Two summers ago, we were introduced to Marc Webb's Amazing Spider-Man.
It was the director's second feature after the brilliant 'boy meets girl' story, (500) Days of Summer. Following the generally acclaimed but later lambasted Sam Raimi series, the idea here was to take things into the world of 'grounded' and 'Human! See how human their problems are!' superheroes, (popularized by Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy) while also bringing the webslinger back to basics. While there was some intermittent light through all of the grimdark, it was ultimately hampered by its need to retell the origin and a sophomore film director's uncertainty in re: making summer tentpoles.
Nevertheless, Spider-Man fans remained hopeful that while the origin was hit and miss, the forthcoming sequel would step things up.
So the question is, did it? Depends who you ask. Today, I will briefly examine several aspects of the latest entry in the Amazing Spider-Man film franchise, and a few concerns within the community.
Part One: Direction/Editing
Starting off, I'll address one of the community's biggest gripes with the first film, the direction. Marc Webb has definitely returned with a more certain vision for what he wants, but only just so. Some of the pacing issues remain from the first film, but they are nowhere near as glaring a flaw, and number two has relieved itself of its forerunner's tendency to drag.
Part Two: The Plot
The storyline here is a little thin and sketchy. If you tried to draw a line through a unified plot, most of it, as seems to be the recurring theme of this film series, is about the choices Peter has to make as Spider-Man, and the consequences therein. It's less about seeing where the story goes, and more about seeing what the characters are going to do next. If you enjoy most of the Marvel Studios library, this approach should be right up your alley. If not, there's a good chance it won't be.
Part Three: The Characters
There's a lot of bad buzz going around about how The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has way more characters than it can handle. I'm here to tell you that is not the case, unless you count Felicia or Smythe, who are treated as extremely minor characters and do not promise you more development in this film than they receive. The motives of the main players are clearly defined, and everyone is given a satisfying arc.
Detractors of the now infamous final scene of the first film will be glad to hear that Peter is now routinely grappling with the idea of breaking his promise to Captain Stacy, more than even the most sniveling of fans. We also dig a little deeper into Peter/Spidey's cockiness in this film, and, as those who have seen the film can attest to, this cockiness ends up affecting him in a very tragic way. Some might call him unlikable for it, but this Peter Parker is human, and it's good to see him finally grow.
There's little to say about Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy that hasn't already been said. She's magnetic and spunky in the role, and how much you grow to like her as a viewer makes the character's inevitable fate that much more tragic.
Much improved upon from the first film is the Peter/Gwen relationship. Garfield and Stone have had two years to become more familiar with each other since the first film, and they have returned with a chemistry that is warm and believable.
Jamie Foxx's Max Dillon/Electro is hit and miss. During his time without blue makeup, Foxx's Dillon alternates between what-is-likely-supposed-to-be funny-but-mostly-comes-across-as-awkward scenes where he talks to himself, and a few bumbling nobody scenes opposite Smythe and Gwen. His story beats of being unseen are communicated via a lot of doe-eyed stares into the camera, and variations on the lines 'You need me?' or 'You remember me?' It's not outright bad, but it's a little thin. Whether or not you are sold on this character will probably hinge on a rather quiet and pivotal scene in Times Square.
Despite what the marketing would have you believe, the true villain of the film is Dane Dehaan's Harry Osborn/Green Goblin. A lot of controversy was stirred up when it became clear that Harry would trounce his father as the inheritor of the Goblin title, but brace yourself: it doesn't matter.
Dehaan, who I confess I hadn't seen much of and therefore had no reason to be a fan of before this film, is dynamite enough to make you believe that no other Osborn should be filling those pointy shoes. As Harry, he channels no one more than Christian Bale's portrayal of Bret Easton Ellis' wannabe mass murdering hipster Patrick Bateman. He's all bravado and affability...until he doesn't get what he wants, at which point he has outbursts of quivering rage that suggest he's not all there even before he takes his medicine. As for after the serum? Well, the first cackle speaks for itself.
Also of note is how well the Peter/Harry relationship works. A lot of people were a little put off by the idea that these two were lifelong friends, but unmentioned in the first film. Fear not. Though we don't get to see much of it, Marc Webb's direction of a bromance is just as strong as his romance.
Part Four: The Tone
People who were worried about The Amazing Spider-Man's attempts to be Batman Begins, rejoice. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 brings a lighthearted hero back into lighthearted territory, though not to the extent of the undeniably campy Raimi series. However, don't get the wrong idea here. There is drama, and when there is, it is treated with the gravity that it deserves.
Part Five: Visuals/Visual Style
The film is much more visually stunning than its predecessors. A lot of the film takes place during the day (a welcome change for this viewer), but even the nocturnal sequences are awash with colour. It has as much eyecandy as, well, a cartoon.
The CG is mostly good. There are a few shots where Electro is clearly a model transplanted into the scene, but no technology is perfect.
And seeing as there's really no other place to put it, I'll address it here: the looks of the villains are perfect for this film. Jamie Foxx's bizarre hooded look from set photos is vastly improved upon in the final product. The Rhino, for his brief appearance, will be great to watch if you liked the look in the previews, but if you weren't sold then, you won't be now. Personally, I can dig it.
The real winner here, however, is Dehaan's Green Goblin. Purists can, have, and will continue to complain, but going maskless was a ballsy move. From the moment he flies into the frame, Gobby's expression swings wildly from manic, drooling grins to fury and back again. It's unsettling. It makes the Goblin real, and it's a huge payoff.
Part Six: The Score
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ditched James Horner, opting instead to bring in the village of Hollywood's bicycle, Hans Zimmer. Joining Z-Money is 'The Magnificent Six,' a supergroup of sorts comprised of a number of musical talents such as Pharrell and ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr. The result is that an atypical hero like Spider-Man does not wind up with a typical Zimmer score. While nothing is Elfman's score, it's a new era, and Zimmer's team finally gives the new Spider-Man and his foes a worthy soundtrack.
In Summary/tl;dr: Bright and visually arresting, impressively scored, well acted, and with more interesting characters than the last big screen outing, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 proves that no matter what you thought of the last film, there's still a ton of life left in the Spider-Man franchise.
I won't assign the film an arbitrary score. Instead, I'll simply say that it's worth your money just to see it and judge for yourself.