The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems like it could be the first feature film to take inspiration from AAA videogame development. That isn’t a good thing. You see, many weaker big-budget videogames suffer from creative inconsistency born of farming out their writing to dozens of writers; this guy wrote the lore, that guy writes the journal entries, etcetera, which leaves the game without a consistent voice. So it is with The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which has four screenwriters (Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner & James Vanderbilt) and just as many plots, none of which seem to be substantively connected.
Let’s break it down!
Plot one: Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) – aka Spider-Man – is worried about dating Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) because her dead dad (Denis Leary) warned her against it, and his ghost keeps appearing at the most inopportune times (yes, really, this is a thing that happens in this movie).
Plot two: Peter investigates what happened to his parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz), a plot that pretty much goes nowhere (much like Batman, his parents are deeaaaaaad).
Plot three: Nerd-cliché Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) gets electrocuted, then gets electrocuted some more, then gets bitten by some electric eels. He thinks Spider-Man is his best friend, then he gets angry when they don’t share birthday cake (this is not exactly what happens, but I swear the electric eels bit is accurate).
Plot four: Heir to Oscorp, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) returns from overseas travelling to attend to his dying father (Chris Cooper) who shares with him the wonderful deathbed revelation that he’s going to die from a degenerative genetic illness that apparently turns you into a goblin (and a Spider-Man villain).
That’s not even mentioning insipid subplots including: Paul Giamatti hijacks a truck! Sally Field becomes a nurse! Felicity Jones …doesn’t get to do anything! It all contributes to a film that’s overstuffed, overindulgent and overlong. There’re no substantive character arcs to speak of; the two main villains – soon dubbed Electro and Green Goblin, respectively – suggest they might have personalities before transforming into generic bad guys without material motives.
Perhaps a good director could salvage this unwieldy mess of a screenplay. Marc Webb … is not that man. His filmography so far is defined by a fondness for unnecessary Dutch angles and rambunctious tonal inconsistency. That sort of worked in the overrated (500) Days of Summer, but this superhero sequel swerves so wildly from Saturday morning cartoon silliness to overwrought emotion that you practically get whiplash. The former mode – all wisecracks and wackiness – might have yielded a worthwhile, if frivolous, film. It certainly would have made details like the lightning bolts fastidiously painted on Electro’s costume more forgivable.
The actors, admittedly, acquit themselves pretty well. Stone does her best, but she’s wasted as Gwen Stacy, a character defined by two things – her intelligence and her love for Parker. The latter proves more important than the former, with a confession of love from Spidey sufficient to pull her away from an invitation to Oxford. Dane DeHaan is a fantastic young actor and he demonstrates that intermittently here. It was disappointing to see his androgynous, alabaster beauty increasingly consumed by grisly makeup as the film progressed.
Foxx is similarly disguised, spending most of the film as a computer-generated blue entity; think Dr Manhattan with pants. Where DeHaan is well-suited to the role of a reclusive, resentful billionaire, Foxx is woefully miscast in the role. He exudes a nonchalant cool in person, so no matter how much the costume and make-up department try to sell him as an awkward nerd pre-transformation – pocket protectors, awful comb-over, huge gap between his front teeth, coke-bottle spectacles – he stands out like a sore thumb.
Andrew Garfield stands out in the lead role, too, but in a good way. He brings this kind of nervous, impatient energy to the role, twirling and fidgeting through the necessary scenes of dry exposition (it totally works, trust me). The script asks him to oscillate between taking nothing seriously and taking everything seriously, and he inexplicably pulls it off. He’s magnetic as both Parker and Spider-Man; it’s a shame that the film around him isn’t quite as amazing.