Villains with little motivation for their actions chew the scenery: pre-Electro Max Dillon carries blueprints in the street and argues with his own delusions in the mirror, and it's perfectly reasonable that in an early sequence in the movie, a wise-cracking Spidey is chasing Paul Giamatti's hammy Russian mobster after he's hijacked a truck full of plutonium.
Initially, this is slightly jarring, and the Giamatti plutonium chase feels a little like a throwback to the hideous days of the mid '90s superhero flicks, but the movie dodges that particular bullet by understanding one thing very clearly – that even in a cartoon world, emotion and character are paramount.
Whether on the page, on TV, or at cinemas, Spider-Man has always worked best when he plays second fiddle to Peter Parker, and "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" is no different. Andrew Garfield nailed Peter perfectly on his first outing, and here he's just as solid. A perfect balance of charm, bravado and nervous humor, his Peter Parker is a joy to watch.
Even better than Garfield, though, is Emma Stone. It might say "Spider-Man" on the poster, but it's as much Stone's movie as it is Garfield's. Their chemistry sizzles, and without the action sequences, the movie would function as a perfectly enjoyable romantic comedy. It's so good, that it's almost a shame to leave their relationship in favor of those action sequences.
Which is why it doesn't.
Almost every time Peter puts on his suit and runs off to a fight, Gwen follows. She's there, sometimes as spectator, sometimes as participant. Never as damsel in distress. It's not an entirely new dynamic, but it works well, and it's a joy to watch.
What is less enjoyable is the amount of clearly CGI action. We're getting close to a point where it's not noticeable, but we're not quite there yet. While cartoony villains work, digital backflips still don't have the impact of physical fisticuffs. Frankly, it's a little jarring.
As is Dane DeHaan's Harry Osborn. The tweaks made to the Osborn family dynamic by Webb and co. are perfectly reasonable and nail the spirit of the character and his relationship with Peter, without the need for a huge amount of set-up, but there's something about the performance itself that doesn't ring true. It's a perfectly solid effort by Dane DeHaan, but it's also as if he's in a slightly different movie. The flaw seems to come back to the film's tone. Before changing into the Green Goblin, Harry Osborn needs to be subtle and nuanced, and here there's simply no room for that.
And while I'm nit picking, for 90% of the movie, the plot is so thin as to be almost invisible. It's basically about Peter's quest to find out more about his father, but he never seems particularly committed, and as a result, nor are we. The final act works, storywise, but up until then it's a lot of stuff happening, for no particular reason. That said, it's certainly fun stuff, and the playful way in which Spider-Man deals with villains is great to watch.
In fact, Garfield's Peter Parker/Spider-Man, and Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy are so good they carry a movie that has absolutely no right to be this enjoyable. And it's this that turns the film's climax into something that is utterly compelling. It's a brilliant, poignant, haunting moment in a film that is otherwise light as a feather, but it's also one that Webb, quite wisely, doesn't dwell upon for too long.
Overall, "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" is something quite unusual. A superhero movie that doesn't try to be anything other than that. There's no dark-and-gritty veneer, to justify it's appeal to an adult audience; there's no political allegory, or hidden agenda. And in spite of teasing the sequel, there's no tease of a bigger universe. It's almost a little old fashioned. But it's also a lot of fun.
Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker / Spider-Man
Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy
Jamie Foxx as Max Dillon / Electro
Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborn / Green Goblin
Campbell Scott as Richard Parker
Embeth Davidtz as Mary Parker
Colm Feore as Donald Menken
Paul Giamatti as Aleksei Sytsevich / The Rhino
Sally Field as Aunt May
Chris Zylka as Flash Thompson
Denis Leary as Captain Stacy
Frank Deal as Agent Berkley
Marton Csokas as Dr. Kafka
Max Charles as Young Peter Parker
Felicity Jones as Felicia Hardy
B.J. Novak as Alistair Smythe
Directed by Marc Webb