In my recent review of Captain America: The Winter Solider, I took a moment to appreciate how Marvel Studios/Disney really seemed to understand the core nature and appeal of the character. But with comic book characters especially, “feel” for a character involves more than just knowing how Cap might react in a certain situation—it also carries with it a sense of what exactly a reader (or viewer) will want to see said hero do. It’s a mostly intangible quality that yields very tangible results. If you have it—you get The Avengers (or most of Phase Two of the MCU). If you don’t, you get Man of Steel, or, to keep things on Stan Lee’s side of the ledger, you get The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a badly scripted jumble of subplots whose jostling for screen time only serves to obscure the character who is supposed to be center stage.
Freed from much of the awkwardly executed origin re-retelling of its 2012 predecessor, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 should have more life to it. In his second turn at the helm, director Marc Webb has a solid cast of returning stars and high-caliber newcomers, and a budget befitting one of Sony’s big gun properties. Nonetheless, in many ways this second installment of the rebooted Spidey is worse than the first. How can that be?
Oh, yeah … the script.
The course and dramatic flow of the movie is relentlessly choked off by a stream of manufactured dramatic debris. Will Richard Parker succeed in uploading his super-secret files to their super-secret location?! Can Gwen Stacy escape Oscorp security as she is “slow-chased” around the building?! (Despite the fact she’s recognized, having worked there for a while, the pursuit of Stacy is conveniently abandoned once the scene is over.) Can Aunt May hide her laundry?! (By the way, when Aunt May said she was training to be a nurse so she can help pay for Peter’s college, I heard a few laughs—I assume at how clueless the screenwriter was who thought one makes money while in nursing school.) Incidentally, the answer to many of these manufactured moments is, “Who cares?”
When not being presented with yet another Screenwriting 101 exercise in ratcheting up dramatic tension, the movie feels like a test pilot of Young Spider-Man on The CW. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have nice chemistry, but again, whoever thought moviegoers would rather watch the two of them talk about their relationship rather than Spider-Man, Spider-Man, doing whatever a spider can … well, that person doesn’t understand what makes a good superhero flick tick.
When the script lets Spider-Man (not Peter Parker) on the stage, he predictably steals the show. The intersection between computerized special effects and “real person” has become so well-meshed that the experience of watching the world’s favorite webcrawler swing around and do heroic things is a joy. (With his lanky frame and quip delivery, Garfield is a better Spider-Man than Tobey Maguire, though not necessarily a better Peter Parker.) But whenever the film starts to pick up momentum, the script hobbles it again with more face-time with Peter, Gwen, Harry, Aunt May and the rest of the characters and alter egos who are supposed to be side dishes and not the main course.
Ultimately, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is noteworthy for one thing—not waiting until the third or fourth film to achieve the overstuffed, increasingly garish look one associates with less popular (2007’s Spider-Man 3) and outright ridiculed (1997’s Batman and Robin) franchise efforts. Jamie Foxx’s Max Dillon (pre-electric eel bath) could have come straight from a skit in In Living Color. Marton Csokas’ absurdly accented German scientist was even worse. (I haven’t heard an accent get such unintended laughter since Bane.) Those two portrayals especially seemed to belong to another film entirely.
Taken together with the usual—for this rebooted franchise—manufactured coincidences and exposition-burdened dialogue, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a reminder that, when it comes to superhero films, there are some lessons Hollywood has a hard time learning.
Director: Marc Webb
Writer: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner (screenplay & story); James Vanderbilt (story); Stan Lee, Steve Ditko (Marvel comic book)
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Sally Field
Release Date: May 2, 2014