A studio-mandated sequel to a weak-at-best film only made to hold onto the rights to a cash cow property, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a movie so pre-packaged and risk-averse that the only surprise it holds comes from the fact it is, against all odds, even worse than this dubious pedigree would suggest. Scotch taped together from a shamefully haphazard screenplay courtesy in part of noted hacks Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (the duo responsible for such affronts to audience intelligence as “Star Trek Into Darkness” and the first two Transformers movies, “Transformers” and “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”), the film is a veritable disaster area of stilted narrative, boring action, and performances from an array of talented yet miscast actors in roles so undercooked and/or humiliating that it’s almost impossible not to pity them. The only thing separating it from a “Batman and Robin” or “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”-level train wreck is that it doesn’t even have the courtesy to be awful in any transcendent or memorable way.
Picking up some time after the first entry, Peter Parker’s life has essentially taken a drastic turn for the better with him graduating high school and immensely enjoying his life fighting crime as Spider-Man. Not all is well, though since the mystery of his parents’ fate still hangs in the air, and his relationship with his girlfriend, Gwen Stacey, is put under duress due to his guilt from breaking his promise to her dying father that he would stay away from her. To add to things, Peter’s old friend Harry Osborne is back in town and dying of a mysterious illness while a new enemy calling himself “Electro” soon reveals himself as a challenging adversary.
As can be ascertained, the narrative of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is jam packed with all sorts of subplots and characters. None of which the script handles even remotely well. In lieu of building any momentum or natural progression, the plot ricochets from one story strand to the next and back again with little rhyme or reason, essentially choosing out of a hat which of its too many balls in the air to focus on at any given time. Peter’s guilt at betraying Gwen’s father is slowly eating at him . . . until it isn’t. Gwen and Peter are having problems with their relationship . . . until they aren’t, or maybe they are. Never mind that; let’s see how Harry is doing, et cetera. All of these elements don’t so much come to a head in the end as much as they eventually smash together in a showdown with Electro that is as insultingly contrived in its set-up as it is laughably inane in its execution. Followed by a stretch in which the film proceeds to carelessly dump all of its loose ends into one sequence before giving us a brief five minute character arc that would encompass the entire third act in a work with any semblance of a sense of pacing. With every idea that crossed the writers’ minds apparently thrown up on screen, the film’s script feels like a recently-finished first draft where all the story’s events have been conceptually thought up, but not yet mapped out into a cohesive whole, having a whole host of things happening with little of it mattering very much or developing enough to be of the most cursory interest.
Good actors can always salvage bad material, of course, but here is an instance where a rancid screenplay has dug a hole under the cast so deep that any of their efforts are immediately swallowed up before they can come near the surface. Andrew Garfield is a promising actor who has been great in other, smaller roles, but he remains utterly miscast as Peter Parker. Unable to effectively showcase the kind of devil-may-care charisma required to energize this version of the character’s limp wise cracks, he instead comes off as the kind of insufferable little jerk you’d want to avoid in high school rather than the quick-witted, playful hero that the film shoots for. Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey does decently with what little she’s given and has chemistry with Garfield (unsurprising given that they’re an item in real life), but the movie’s half-baked romance is unbearably trite, switching on and off between misunderstandings and twee little exchanges of forced “couple dialogue” that seem to have snuck their way in from the subpar indie rom-com director Marc Webb would evidently rather be making.
The duo of villains, meanwhile, are worse than anyone could have ever imagined. As Max Dillon: The low level Oscorp worker turned into Electro by being stung by genetically-altered electric eels (no, seriously), Jamie Foxx struggles to retain his dignity in a role that has him switching from some of the most straight-up humiliating comic relief in recent memory to uttering clunky would-be sinister lines that fall to the floor with an audible thud as soon as they leave his mouth (“Let’s go catch a spider” being one of my own personal favorites). Even worse is Dane DeHaan as Harry/The Green Goblin in a turn where the instances in which he speaks through his teeth in in-vain bids to lend dramatic weight to his character’s ultimately uninteresting crisis are outnumbered only by those where he appears totally uncomfortable on screen. Presumably nervous and out of his comfort zone in a $200+ million tentpole flick instead of the independent fare he’s normally used to.
You’d think that, failing in all other areas, from story to acting, a superhero movie with billboards littering the cities and TV spots flooding the airwaves would at least cater to the masses and bring some decent action spectacle. Eager to disappoint, however, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 fails to even provide cheap gut-level thrills. While there are very brief moments of wonder watching Spidey web sling over New York (a greater emphasis has seemingly been put on the hero’s famous feats of acrobatics in this reboot series), the ostensibly climactic fights that litter the third act are so drowned in glossy yet unfinished-looking CG that they lose all sense of physicality, amounting to little more than impressively-rendered video game cinematics devoid of any tangible impact. Boiling down to a series of flashing lights and noises with broad stakes and cop-out resolutions, none of the set pieces the film has all but been written around hold any sense of tension or fun. As tough as it is make a dull action sequence with a hero as zippy as Spider-Man, Marc Webb has pulled it off for the second time in a row (he helmed “The Amazing Spider-Man” too), a feat with which even the most inept of filmmakers would have considerable difficulty.
In spite of all this, when all is said and done, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 probably won’t be the worst movie to make a lot of money this summer (hell, we still have a Sandler and Transformers movie on the horizon), but it’s hard to imagine one that better encapsulates everything cold, mechanical, and profit-driven about the Hollywood entertainment industry. Not a frame of the film radiates an iota of interest from anyone involved in the production and the thrown-together-on-a-whim script somehow shows even less care. Twelve years (almost to the day) after his big screen debut and The Webslinger no longer amazes, but exhausts and exasperates.