Whereas The Amazing Spider-Man was an origin story, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 finds Spidey more comfortable with his superhero persona, but having problems with his personal life. When you find yourself whizzing around the city stopping over-the-top car chases and saving lives, it can be difficult to manage the little things like not destroying the laundry or showing up to your own graduation, for example. More than that, the death of Captain Stacy (Dennis Leary) weighs heavily on Peter's mind, as does the promise he made him to not involve Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) in his dangerous life as Spider-Man. This guilt puts great strain on their relationship, causing them to break up - at least temporarily.
In addition to love-life problems, Peter reunites with childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), when Harry's father, Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper) dies of a genetic condition that Harry, too, has. Harry wants Peter to "contact Spider-Man" and ask that he give Harry a sample of his blood, as Harry believes it is the key to curing his condition. Peter, however, is reluctant to meet the request, after seeing what happened to Dr. Connors (in The Amazing Spider-Man). He fears that his blood may do worse than kill him; who knows what might happen to him.
From the perspective of his personal life and character growth, this movie is all about the tragic ending of his relationship with Gwen Stacy. No spoilers, but fans of the comic books have a pretty good idea of just how messy this break-up was. While the story is about Gwen, the theme in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 centers around the theme that time stops for no man. The movie begins with a scene that turns out to be zooming out through the inner workings of a watch and the climax of the movie occurs in a clock tower, among larger-than-life gears that pit Peter Parker in a fight against time, both metaphorically and physically. In the end, it takes Aunt May (Sally Field) to put things in perspective and show that you have to move on.
The roster of villains, this time around, includes Jamie Foxx as Max Dillon / Electro, Dane DeHaan as the Green Goblin, Paul Giamatti as Aleksei Sytsevich / the Rhino and, um... school bullies. Is it like Spidey to interrupt bullies giving a smack-down to a nerd? Absolutely, but I've heard so much anti-bully sentiment lately that, sadly, it felt a bit like a bandwagon moment... or one of those obligatory PSAs in an 80's cartoon. This is tempered a bit by having this kid show back up as a huge Spidey fan at the end of the movie, but there is a strange parallel between this kid and Max Dillon - both of whom obsess over Spider-Man after being saved by him. Jamie Foxx's Electro is the least stable version I've ever seen, but he plays the character very believably. I groaned when I saw the Rhino suit... it looks more like a Transformer than anything from the comic books. Yes, the comic book version looks silly, but that's the character. Make it a genetic experiment that gives him the thick skin of a Rhino, but don't make it into a transforming robot designed for someone the size of a jockey to ride in. Fans of Norman Osborn will likely be a bit annoyed by the fact that the most notable thing he does on screen... is dies, leaving his research to Harry. In this version, it seems that Harry is the first Green Goblin.
As much as I may have already said about the movie, don't think that I've covered everything. There are also some scenes giving additional information about what happened to Mary (Embeth Davidtz) and Richard (Campbell Scott) Parker, including a deleted scene which provides an alternate path for Richard Parker... a direction they eventually gave up on. There are a variety of subtle (and not-so-subtle) references to Spidey things from the comics as well as hints at things in the upcoming Sinister Six movie. Max Dillon-level fans of the web-head will want to watch all of the special features, which give glimpses into how the film was made and how much of the stunts were practical effects, not CGI... as well as how much work went into the CGI effects.
One of the most amazing aspects of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, however, has got to be the musical score. When you want a movie with a good score, there are a few very popular choices to which you can turn. One name on the top of anyone's list is Hans Zimmer. Indeed, Hans Zimmer was behind the music in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but the method he used was anything but by the book. For the score of this movie, he first stepped back and built a band, consisting of Pharrell Williams, Johnny Marr (The Smiths), Michael Einziger (Incubus), Junkie XL, Andrew Kawczynski and Steve Mazzaroritten. This band jammed together and collaborated to make songs, then the score was made using elements from those songs, deconstructing them and using their phrases to reinforce the action on-screen. The result was music that was more contemporary, more appropriate, perhaps, for the young superhero that is Spider-Man. Music was used masterfully in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to support the story; so much so that even J.R. Nip noticed it and commented on it - and he is generally not observant of movie scores.
The Amazing Spider-Man series of movies may not be perfect, but it's still my favorite depiction to date, and the visuals and score are amazing on Blu-ray. If you're a Spider-Man fan (and you can overlook the Rhino, which, at least in this movie, makes only a brief appearance), I highly recommend The Amazing Spider-Man 2.