that are deathly afraid of changing up their fabricated status quo. It’s an exciting and mostly rewarding detour from the norm.