I went in to The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ready to get over the fact that I view the entire Andrew Garfield version of the franchise as redundant. But I will never be prepared to accept bloated, unimaginative and, worst of all, wasteful comic book films, and so I wound up seeing nothing but a franchise that probably shouldn't even exist go from pointless to intolerable. Yes, the latest Spidey makes matters worse -- much, much worse -- for Sony Pictures and director Marc Webb, exposing an ambling, aimless, soulless comic book franchise as especially thin, especially with Marvel Studios churning out fully realized, entertaining films every few months.
This sequel treads over much of the same ground that the far superior Spider-Man 2 did. Peter Parker, played ably by Garfield, is struggling with the fact that his alter ego often puts loved ones in harm's way. His love interest this time around is Gwen Stacy not Mary Jane Watson, but the idea is the same. Ironic no, that Stacy is a blonde played by a natural redhead (Emma Stone), while Mary Jane from the older Spideys is a redhead played by a natural blonde (Kirsten Dunst). As the chronic visions of Gwen's dead father George (Denis Leary) not so cleverly suggest, he's feeling especially guilty.
Just as in Spider-Man 2, there's a veritable gaggle of villains. Harry Osborn is back, this time played by Dane DeHaan and sprinkled with an extra dose of desperation via a hereditary disease that threatens his life and compounded by the OsCorp board, which is in a hurry to oust him following the death of his father. A well-meaning and skillful scientist who is initially friendly with Parker/Spider-Man turns against him -- Jamie Foxx as Electro filling the shoes of Alfred Molina's Doctor Octopus a decade on.
But it isn't familiarity that breeds my contempt. Were this merely derivative, like its immediate predecessor, I would yawn and move on to the next thing, at least happy to see a few webs slung yet again. No, the problem here is just how half-hearted everything feels. Webb and the nine (!) writers who wrote the script seem to be checking the most basic comic-book film boxes.
Throw a few villains in to the mix and see what sticks. Have the protagonist deal with a moral crisis. Turn the hero's friends and admirers in to enemies. Find a way to fit in as many CGI-heavy action scenes in the streets of New York and/or dingy industrial building as you can. And they checked those boxes lazily, as with a pencil worn down to its nub.
There isn't much of an excuse for that, no matter how big the budget and how tough the competition is out there in the world of comic book cinema. The Christopher Nolans and Joss Whedons and James Gunns (and, dare I say, Sam Raimis) of the world have shown us time and again that comic book films can commit to grown-up themes. The wizards at Marvel Studios have set the CGI/special effects bar very high as well.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 fails, miserably, to match the standard set by its now many competitors, and it is exposed most of all by the handful of moments where the talented Garfield or Stone does elicit a smile, where Foxx or DeHaan does seem to inspire real horror and also empathy. Those few glimmers of goodness are punctuated by corny, uninspired lines and a CGI reel that looks straight out of the Spider-Man video game I played a decade ago on my Playstation 2.
As this edition Spidey proves, a massive budget and a capable cast are no match for a creative team that is either out of ideas or is beholden to a studio that isn't interested in trying new ones. It's hard to put out a comic book film that is a true differentiator these days, but so too is it difficult to put together one that is so utterly hollow.