Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Dean Dehaan, Embeth Davidtz, Campbell Scott, Paul Giamatti, Sally Field, and Denis Leary
Somewhere, Sam Raimi is smiling. Back in 2012, five years after Raimi’s less than warmly received Spider-Man 3, Sony hired director Marc Webb (not going to say it) to reboot a twelve-year-old movie franchise. Steps were taken, as Sony put all new actors in place (though they did keep one original writer until this film, who I will get to later) to make The Amazing Spider-Man. A perfunctory mish mash of bad redos and reduxes of a familiar story (with Uncle Ben’s new retelling a particular embarrassment in over analyzing new ways of telling the same story), Amazing was anything but for me. However, it must be said that coming into its sequel, I was more than a little optimistic. Initial trailers were showing signs that all they misfired with in the last film were more than going to be made up with this one. 142 minutes later, I was proven dead wrong. Not only is The Amazing Spider-Man 2 an incredibly redundant piece of storytelling, it is full of actors throwing themselves blindly into roles that don’t seem to be written by anyone who can see to begin with.
I’m going to start with the leads. While I gave (a Macchio-esque 30-year-old) Garfield points for being almost charmingly awkward last time, here he just seems awkward. It’s not all his fault, as nothing challenging is done to build the character of Spider-Man until the film’s finale. Stone once again brings the charm as Gwen, and it is unmistakable how crackling their chemistry still is. However, their scenes didn’t seem as fun this time, and the question of whether or not to go on with their romance despite the dying wishes of her father became annoying at first, unbearable by the third act.
In the early going, we are thrust into a plot that quite frankly flirts with being good. However, due to Sony once again deciding to go to the episodic well of what happened to Peter’s parents, the film’s four writers can’t seem to get the tone of the film right. It is a painful example of how the popularity of episodic TV has destroyed how a film’s story is told. Nothing can be resolved in one film, and by planting the seed of this ‘mystery,’ Webb and company have forebode the film with an almost automatic sense of ‘who cares.’
Let’s get to the crux of the story though: the villains. I have said it over and over in reviews of comic book film after comic book film. The success of narratives among comic book films is contained within the strength (or lack thereof) of the villain(s). There are a couple of examples of each here. Foxx, from the second he appears onscreen, seems uncomfortable. His almost embarrassing opening moments as Max Dillon, a nerdy Spidey fanboy with horrible hair and even worse teeth, made me turn away more than once. When he gets trapped with a batch of electric eels, he emerges calling himself Electro, but looking like Dr Manhattan’s bastard child.
Much like Sandman in Spidey 3, Electro serves as the heart of the film’s opening act, and it seems that Webb hasn’t learned a thing about how to direct action since the last film, as their fight scenes are surprisingly underwhelming. While it is obvious that the effects artists worked a lot of overtime on these scenes, their blue ambience are about the only thing interesting about them, as not only do they look like a slightly better than average video game, they serve as mostly set-up. Dehaan, taking over James Franco’s role of Harry Osborn, is about the only thing in the film that resonates any hint of allure in the entire film. He has an almost impossible ability to combine lavish charm and devilish angst, and his early scenes bring a sure to be appreciated by fans of the franchise cameo. Felicity Jones also shows up, only to be completely wasted in the role of Dehaan’s assistant.
The film’s script feels as it is: written by four people. And while the previous film’s scribe James Vanderbilt is credited here as well, missing from the proceedings is Alvin Sargent, who had been with the franchise since the second film in Raimi’s trilogy. It seems he was the source of all the franchise’s heart, as this film, more than the last, seems to be trying extra hard for that Dark Knight/post September 11th style angst (complete with Hans Zimmer as composer). It is almost sad how hard this narrative falls on its face, as by the third act The Amazing Spider-Man 2 goes off the rails and right into the waters known as Tedious Ocean.
From the most mediocre Zimmer score I have heard in recent years, to the banal attempts to incorporate family themed narratives into the film’s already jumbled story, to the once again absent J Jonah Jameson (you mean they can completely butcher Uncle Ben’s character arc, but don’t have the balls to take this notorious character on?), to groan inducing moments such as when Garfield whistles the original Spider-Man theme, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a mess. But, of course, there is yet another set-up for yet another sequel. Longtime Spidey fans may be relishing in the inevitable appearance of The Sinister Six. But after going 0-2, and seeing these two attempts unsuccessfully reboot this franchise, I have officially given up. It seems a now smiling Raimi did the same thing at just the right time.