One of the most exciting things about 2012's "The Amazing Spider-Man" was the fun garnered from its fantastic portrayal of protagonist Peter Parker's alter-ego as a strongly confident, wise-cracking goofball. The sequel, aptly titled "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," has an important theme at its heart that it takes seriously, as well as its fair share of drama, but the movie as a whole takes that fun from the first and catapults it into a loudly joyous and optimistic experience. This is the chief reason why this movie, despite big problems with the two major villains, succeeds as a very good ride.
After a mildly dull and shakey-cam filled (albeit compelling in the long-run) opening scene about Peter's parents, the audience is treated to an incredible action sequence filled with awe, humor, and seamless set-up. Spider-Man's web-swinging looks better than it ever has in the film medium, with lots of elegant acrobatics, first-person points of view, and cool slow-motion. The titular web-head also spits out a ton of hilarious one-liners and taunts the bad guys in his signature cocky, goofy fashion. A super powers-less bad guy played by Paul Giamatti gives an incredibly fun performance filled with exaggerated screaming and meat-headed mannerisms, aided by neat zoom-in shots of his screaming, pudgy face. It is so much unabated, pure fun; this same kind of fun finds its way to a healthy portion of this film, even just through funny dialogue when there isn't any action going on. The viewers are also treated to a quick but totally effective conversation on the street between Spidey and new character Max Dillon, who later turns into Electro.
Dillon is a compelling character, incredibly well-acted by Foxx. Dillon is deeply troubled psychologically, with an intense inferiority complex. It's played for laughs, through his mad, bumbling social failings, but it's also effective on a higher level. Dillon develops an obsession with Spider-Man that makes him dangerous when he stumbles upon the power of control over electricity through a freak accident at Oscorp. This makes Dillon a wholly sympathetic character, which again, Foxx portrays wonderfully. The actor's skill seen in his silly comedic work as well as his more dramatic work in stuff like "Django Unchained" allows him to pull off a nuanced, lovable little train wreck.
It's a darn shame that they give up on the character towards the end of the movie. It's also a shame that time is taken away from him to develop a pretty crappy Green Goblin character.
Dane Dehaan plays Harry Osborn, a friend to Peter and a higher-up in Oscorp after his father passes away; this character is poorly acted and feels out of place, only redeeming itself slightly whenever he is decked out in the aesthetically-pleasing Goblin get-up. Harry is characterized as intimidating throughout much of the movie and the writing is fine in that regard, but Dehaan simply doesn't pull it off. His performance is weak and doesn't grab for attention. The character is also jarringly thrusted into a close friendship with Peter, and has an overly simple development that makes the stealing of screen-time from Foxx's character criminal. Both characters are lazily brushed aside at the end to save for further use in sequels, leaving a complete absence of closure for both of them. There was thematic potential for Foxx's character as well as Dehaan's character to tie into the overall theme in a much closer way, but that is abandoned. These stumbles form a big gash at this movie's quality.
It really is a shame, because there are so many fantastically good things to this movie. There is a large amount of character drama in this movie for Peter Parker in his romantic life, with his aunt, and in dealing with his dead parents. Andrew Garfield reprises his role as Parker and does the same quirky, slick, great performance as before. His romantic chemistry with Emma Stone's Gwen Stacey is remarkable, no doubt helped by the actors' real-life relationship together. Their struggle is dramatic in a way that comes full-circle with the theme of the role of Spider-Man. Sally Fields has already proven herself as an incredible actress and her performance in this movie doesn't stray from that. There is one scene in particular in which she gives a powerful, teary-eyed speech about her love for Parker. The drama with Parker maddeningly worrying and obsessing over the kinds of people his parents were effectively adds to the Spider-Man mythos in an original way, and also increases the level of adversity the character has to face in a good way.
That is what is really special about "The Amazing Spider-Man 2:" Parker has a tortured sole and has to deal with a lot of heavy drama, but the movie simply uses that to make the joyous optimism even more palpable. Sure, he has clue what he is doing with his girlfriend, but he is still able to stop criminals and have the city of New York cheer him on. Sure, there is an awfully dark and sad thing that, after lots of harrowing foreshadowing, finally happens at the film's climax, but the last scene builds it all back up. After a tear-inducing scene with a kid showing bravery inspired by Spider-Man, our hero gets right back to fighting the good fight, giving hope to regular people trying to do their best and live happily.
"The Amazing Spider-Man 2" stumbles in big ways, but it does something very well that most superhero movies don't; its loud positivity and optimism convinces that maybe everything is going to be okay. Thanks to that, I'd say it's a very good movie.