For all the things the first Amazing Spider-Man movie did right, it failed in several other, equally important respects. For one thing, it failed to develop a villain that was anywhere close to being as interesting or as integral to the plot as its title character.
(Say what you will about the first Spider-Man movie’s goofy Green Goblin, played by Willem Dafoe, at least he seemed like an actual threat—as compared with ASM’s even-sillier-looking Lizard, played by Rhys Ifans. The latter baddie’s turn-everybody-into-human-lizard-hybrids scheme was the stuff of those laughable, made-for-Syfy Channel television movies.)
Unfortunately, its bigger-budgeted, but equally problematic sequel, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, compounds that by introducing not just one, but several more villains for our Friendly Neighborhood Web Slinger to contend with. It’s as if the lessons that were learned by the widely loathed, 2007 “three-quel” Spider-Man 3 were lost on the filmmakers and studio, who are condemned to repeat those mistakes of the past. And again, none of these evildoers even come close to being a true threat for the main character.
The film’s continually shifting tone doesn’t exactly help either. The Spidey follow-up starts out as a technological thriller, then changes to a slapstick-style super hero comedy minutes later, then abruptly switches gears to become a teen romance drama and then tries to set up the already-in-pre-production follow-up film (and film spin-offs) before it gets to the actual meat of the story — culminating with a deadly serious, 20-minute sequence that should have been the focus all along.
As split personality a film as any in recent memory, it eventually proves to be far more frustrating than it is enjoyable and entertaining. In fact, given how much good stuff there actually is here, the second Amazing might be an even-bigger disappointment. The film finds Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) still slinging webs as Spider-Man and sees him graduating from high school.
He’s also haunted by the recent death of a father figure, New York City Police Captain George Stacy (Denis Leary, who’s seen briefly and in flashbacks). Before he died, the late law man pleaded with Peter to leave his daughter, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), alone, for her own safety.
As difficult as that is, its becomes a necessity when an onslaught of villains besiege New York City. These include Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), a Spider-Man worshipping nebbish who works for the evil Oscorp conglomerate. The meek, hapless electrical engineer is accidentally electrocuted and is attacked by genetically modified eels. Left for dead, he soon emerges as Electro, a villain whose formidable powers may prove to be too much for Spidey.
And still lurking out there somewhere is Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti), a Russian criminal whose Oscorp shipment hijacking attempt was recently thwarted by the costume do-gooder.
Then there’s Peter’s childhood friend, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), who has returned after years away in Europe and who has inherited his late father’s company (Chris Cooper plays the ill-fated industrialist). But Harry has also inherited his father’s fatal illness, and soon turns to extreme measures in an attempt to cure his malady.
Screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner try to inject some needed humor, mostly through one-liners and some truly silly comic action set-ups. But few if any of these bits hit the mark, despite Garfield’s game efforts to deliver them in the proper deadpan manner. Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, TV’s Freaks and Geeks), who provided uncredited script polishes for the first Amazing movie, is sorely missed this time around.
They also try to progress the whole missing-parents mystery, with Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz reprising their brief roles as the Parker biological parents, as well as try to set the stage for the inevitable, Sinister Six villain story line. These are more needless complications for a movie that requires more simplicity and directness.
And director Marc Webb continues to show a lack of real skill when it comes to the action scenes. Heavily reliant on computer-generated imagery and other digital trickery, these look far too much like footage from video game “levels” than they resemble comic book panel dynamics. Webb is far more confident when it comes to the romance and other dramatic moments, though he’s obviously aided by the still-potent chemistry between Garfield and Stone (who are apparently still an off-screen couple as well).
The rest of the cast is all over the places, in terms of their performances. Foxx and Giamatti are so ridiculously over-the-top that you’d swear they were trying to sabotage the movie. Sally Field begs for more time as Peter’s sympathetic Aunt May, while DeHaan (Chronicle) makes you believe he and Garfield’s Peter are old pals. (But, whoo boy, his Goblin makeup and outfit might make you miss Dafoe’s “Power Rangers” version.)
Still, the film’s worst asset may be the truly dreadful score, which not features only the noxious stylings of American Idol winner Phillip Phillips and dub step-style music, but also intrusive incident music that forces moods on certain scenes in heavy-handed fashion (particularly, Foxx’s pre-villain sequences).
Jeff Michael Vice can also be read reviewing comics and television for Big Shiny Robot! (www.bigshinyrobot.com), be heard reviewing films, television programs, comics, books, music and other things as part of The Geek Show Podcast (www.thegeekshowpodcast.com), and be seen reviewing films as part of Xfinity’s Big Movie Mouth-Off (www.facebook.com/BigMovieMouthOff).