Director Marc Webb began his career with the inventive, soulful romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer, but somehow immediately graduated to superhero blockbusters. The Amazing Spider-Man was a flawed reboot, but I quite liked it - mostly because the strong cast and sharp dialogue made the characters feel genuine. Best of all was the romantic relationship between Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield, The Social Network) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone, Aloha), which sparkled even during the film's more generic stretches.
It's no surprise that the scenes between Garfield and Stone are the highlights of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. It's also unsurprising that Webb seems more confident and assured as an action director this time around (even if he borrows a lot of Zack Snyder's techniques). What is surprising is that nearly everything else is so much worse. There are moments so bad I genuinely couldn't believe I was seeing them.
Let's start with the villains. This movie has three of them, because it learned nothing from Sam Raimi's overstuffed Spider-Man 3. The first one we meet is the man who will eventually become known as The Rhino (Paul Giamatti, Sideways). Truth be told, he isn't so much a major villain as a preview for a major villain. He appears at the beginning and the end and we're essentially assured that we'll see much more of him later. Like the Marvel Universe films, this one is largely a feature-length trailer for future movies. At least most of the Marvel flicks are trailers for movies that look bearable.
Our second villain is Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan, Chronicle), who isn't technically a villain at the beginning, but c'mon. He's the most promising of the bunch, mostly because DeHaan has the sly charisma of a young Jack Nicholson. The performance is kinda fantastic, but the film undercuts him with clunky dialogue and less-than-credible motivation. Harry is required to act like a petulant child in order to advance the plot, and it's painful to see a fine actor like DeHaan grappling with the bad scenes he's given.
Last and least, we have Jamie Foxx (Collateral) as Electro, the silliest superhero movie villain since Arnold Schwarzenegger's Mr. Freeze. The character begins as a nerdy, needy Oscorp employee, and Foxx plays him as such a cartoonish stereotype that it completely ruins the feeling that this flick is taking place in some version of the real world. To make matters worse, Foxx can't even sell the stereotype - he has too much movie star swagger to be convincing as an unloved nobody. He's capable of suppressing that quality in the right role (see: the first act of Django Unchained), but his work here is cringe-inducing. Things are a whole different kind of bad once he turns into Electro, as he gets to deliver such classic lines as, "It's my birthday. Time to light the candles." He's not exclusively to blame (the character development is laughable), but this is the worst performance of Foxx's career by far.
Also: remember the subplot from the first film involving Peter's search for the truth about his late father (Campbell Scott, The Spanish Prisoner)? Yeah, me neither. Anyway, that storyline plays a big role in this flick, and it builds to a moment which reveals that this entire universe is built on a spectacularly improbable coincidence. Yes, I know this is a comic book movie about a guy with crazy spider powers. Even in that context, the revelation is nonsensical. By the end, things get even worse: we're poised to witness a whole slew of movies based on outlandish things that happen just because the story needs them to happen that way.
There were plenty of moments when I wanted to throw something at the screen, but every now and then it would manage to pull me back during the Garfield/Stone scenes. The movie is a mess, but it still has a solid emotional core simply because of the chemistry these two share. These aren't just pretty young movie stars; they're phenomenal actors who know how to find truth in every moment. And then the movie finds a way to ruin that, too. The film's limp, tonally misguided follow-up to its most powerful dramatic moment is simply bewildering. It takes the film's dimly-lit soul and tramples on it.
Can I be straight with you? I wasn't sure what rating I was going to give the movie as the credits were rolling. Two stars, maybe. Two and a half if I could convince myself the two leads deserved it. But as I've been writing this, and as I've replayed every key scene in my head, I've come to the realization that I haven't hated a superhero movie this much since X-Men: The Last Stand. In some ways, it's worse, simply because it's so painfully obvious that Webb and co. were capable of doing so much better. I may have loathed Electro, but he and I share one thing in common: we've both had enough of Spider-Man.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Rating: ★½ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 142 minutes
Release Year: 2014