Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man / Peter Parker
Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy
Jamie Foxx as Electro / Max Dillon
Dane DeHaan as Green Goblin / Harry Osborn
Colm Feore as Donald Menken
Felicity Jones as Felicia
Sally Field as Aunt May
Campbell Scott as Richard Parker
Embeth Davidtz as Mary Parker
Marton Csokas as Dr. Ashley Kafka
Paul Giamatti as Rhino / Aleksei Sytsevich
Less Spider-Man Two and more Spider-Man, Too, Marc Webb’s second stab at the famous wall-crawler reacts to the recent “and the kitchen sink” trend in superhero films by trying to top them all, and loses its way in the process.
After fourteen solid years of superhero films at our box office we can safely say that Hollywood has two approaches to the genre, each with its own perils and pitfalls. It can take the material incredibly seriously, working hard to keep disbelief suspended for everyone onboard, and risk descending into a grim spiral of joylessness. Or it can approach everything with a wink and a nod, letting the audience in on how ridiculous it all is, and frequently making it impossible for anyone to care about what’s happening because clearly the director doesn’t. After flirting with type one in the first “Amazing Spider-Man,” director Marc Webb has pulled a near 180 to aim at type two for the sequel, causing his film to bounce and bob like an improperly-secured passenger. The tonal whiplash is frequent.
From the get-go we get the final moments of Peter Parker’s (Garfield) parents followed immediately by his slapstick pursuit of an armored car loaded with plutonium, an over-the-top, tattooed Paul Giamatti, and an even more over-the-top score from Hans Zimmer which is just as slightly off the mark as everything else. To be fair, the action scenes remain kinetically exhilarating as Webb and his crew copy the playbook Sam Raimi wrote to the letter. It also frequently shows a real sense of humor (alongside the less successful ?fun’ humor), especially when it is situated firmly in character, showcasing Spider-Man’s irreverent prankster side. Webb is also still good at showing honest, human interaction even when one of the people is wearing spandex. Garfield remains the best cast Spider-Man (though he is beginning to look a bit old for the role) yet and his major relationships?Peter and May (Field), Peter and Gwen (Stone), sometimes even Peter and Harry Osborne (DeHaan)? are as enthralling as the best action scenes.
Right up until the script by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Pinker puts its finger on the scale, as if they lacked collective faith in the director and actors to actual elicit the emotions and tone they were going for. “Spider-Man” frequently falls victim to easy sentimentality?the knee jerk reaction seems to be ?if we want people to care, put a six year old on screen’?especially with Peter and Gwen’s on-again/off-again relationship, which doesn’t develop so much drive in an endless circle, marking time until the climax. Which is the truly maddening part of Kurtzman and Orci and Pinker’s work – the individual scenes are frequently very well thought out, they just do not work together to form a competent narrative.
It’s hard to say who’s more at fault, the writers or the director who certainly gets into the act in a big way. Sure Max Dillon (Foxx) may be written as a loner and potential stalker, but it’s Webb and his crew who have put him in a bad comb-over and an apartment filled with Spider-Man clippings before handing him to a German accented mad scientist (Csokas) that Joel Schumacher would have been embarrassed to put in a Batman movie. Which is about all that we ever get from him as much of his screen time is given over to young Harry Osborn so that he can convincingly morph into the dreaded Green Goblin (thanks to a fatal genetic illness we learn about literally the first second he is introduced to us) and proving the modern adage that more than one super villain is too much for one of the films to juggle. In trying to do justice to both of them, the film ultimately does justice to neither, but it does manage to create a jumbled climax which involves the Green Goblin for seemingly no reason than the fact that climaxes involving Gwen Stacy and tall structures have historically included him.
The result is a bloated film that seems incapable of deciding exactly what it’s supposed to be (the continuing story line about the fate of Peter’s parents and the involvement of Norman Osborn is continued on top of all of this, but also muddled), besides marking time for the next film and the introduction of the character’s anti-Avengers, the Sinister Six (who are teased endlessly in the second half). An unfortunate step backwards in a series which was still struggling to convince fans its recent reboot was necessary; “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” isn’t going to win any converts but probably won’t push people away, either. All it does show is that the goofy superhero film probably isn’t ever going to work, even with a light-hearted character like Spider-Man and that the series’ producers still don’t really know what makes him tick, despite being one of the most iconic characters in the Marvel pantheon.
That and the guys behind “Xena: Warrior Princess” should not be allowed to write tent pole films anymore, at least not without some help.