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
(Note: This review includes mention of what could potentially be a fairly major spoiler from the film, if for some reason you don’t know anything about Spider-Man history or the fate of one of its characters.)
In fear of sounding like a disgruntled fanboy who has been reading Spider-Man comics most of his life–which I am–it’s hard not to be somewhat skeptical that it’s even possible to make anywhere near a perfect Spider-Man movie that will satisfy me at this point. Probably the closest thing we’ve seen thus far is Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2” and I even had problems with that one since I was never sold on the casting of Maguire and Dunst as Peter and Mary Jane from the first movie.
Thankfully, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone were much easier to buy as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy when the franchise was rebooted, having genuine chemistry that made it easier to buy their relationship in the first movie. That continues to be the heart and core of the sequel, even if the amount of time spent on that relationship tends to drag the sequel down.
After an opening flashback sequence showing the last days of Peter’s parents, we’re brought forward some time after the first movie as Spider-Man is having a blast chasing down a Russian thief (Paul Giamatti) through the streets of downtown New York City, an exciting sequence one would hope to set the pace for the rest of the movie. This sequence introduces Jamie Foxx’s Max Dillon, an awkward engineer at Oscorp and a Spider-Man fan who will end up in a horrifying work site accident that will give him electrical powers giving birth to the villain “Electro.”
Foxx does a good job selling what is otherwise a fairly lame villain from Spider-Man’s rogue’s gallery, because we spend enough time watching Max being mistreated or ignored at work despite his contributions. It’s a fairly typical idea of having someone who feels so bullied and marginalized that they in turn use newfound powers to seek revenge, and it would work well in this case if Electro didn’t become too powerful and megalomaniacal almost instantly after receiving his powers.
Electro’s introduction and his motivations are handled far better than that of Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborn, a major character from the Spider-Man mythos whose storyline seems shoehorned into the story rather than being the central focus. As much as the friendship between Harry and Peter makes sense being that their fathers worked together, it never seems believable from the interaction between the two actors who seem to be seeing who can out-mope the other. If the scenes between Garfield and Stone drag the movie down than the scenes between Garfield and DeHaan are like constructing a wall in front of a slow-moving horse and cart to permanently destroy any momentum established earlier.
Overall, the movie looks good, particularly the scenes of Spider-Man flying through the city, which look far less CG than any previous movie, although by the time Spider-Man fights Electro and Green Goblin at the end, there’s the same issue where so much is happening on screen you can’t tell what’s going on. But that’s still better than the same problem faced by last year’s “Iron Man 3,” where you barely see Spider-Man in the movie because so much time is focused on Peter and his relationships.
While it makes sense to have Oscorp be responsible for the city’s super-powered villain quotient, the movie suddenly changes gears from having genetically-altered baddies to bringing in clunky armored tech first with the Goblin and then The Rhino–an awful decision thankfully relegated to a brief moment late in the movie–while at the same time teasing similar tech-related versions of Doc Ock and Vulture.
The film’s biggest obstacle and the elephant in the room is what to do about Gwen Stacy. Those who’ve read the comics already know her fate, but the filmmakers are put into a situation where killing her off would essentially lose the element that’s been the best part of both of the last two movies: Emma Stone. Not killing her off would just be a cheat. You can almost feel the filmmakers second-guessing themselves every step of the way and because the Green Goblin seems like an afterthought, it never feels like they earn what should be the movie’s most climatic moment.
What it comes down to is that the script by Orci and Kurtzman–whose work I generally like, mind you–just isn’t particularly good, nor is it nearly as focused as the previous movie. The sequel tries too hard to maintain what worked from the first movie but loses sight of the importance of making a superhero movie that’s fun and entertaining.
Sadly, what it comes down to is that Sam Raimi was a far more experienced filmmaker and storyteller than Marc Webb, one who knew how to make a movie that can entertain a wide range of ages, as opposed to a movie that feels targeted specifically to teen and maybe slightly older audiences with MTV-style music montages and drama that’s likely to alienate anyone over or under a certain age. Any kids into Spider-Man are probably going to be bored by all the mushy romance stuff, because there just isn’t enough of the fun action and adventure that should be a major part of any Spider-Man film to counter-balance it.
Worst than that, it’s disappointing that it never feels like anyone involved with this sequel has learned anything about what didn’t work in previous Spider-Man movies.