One of the worst things a superhero movie can do is gobble up its running time with multiple under-realized plots, included to cram in as many odds and ends of the source material as possible, that scramble to amount to something substantial in the final minutes. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”—or “We Already Remade One Sam Raimi ‘Spider-Man’ So Let’s Do Another”—commits exactly this error, ending up less a fully realized movie than an over-extended “Previously on…” bumper for the upcoming “Spider-Man”-related projects in development.
The myriad characters and narrative threads are largely developed independently of one another, never cohering into an engaging product. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), having accepted his role as New York’s fulltime web-slinging savior, tries to balance his spider life with his love life. Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan) returns to town and, after being informed by his dying father that the Osborne family is apparently afflicted with a terrible genetic disease, becomes very angry with Spidey, largely because the plot needs him to. Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), a put-upon loser who gains electrical powers through an Oscorp-related accident, transforms into villain Electro mostly to create conflict for Spider-Man and to be used as a pawn by Harry. Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone), having broken up with Peter because she’s jealous that Peter thinks of her dead dad more than her, chases a scholarship to Oxford. Peter’s Aunt May becomes a nurse because Sony signed Sally Field for three movies and needed something for her to do. Various other characters from the comics like Aleksei Sytsevich a.k.a. The Rhino (Paul Giamatti), Felicia Harding (Felicity Jones), and Alistair Smythe (B.J. Novak) are given a few lines each in incredibly transparent attempts to set up later “Oh, it’s that guy/girl!” reactions from the audience when they eventually see the planned “Spider-Man” spinoffs.
Wasn’t that exhausting to read?
It’s even more exhausting to watch. This was not a summation of an early draft of the movie, but the final version that is being presented to the public. With constant jumps in logic, time, and character development, it’s as if “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” was made primarily for the filmmakers themselves, the only audience capable of picking up on the film’s neutral connections between disjointed narrative threads because, well, they conceived of them. For the rest of us, each thread seems to exist in near-isolation from its counterparts. Consider the fact that Electro has only three interactions with Spider-Man in the whole picture, despite Electro’s status as the chief bad guy. Incidentally, these three scenes are about all you need to make sense of the whole movie; the rest comes across as an extraneous sideshow. It is one thing for filmmakers to possess the ambition to create a sprawling, interconnected web of plots, but to simply shoot off a half-dozen ideas and not connect them in any meaningful way is damning.
Another major issue with “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” stems from the fact that Peter is constantly haunted by Captain Stacey’s death in the line of duty from the previous film, suggesting that the writers—four are credited—were keen to portray Peter’s negligence as being responsible for the death of a father figure. Yet they seem to have forgotten Peter’s much more direct responsibility for the shooting of his uncle Ben, his literal father figure. This misplaced emphasis not only throws away decades of Spider-Man history from the comics, but makes Peter seem like an unloving, unrepentant asshole for much of the film. Peter doesn’t even mention Ben when he’s consoling Harry about the passing of a family member, the perfect time to bring up your dead uncle who raised you. Instead, Peter only mentions his dead parents, mostly because the writers want the viewer to remain conscious of the memory of said parents, for a key (read: ridiculous) revelation about them comes to light about an hour later.
The movie’s two saving graces are the chemistry between the leads and the action sequences. Peter and Gwen’s relationship is the only living character in this otherwise dead affair. Garfield and Stone’s co-presence is marked by an honesty about young love, and even a dignified credibility that the two bring to the ridiculous situations, such as Peter spelling out “I love you” in web-writing on the Brooklyn Bridge. The best scene of the movie finds the separated couple making up, capturing both the spark of spontaneity that comes from rekindling a lost romance and the jovial attitudes of two people who thrive on each other’s company. It’s precious, it’s adorable, and it’s enough to make you want them to remake the “Thin Man” films just so these two can be two together.
The action, too, elevates the movie from “slog” to “meh,” as director Marc Webb captures the thrill and fluidity of a man flying and swinging through New York, a mere human spec using the urban infrastructure as his playground. This first shot of Spider-Man is particularly striking: the blackness around the opening title card slowly fades to reveal the same logo on Spidey’s back, as he’s in free-fall. It also happens to be a rather misleading sign that the rest of the movie will be exciting.
One of the biggest laughs of the first “Amazing Spider-Man” movie came from Peter’s constant use of the search engine Bing to look up plot-points when the movie needed him too. This is a decent metaphor for Webb’s Spider-Man franchise in a nutshell: It looks like a Spider-Man movie, but it doesn’t know how to act like one. And while the same laughably misguided ethos that resulted in Peter’s flurry of Bing searches has also tainted this second movie, there are a few bright spots thatsuggest it could have worked with significant alterations. Put another way: “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is not really any better than the first edition, but at least this time, Peter Parker uses Google.