The Amazing Spider-Man wasn’t made for me.
Really, it wasn’t made for anyone outside of a targeted age range of thirteen to twenty-two — a collective who were still spending their pre-adult years in school, be it junior high or a junior in college, upon the time of its release. Director Marc Webb’s reboot was for the folks who hadn’t already bore witness to a trilogy spanning a significant chunk of their academic career (Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man came out during the summer between my junior and senior year in high school, with his Spider-Man 3 being released just after I had received my Bachelor’s Degree). This self-realization actually makes me feel quite lucky, as the big studio take on my favorite superhero was actually crafted so by a bona fide artist; a cinematic innovator who molded the property to fit into his established auteurist filmography while still revering the source material.
Unfortunately, this generation gets nothing more than a set of Spider-Man movies made by committee; cynical cash grabs whose plasticity is readily apparent from the very first frame. The first Amazing Spider-Man made a bundle of cash on teens desperately looking for something to have on in the background while they made out in a dark theater. Surprisingly, a certain section of comic book fans even seemed to dig it as well, praising the picture for “getting wise-cracking Spidey right”, as if that were enough to make up for the film’s glaring technical and narrative flaws.
So of course we got a sequel. But those looking to quietly canoodle or give this film the same easy pass they did with the first will probably have an even more difficult time excusing The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a product tailor-made to remind us that these “movies” will not end until the Apocalypse comes and wipes humanity from the planet. Because only then will there be no more Burberry wallets left to gouge; no more parents’ bank accounts remaining to plunder. Those post-credit tag sequences are simply precursors to our own eventual demise, for only then will this “story” be 100% finished.
It’s difficult to decipher just who’s to blame for the atrocity that is The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a movie whose ‘boardroom authored’ feel borders on out-and-out offensive. Most will probably be quick to point the finger at co-screenwriters/executive producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (the Transformers films), a duo who feel like they’re attempting to simply transform pages of studio notes into something resembling a superhero script. Plot points often occur for no good reason at all (Peter Parker just randomly shows up at Harry Osborn’s house after a decade of not seeing each other?) or are delivered via completely inconsequential side characters (if you thought the “Expositional Butler” was bad in Spider-Man 3, wait until you meet “Expositional Personal Assistant”). The connective tissue between scenes is pieced together so haphazardly that it’s often hard to figure just how much time has passed (Gwen Stacy goes from graduating high school to interning/working at Oscorp to getting considered for Oxford in…weeks? Months?). Meanwhile, some of the dialogue thuds so hard that you can practically hear its impact echoing off of the theater walls.
On top of bad construction and worse dialogue, character motivations seem to change from scene to scene, depending on how Kurtzman & Orci want the story to progress. The death of Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen, only glimpsed in recycled footage from the first film here) is relegated to being an afterthought for Peter Parker, who now inexplicably sees the ghost of Captain Stacy (Dennis Leary) at odd, random moments. On top of re-jiggering the guiding force in his life, Kurtzman & Orci (who were also aided by a third writer, Jeff Pinker) have our hero seemingly forget his prized skill set. Remember how the reboot had Peter returning to his roots as a scientific whiz kid? In The Amazing Spider-Man 2, he has to watch a stupid, hacky YouTube video in order to discover the basic properties of batteries, while Gwen Stacy later has to explain magnets to him (Jesse Pinkman wept). It’s a betrayal of basic character fundamentals so baffling that you cannot believe you’re watching a big studio production written by paid professionals.
Yet to simply lay the blame at Kurtzman & Orci’s feet might be letting the real culprit off of the hook completely. Marc Webb has shot a movie that, while pretty at times (cinematographer Dan Mindel works overtime to replicate the lens flare-filled JJ Abrams blockbuster mold), feels like it’s lacking in both imagination and coverage. Where the first Amazing Spider-Man film gave off the impression that Webb was at least “trying” to make something original (those POV web-slinging sequences were exhilarating), nothing of the sort exists in the sequel. Even the smaller moments are an assortment of banally blocked, shot/reverse-shot moments of visual boredom, to the point that I actually began to feel bad for regular Ridley Scott editor Pietro Scalia (Gladiator, Black Hawk Down). It’s almost as if he didn’t have enough footage to work with, leading to jarring, jagged cuts that would be more at home in a work-print or student production.
Speaking of amateur hour, Jamie Foxx is too good an actor to be embarrassing himself in dreck like this. Looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze after tripping ecstasy at a warehouse rave, Foxx’s Electro is laughably bad. Spitting one liners that Joel Schumacher would’ve cut from Batman & Robin (“Time to light my birthday candles!”) it’s hard not to also feel bad for Foxx (who really seems to think he’s playing a real character), yet you also can’t figure out just what in the script convinced him to even sign onto the project, let alone approach it with with such a stone-faced seriousness. With a physical origin not far removed from Thomas Haden Church’s Sandman in Spider-Man 3 (just replace sand with electric eels and voila…comic book movie mad libs!), not only does Electro have a “been there, done that” vibe, he’s never given anything remotely interesting to do. His sole goal is to…black out New York? As far as master plans go, it probably belongs just below Lex Luthor’s massive real estate scam from Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns in terms of forehead-slapping inanity.
We need to talk about Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. While the real life couple have terrific chemistry (as one would hope), their scenes still feel like non-starters. There’s part of me that wants to give both of the performers a pass, as they’re giving an admirable effort to try and save the picture based on their rapport alone. However, their emotional turns with one another occur on a dime (just look to the post-graduation dinner scene for the best example). While this again probably has more to do with Kurtzman & Orci’s filmic war crime of a screenplay, it’s a textbook example of a terrible script robbing its movie’s stars of anything resembling a discernible emotional moment together. There will certainly be those who point to the relationship between Peter and Gwen as being the saving grace of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but even the tragic love story is achingly hollow, bookended by a speech shoehorned into the narrative that both inexplicably telegraphs the movie’s inevitable end and gives Parker a bullshit “keep on keepin’ on” coda to carry us into The Amazing Spider-Man 3. It’s storytelling with only continuation in mind; an assembly-line mindset that serves nothing besides the corporate interest of keeping the franchise going, not the character.
Most baffling of all is Dane DeHaan, whose channeling of his inner Stephen Geoffreys almost makes this cinematic bayou worth slogging through. DeHaan, who has proven himself to be a fairly solid performer in the past (his turn in Chronicle basically renders a live-action Akira remake redundant all by itself) is “Sharlto Copley awful” here (we can start using that descriptor after Elysium and the Oldboy remake, right?). Every gesture and tic is cranked to eleven, his line readings varying between sniveling and shrieking depending on the moment. Harry Osborn’s proclamation of “I NEED YOUR BLOOD!” about halfway through the film will have any horror fan worth their salt throwing their copy of Fright Night into the blu-ray player immediately upon arriving home from the theater. And once the climax rolls around, with DeHaan injected full of spider super serum (comic books really love their drug cocktails, don’t they?), the transformation to the once great 80s horror icon is complete. Harry Osborn is no more; all that remains is Hoax from 976-EVIL. It’s a performance so bad that you begin to wonder if Shailenne Woodley is truly the big winner at the end of the night, her introduction as Mary Jane Watson having been cut from this turd after Webb decided he wanted to ‘streamline the narrative’ (or was it typical fanboy misogyny that kept the talented actress out of the mix?).
Marc Webb’s background as a music video director shines through in both the movie’s best and worst moments. Utilizing pop songs to maximum (and sometimes minimum) effect, the director leans on his cues to do most of the emotional heavy lifting for him. That point where Peter and Gwen attempt to friend-zone each other after breaking up wouldn’t work at all if it weren’t for the needle dropping on Phosphorescent’s “Song for Zula” just as Peter crosses a traffic-filled street to see his girl. This mindset of delivering “what kids these days enjoy” translates to the original score as well, with Electro’s theme being basically one bass drop away from a full-blown Skrillex track (and not the genius Skrillex Harmony Korine tapped into with Spring Breakers). Wait until you hearing the dubstep rendition of “Itsy Bitsy Spider” Spider-Man creates by knocking Electro into a gaggle of pylons during the film’s finale. It’s just horrid.
There are those who prefer Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man movies to Sam Raimi’s take on the property, leading me to believe that these folks are either blind, stupid, thirteen-years-old or a combination of the three. These movies are anti-cinema — products manufactured without the slightest hint of consideration for the form; a hodgepodge of nothingness cobbled together seemingly with the sole motivation of selling tickets, toys and wasting the time of those of us who actually CARE about motion pictures as being something beyond a sugary confection meant for mass consumption. I would tell you to avoid it like the plague, but let’s get real. Anybody reading a site called “Nerd Bastards” was probably at the midnight screenings or are already in line to see the next matinee. Instead, allow me to offer a simple “told ya so.” The Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn’t just a bad movie, it’s an affront to the very art itself. Webb’s movies aren’t just “not made for me”, they shouldn’t be made for anyone.