After helming only two Spider-Man movies, Marc Webb has accomplished a feat that took Sam Raimi three tries to achieve with his 2002-07 trilogy: He’s made a truly awful film with The Amazing Spider-Man 2, worse than his previous entry’s unnecessary retelling of ol’ web-head’s origin story.
Still, for all its detractors, 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man improved upon Raimi’s pictures in significant ways. Liking what they saw in Webb’s small-scale romantic comedy, (500) Days of Summer, the Spider-Man producers correctly presumed he could handle Peter Parker’s emotional fragility, his teenage angst and the romance that’s crucial to the wall-crawler’s character. Andrew Garfield’s fidgety nerd captured the Peter from the pages of the Marvel comic more than Toby Maguire’s drippy Spider-Man alter ego. Likewise, Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy was a far more appealing and luminous soul mate than Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson, and no upside-down kiss was needed to sell the chemistry that Garfield and Stone share, onscreen and off. Throw in an old pro like Sally Field as Peter’s beloved Aunt May, and that’s just icing on the superhero cake. (Martin Sheen’s Uncle Ben was pretty great, too; pity he had to die, but with great power, and all that…)
What’s more, refinements in visual effects have led to a Spider-Man who looks utterly believable, not weightless like Maguire’s clearly CGI stand-in. In fact, Webb decided to use real stuntmen wherever possible, which informed the performance of the computer-animated Spider-Man. In this sequel, the sight of our hero swinging through Manhattan’s urban canyons in stereoscopic 3-D truly is amazing, down to the rippling cloth of Spidey’s signature red-and-blue long johns, which evoke the comic’s costume more than ever before.
So where did things go wrong?
Right at the opening scene, with an ill-advised action sequence set aboard a private jet. It’s a continuation of the previous film’s prologue, where a 6-year-old Peter Parker bids goodbye to his tearful parents, Richard and Mary (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz), who flee their Upper West Side home after a break-in. Peter never knew why they abandoned him—leaving him with his aunt and uncle in Queens—only that they died soon after under mysterious circumstances. If only it could have remained a mystery to viewers.
Picking up with Richard and Mary on their chartered plane to who-knows-where, a man dressed as a flight attendant emerges from the cockpit; Richard notices the thug’s hands are bloodied. A pistol is pulled and a fistfight ensues. Mary takes a bullet, while Richard manages to upload a Very Important File from his laptop as they roll along the walls of the out-of-control plane. It’s worth noting that we don’t actually see the Parkers die; don’t be surprised if this prologue endlessly continues in every subsequent not-very-Amazing sequel.
With a budget north of $200 million, a director like Webb only has so much control, and seven producers are a lot of masters to answer to, especially when two of those producers are the (recently disbanded) writing team of Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, who have had their hands in series from the Transformers movies to the Star Trek reboot (which also strayed off course with the second installment). They co-scripted this film with Jeff Pinkner, a writer on TV’s Lost. The three certainly lost their way with this sequel, which is franchise-building at its absolute worst.
The poster for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 promises “his greatest battle begins.” That battle is obviously a corporate one; Sony Studios envision churning out two more sequels and numerous spinoffs featuring classic Spider-Foes as a means to keep their business afloat. It’s a nasty enterprise, and this film suffers greatly for it. An unfocused mess, it’s overstuffed with three villains: Electro (Jamie Foxx, who should be embarrassed), the Green Goblin (an underutilized Dane DeHaan) and the Rhino (an atypically awful Paul Giamatti cameo).
There are fleeting moments that work. When he’s in action, Garfield’s Spider-Man perfectly embodies the cocky, quippy character from the comics—something Maguire never accomplished. Scenes between Garfield and Stone, or Field, pack a real punch, even if their dialogue does them no favors. Nor does the dramatically flat music, a rock-based melange credited to Hans Zimmer and the Magnificent Six, a sonic “supergroup” including Pharrell Williams and the Smiths’ Johnny Marr.
The previous film finally gave Spidey hummable theme music (courtesy of James Horner, much missed here), something Raimi’s films lacked. In its place, we’re treated to the rhythmic, chanting, internal thoughts of Electro, set to dubstep beats. Imagine Superman’s Lois Lane anthem “Can You Read My Mind?” reconfigured for ADD-addled hipsters.
They’re the only ones who might enjoy this.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Colm Feore, Felicity Jones, Paul
Giamatti, Embeth Davidtz, Campbell Scott and Sally Field. Screenplay by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner. Directed by Marc Webb. At Boston Common, Fenway and in the suburbs.