When a film is made for the sole purpose of retaining filming rights it’s never a good sign. That’s the reason The Amazing Spider-Man was made in 2012, rebooting the trilogy by Sam Raimi a decade after it had begun. I rewatched the reboot for the first time since theaters in preparation for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and found it to be worse than I remembered, and I never liked it in the first place. It was a mess of a film that reeked of studio interference. Multiple plotlines vanish into thin air and the difference between Spider-Man and Peter Parker are virtually nonexistent. What was already a downward trend picks up momentum to the point where I have lost interest in seeing where this franchise is going.
Much like the first film, the sequel reeks of studio interference. Director Marc Webb shows he isn’t a complete hack as some action sequences look spectacular, but he can’t overcome the multitude of villains and dead end storylines that exist only to tease the next installment. The script by Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Jeff Pinker is reminiscent of the troubled script from last summer’s Star Trek Into Darkness, also penned by Orci and Kurtzman. There’s blood transfusion, mounds of exposition, computers uploading stuff, conspiracy theories, and nothing makes any sense. And like Star Trek Into Darkness, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 tries to coax by through the charm of its leads and action, lots of pretty but pointless action.
Having learned none of the lessons of having too many villains, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has Electro, the Green Goblin, the Rhino, the shadowy figure that was at the end of the first film (who is that guy?), and the evil Oscorp guy and his henchmen. All of this adds up to a film that has nothing really bringing it all together. It’s like there are pieces of numerous different movies, none of them being that good, and none of them more than half-written.
The first of these fragmented films is the prequel, or one of the plotlines from the first film that was dropped halfway through, concerning Peter’s parents. Having been betrayed by Oscorp, Richard and Mary Parker (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) dump Peter with Aunt May and Uncle Ben (Sally Field and Martin Sheen) before boarding a private jet. On the private jet Richard must try to upload his research while battling a nameless bad guy. I assume his business card read: Richard Parker – brilliant scientist, ass-kicker. The mystery surrounding his parents leads Peter into unwinding the web of lies spun by Oscorp, complete with all his evidence pasted to his walls and twine to illustrate their connections, like in 21 Jump Street. All of this evidence adds up to the shocking conclusion that Oscorp is an evil corporation. But the most important question is: who cares about Peter Parker’s parents?
In the main film we have the on-again, off-again, on-again, off-again, repeat ad nauseam, relationship between Gwen Stacey and Peter Parker (Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield). Haunted by the ghost of her dead father, Captain Stacey (Dennis Leary), who died at the end of the previous film, Peter feels it necessary to end his relationship with Gwen to protect her. Now repeat this over and over and you have the entire basis of their relationship. In lighter moments Garfield and Stone show the life and wit in their characters, but these moments feel like they’re from one of the other half-finished movies. There’s no consistency in their relationship from scene to scene, which kills what is intended to be the emotional heart of the film.
In another film, Max Dillon (Jaime Foxx) is a lonely and desperate loser, a nothing man. After being rescued by Spidey, and their brief interaction afterwards, Max convinces himself that he and Spidey are good friends. He carries on lengthy imaginary conversations with Spidey. Max Dillon is basically the Rupert Pupkin of cartoonish super-villainy. Following an after-hours accident on his birthday, in which Max falls into a tank of electric eels, he is transformed into Electro, who looks more like Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen than anything else (If you like this Electro, you can dish out $100 for the special edition blu-ray in a bust of his head). Now able to manipulate electricity, he stumbles to Times Square where the meek, misunderstood man of electricity takes on Spider-man. Like Homer Simpson in the Who Shot Mr. Burns? episode, Max is outraged when Spidey can’t remember his name. Electro quickly grows accustomed to his role as a cartoon super-villain by spewing horrible quips like, “It’s my birthday. Time to light my candles.” This battle ends when Spidey hits Electro with firehose, because, as we all know, water doesn’t conduct electricity.
In yet even another film, we have the relationship between Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan) and Peter Parker, the two reunited after Harry spent the past few years in a boarding school. Upon his return, Harry learns from his dying father, Norman (Chris Cooper), of the genetic disease that ravages his body. Norman bequeaths Harry all the genetic research at this disposal, as well as his expansive and evil company, in an attempt to spare his son from the painful disease. Determined to postpone death, Harry becomes convinced that he needs the blood of Spider-man, but Harry must also compete with Donald Menken (Colm Feore), a scheming executive who stages a coup at the top of Oscorp. Following his ousting at Oscorp and Spidey’s refusal to donate his blood, Harry experiments on himself with a serum from a genetically altered spider which only accelerates his transformation into the Green Goblin.
In the first of the film’s mini-sequels, Harry enlists the help of Electro, currently incarcerated in a tank of water and experimented upon by, not making this up, Dr. Kafka (Martin Csokas) at the Ravencroft Institute for the Criminally Insane. Electro and the Green Goblin team up to defeat Spider-man – Goblin wants Spidey’s blood and Electro is upset because of his name or something. Electro destroys the grid to all of New York City, knocking out power to even air traffic controllers. While Spidey battles Electro the film takes us to the control tower where air traffic controllers are trying to avert two planes on a collision course. This, of course, has nothing to do with anything that is happening. Spider-man doesn’t know about these planes and the audience doesn’t know anybody onboard, it’s just a failed attempt to create tension in a film sorely lacking in it.
The film’s other mini-sequel is really more of a really long easter egg for the sequel. Early in the film Spidey takes on Aleksei Systevich (Paul Giamatti) after he has stolen a truck full of plutonium. At the end of the film, having escaped from prison and acquired a metal rhino suit, Spidey takes him on. These scenes have nothing to do with anything going on in the film and only serve to set up an actual sequel. That final scene is set up by the return of the shadowy mystery man who appeared at the end of the first film. I have no idea who this character is or their function, I sincerely wonder if the filmmakers do as well.
The Spider-man suit and his movement throughout the film has never looked better. Andrew Garfield, the stunt team and CGI artists have made Spider-man look better than he has before. Garfield also does an amazing job with Spidey’s wisecracks in battle, perhaps the only thing really missing in Raimi’s films. But that can only carry things so far. The battles are weightless but gorgeous, but an abundance of action doesn’t replace the total lack of suspense.
As good as Garfield is in the suit he’s just as bad outside the suit. Every single joke you ever cracked about emo Peter Parker in Spider-Man 3 is now obsolete. Garfield’s Peter Parker is that guy in every scene. The walls of his room have posters of the Velvet Underground, Ramones, and David Bowie, yet during one emotional scene he puts on his Sony headphones and listens to Phillip Phillips (not Phil Phillips of Sea of Love fame), the former winner of American Idol.
As much as the film is a rambling mess, nothing is quite the egregious cinematic crime as the amount of time in this film spent with characters in front of computers, and always Sony products. The computers serve as exposition machines, over-explaining multiple plot points. Peter learns how to defeat Electro by learning about batteries on YouTube; Gwen also informs Peter how magnets work (Peter Parker: Juggalo). Harry Osborne learns of the Goblin’s glider and weaponry from a computer. Gwen must look up information about Max on the computer. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It is possible to provide exposition, character development, and drive the plot forward at once. Somehow, Orci, Kurtzman, and Pinker are considered professional screenwriters. There is more coherent fan fiction out there.
As much as I tried not to, it’s near impossible not to think of Sam Raimi’s Spider-man films when watching these last two films. If anything they highlight just how great those films really were. They’ve made me anxious to reevaluate Spider-man 3, which is looking better and better as time goes by. I couldn’t in good conscious recommend this film outside of a dollar rental. You gotta hand it to Orci and Kurtzman. Within a calendar year they’ve killed my interest in Star Trek and Spider-man. That’s impressive.