The first Amazing Spider-Man felt like a pretty cynical piece of cinema. A reboot of a franchise barely five years dead (and rumored to be born only out of the necessity for Sony to hold on to the rights for the titular character), the finished product was rather underwhelming. A padded runtime, a perfunctory script and a thoroughly dull adversary overruled the undeniable merits of Andrew Garfield as the spandexed web-slinger. Thankfully, that’s not the case this time around. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 feels like a proper movie. It may never reach the wonderful heights of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, but with its goofy sense of humor and super-villain overkill, it’s the best Spider-Man film since that landmark.
This sequel somehow manages to be very heavy on plot, yet feather-light in its writing. There are two separate bad guys this time (Jamie Foxx’s Electro and Dane DeHaan’s Green Goblin), each with a weak grasp on their respective sanities and an even weaker set of character motivations. It’s worryingly reminiscent of Spider-Man 3 (the film that singlehandedly buried Raimi’s franchise), where the introduction of Venom and Sandman led to an underwritten drudge of a movie. There’s still an element of that Spider-Man 3 syndrome this time around, though The Amazing Spider-Man 2 makes up for much of its glib writing with the sheer excess of its action scenes.
That said, the script remains incredibly problematic. I don’t know how long it took the trio of Hollywood vets tasked with writing the screenplay to complete their job, but I get the sense they were either under severe time constraints, or just lazy. Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy is reduced to a near personality-less piece of eye candy who spends the entire film flip-flopping between her relationship with Peter Parker and attending Oxford University (on a petty note, the ill-defined application process Gwen describes isn’t like any kind of Oxford app I’ve ever heard of). This, combined with some of the vaguest science this side of Power Rangers and half-assed character motivations more reminiscent of a cheaply scripted Corman flick than a multi-million dollar blockbuster, leaves the film feeling pretty insubstantial – a problem similarly rife among The Amazing Spider-Man 2‘s villains.
Max Dillon, the lowly electrician destined to become Electro, proves fascinating at first – a man so resigned to his own insignificance that a chance encounter with Spider-Man becomes the only defining aspect of his existence. All but inevitably, this is thrown out the window once he gains super-powers; from then on, Max is Stereotypical Baddy 101 – the kind so often dispatched with a clinical indifference in these kind of films, with no attention paid to the sad and tortured person beneath the silly name and the funky outfit.
The latest edition of the Green Goblin is even more ridiculous. Having been told he has a genetic disease by his father, in a line so lazily shoehorned in it may as well have been prefaced by, “Oh, by the way,” this particular Harry Osborn’s hatred for Spider-Man is so tenuous and unexplored that it verges on comical. I understand that broad-stroke writing comes with the territory so far as popcorn blockbusters go, but who wants to sit in a cinema and feel patronized?
And yet, I can moan about TASM2‘s pants script all I want, but there’s no denying I enjoyed the heck out of it. While the “emotional” segments fall flat and much of the dialogue is a combination of cornball and Corman, the action is ramped up to eleventy-stupid in a move so ridiculous that it’s borderline brilliant. The zany action sequences and silly bad guys make The Amazing Spider-Man 2 feel more like a cartoon than any comic book movie in recent memory – there’s even an evil, poorly accented German doctor, for Christ’s sake. As Superman and Batman morph into the gritty and “grown-up” characters that a post-Nolan world all but demands, it’s nice to see Spider-Man held back in the remit of childish glee. The film may often feel like it was written by a 12-year-old – but that’s half the fun. Plus, isn’t it nice to see a superhero movie with an endearingly crumby sense of humor again? I, for one, miss Superman’s campy one-liners.
Having drearily sat through the barely-veiled money-grabbing of its predecessor, I wasn’t expecting much from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – and to that end, I was pleasantly surprised. Sure, the script reads like a hastily written sixth grade play, and the runtime is ridiculously excessive for a film lacking any semblance of depth, but it produces the sort of big and dumb fun these kind of movies so often fail to deliver. The jokes are cheesy, the comic book logic is beyond silly, and when the shit hits the fan, there’s a jaw-dropping amount of it. I can nitpick all I want, but The Amazing Spider-Man 2 remains the kind of loveable, zany popcorn entertainment we’ve been seeing less and less of lately – and who needs Michael Bay’s pornographic robots when we’ve still got Spidey?
Its screenplay may clunk, and its logic may be questionable even by the standards of comic book movies, but The Amazing Spider-Man 2 remains a rather fun bit of cinematic overkill.