A better Webb
‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ far surpasses its disastrous predecessor
By Carl Kozlowski 05/01/2014
Achance to have a “do-over” in real life is rare, especially in the world of blockbuster-movies. After the steaming mess that director Marc Webb dumped into theaters in 2012 as “The Amazing Spider-Man,” he should have never been allowed to handle a frame of action films ever again.
But, surprisingly, he’s back at the helm of the movie’s sequel, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” which opens nationwide Friday. And even more surprisingly, this time around his film has earned the right to call itself amazing.
The new film is a vast improvement in every possible way over its predecessor, which suffered from poor effects, lackluster villain casting and a new take on Peter Parker that turned him into an annoying jerk unleashing a constant stream of insults against literally everyone — from criminals to cops — whenever he slipped into his Spidey outfit. The only people to survive with their dignity intact were Emma Stone as his girlfriend Gwen Stacy and Denis Leary as her police commissioner father.
That father-daughter pairing was a key part of the predecessor’s end scenes, as the dying commissioner made Peter swear that he would avoid putting Gwen’s life at risk by staying away from her. At the start of the new film, Peter is still dating her but attempting to keep his superhero shenanigans a secret.
But Gwen knows deep down that Peter hasn’t stopped at all and she is growing tired of it. She breaks up with him just as a new villain arrives on the scene. A nerdy technician named Max (Jamie Foxx) from Oscorp Industries, the ethically questionable company owned by the father of Peter’s friend Harry (Dane DeHaan), has been zapped by a mega-dose of electricity in a freak accident and is now a power-spewing, electrified monster named Electro.
As Oscorp’s founder Norman Osborn lays dying, he tells Harry that the same disease killing him is destined to kill Harry as well. Harry tells Peter he needs Spider-Man’s blood to save himself, but doesn’t realize that Peter is Spider-Man.
When Peter says he can’t help, Harry turns to Electro to help him steal some spider-related serum. But when the serum turns Harry into the psychopathic Green Goblin, Spidey and Gwen are left in more danger than ever.
The prior Webb-Garfield “Spider-Man” film was a disaster of shifting tones, with far too many scenes marred by stupid wisecracks issued by Peter. Here, Peter attempts a few jokes in his opening moments, but then they abruptly stop as Garfield is allowed to just calm down and act like a normal high school senior rather than looking like he’s trying to audition for the lead in a bad sitcom.
In this go-round, Peter is also able to show a new sensitivity as Spider-Man. He is truly haunted by the deathbed promise he gave Gwen’s father, and lives with the sobering terror that the dead cop might be right about how dangerous his life as a superhero can be. Garfield also invests some beautifully played emotional moments at key points in this film, a skill that seemed to be nonexistent just two years ago in the first film.
As Electro, Foxx brings a cool menace to the streets of New York as he tries to seek justice from those who have mocked and wronged his wimpy alter ego, Max. As he wreaks more and more havoc, Foxx has great fun growing into a cocky, dangerous persona, and his attacks on the city are also fun to watch.
When the prior “Spider-Man” film hit theaters two years ago, it seemed to be a pointless cash-grab to keep the character going when the prior trilogy of Spidey films were sputtering out from the exhaustion of its star-director combo of Tobey Maguire and Sam Raimi. Sony launched these new ones in a desperate attempt to keep milking the cash cow, and unthinking audiences robotically responded.
But this time around, everything about the movie works and Webb and his team have plenty to be proud of. It’s one reboot that has taken me from a doubter to a believer.