When you see a lot of superhero movies every year (as is now the case every single year) even the tiniest variation on the well worn formula is welcome, no matter how slight the movie or even how much better made the typical formula driven film might be conceived. Yes, this is another dig at Marvel Studios, which has now succeeded in every one of their movies having the same tone, the same plot, the same character beats at the same moments in the script, and even the same jokes occasionally. This serves to make the superhero flicks that come from simply another studio (this one's Sony) feel at least something like a different movie, and for that I'm kinda grateful for The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
Which is not to say this is a great movie by any means. The script is filled with contrivances and all the extraneous subplots are a bit of a mess when forced together, but even when it fails, it fails in a different way than the Marvel Studios movies, which are all starting to feel like they're drafted by committee and directed on an assembly line. But here, to start with the good stuff, let's take the character of Spider-Man himself. Like Batman and Superman, he's simply a more compelling hero than many of the Avengers. As played by Andrew Garfield especially, Spidey is witty, personable and fun to be around, both in costume and out. We see him actually saving citizens from everyday crimes, interacting with the people in the city, including cops and various firefighters, and swinging as always through the skyscrapers that he uses as his own personal jungle gym. He's a hero you'd actually want to hang out with. And with Emma Stone back as Peter Parker's girlfriend Gwen Stacy, the romance is front and center in this film, which is another factor that makes it stand out from these other movies, where love interests are tossed in and just as easily cast aside. Not so here, as real life couple Garfield and Stone have an easy, sexy chemistry and really seem to be in love on screen, making some of the best parts of this movie the bantering between them, and it's not negligible. Rather, it's portrayed as the most important part of the film.
Spider-Man's particular drama has always come from how he balances his personal problems with his crime fighting life, and I also much prefer Sally Field's Aunt May to Rosemary Harris's, because she has good chemistry with Garfield as well, making the bond between them feel more human and relatable. The movie may be worth seeing just for Peter's relationships with Gwen and Aunt May, but on the other hand, what's not so good in this movie is pretty much the rest of it. The villains in this film are unfortunately extremely lame. Electro, as played by Jamie Foxx, is thinly sketched out and actually not given much to do until the end of the film, and the screenplay really has to stretch to setup the complicated back story of the new Green Goblin. He's Harry Osborn, played by Dane DeHaan in a very distracting Titanic-era Leo Dicaprio hairstyle. I couldn't decide if DeHaan was giving a bad performance or not, as his hamminess might have worked in another role, but was borderline laughable in some scenes here (especially when you see him in full Green Goblin getup at the end- ask yourself which version of this ridiculous costume is sillier, this guy's or Willem Dafoe's from the Sam Raimi movie? That is one tough choice).
Believe it or not, there's also another subplot that takes up way too much screentime, involving the mystery of the deaths of Peter's parents. There is zero payoff to this contrived storyline and no real reason for it to exist at all, especially in a film which is already a bit too long as it is. Still, there's a decent movie in here somewhere and it does provide some hope for the future of the franchise, as long as Andrew Garfield continues to play the lead, because he really is an utterly appealing and perfectly cast Spider-Man, inhabiting the role (especially in costume) much better than Tobey Maguire ever did. But then again, the original Spider-Man 2 from 2004 is still the best entry in the series, the only one that struck the perfect balance between Peter's personal life and relationships contrasted with a great setup for the villain, along with some spectacular action scenes. I still remember that train fight from ten years ago, whereas I struggle even now to think of the action in this film, and I just saw it yesterday. It's a mixed bag overall, but if you're a huge Spider-Man fan you can definitely find things to like here. I just hope they trim the fat off the script next time and put in a little more work on those villains. I mean, green eye makeup and hair spray? Really? Come on guys, little kid's Halloween costumes are more sophisticated than that.
* * 1/2