The Amazing Spider-Man 2 features a serious spoiler that’s been haunting me. Most fans suspect a moment that more casual viewers may not be aware of, and said moment is very important to the fabric of the film. It’s here, and they present it with grace and class. It also goes a long way towards saving the movie from some significant problems. In point of fact, Amazing 2 is a bit of an overstuffed mess, with too many villains, too many plot threads and some serious dead spots in its two-and-a-half hour running time. Thankfully, it carries plenty of good stuff too, and in the balance, that turns it into the reliable entertainment we all hoped it would be.
Central to that is the central relationship between Spidey (Andrew Garfield) – now a well-established hero to the people of New York – and Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone), who loves him but is getting a little tired about his inability to commit. He worries for her safety and remembers the promise he made to her late father (Denis Leary) to stay away from her. That becomes problematic when a sad-sack stalker (Jamie Foxx) gets reborn as the vengeful Electro and Spidey’s buddy Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) starts dabbling in his company’s dirty secrets.
That last part ties into the secrets of Peter Parker’s parents, along with a lot of extraneous baggage that really has no place in this film. Conspiracies and voices in the shadows are all well and good, but the more they build up, the less we care about them. The film works much better when it stick to the Peter’s dilemma with his girlfriend, as well as some of the more spectacular set pieces such as a show-stopping throw-down between Spidey and Electro in Times Square.
In fact, as long as the movie sticks to what its hero does best – thwarting evildoers while trying to maintain a personal life at the same time – it soars. We’ve missed some of the sunnier moments in comic-dom that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 embraces. There’s a cheerfulness here, a certain innocence that earlier movies have all but lost amid the sturm und drang. Marvel has always been good at balancing the gritty stuff with more comedic moments, but this is the first one in a while that really seems devoted to evoking a sense of child-like wonder. Garfield and Stone play a vital role in that. Their scorching chemistry remains undiminished, and despite the fact that the two are a long way from high school, they retain the freshness and exuberance of young people just starting out in life. (Sally Field chips in her two cents as well, with a couple of great moments as Peter’s Aunt May.)
No, the problem comes when the intricacies of plot start to tangle up, and the grand mystery Peter is hunting turns into so much empty nonsense. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 spends a great deal of time pumping up the murky origins of Oscorp’s evil schemes, but nothing to invest us in its outcome or hold our interest during the search. As a bad guy, Foxx does okay for himself, but his early scenes come uncomfortably close to Jim Carrey in Batman Forever – not exactly a model to emulate – and his villainous turn works better in visual terms than personal ones. DeHaan does quite well as Oscorp’s Goblin-in-waiting, finding a scary vibe to accent his existing creepiness. But it’s actually Paul Giamatti who hits the high point, bookending the film as the thuggish Rhino and finding the right over-the-top tone to cement the film’s four-color credentials.
You can sense a little bit of Avengers envy creeping into The Amazing Spider-Man 2. It tries to find that larger-than-life feeling with a reduced cast of characters, and ultimately comes across as busy rather than epic. Luckily, it keeps the central figure close, which remains the main purpose of the exercise and which survives intact despite more than its share of bumps and bruises. Garfield makes a terrific Spidey, and director Marc Webb guides him through the film’s elephantine structure with energy and good humor. The Winter Soldier remains the comic book movie to beat this year, but despite some wrong turns, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 still makes it across the finish line in decent time.