The film that comes out the first Friday in May is, in my eyes, the kickoff to the summer movie season. The one movie that sets the tone for the rest of the season, in a sense. It's usually big, it's hyped to all hell, and it's meant to make a studio a ton of money. Oh, and it's usually a superhero movie: since Sam Rami's Spider-Man in 2002, just about every movie to open the season of popcorn entertainment has been a comic book movie. Last year, Marvel Studios started the season off with a solid bang with Iron Man 3, and while there were some fun popcorn movies that added plenty of excitement and genuine fun (Pacific Rim, The Wolverine, This Is the End, The World's End) by the end, I was exhausted of seeing computer-generated destruction and studios showing off their budget at the expense of telling a story and developing their characters (I'm looking at you, Man of Steel).
This year, it's Marc Webb's reboot of our friendly neighbor Spider Man that gets the honor of launching this year's crop of summer flicks, and I was on the fence about the sequel: I didn't much care for the 2012 reboot because I felt that it was a rehash of what we saw with Rami's original version of the web slinger a decade ago, albeit with a more cockier and taunting Spider-Man in Andrew Garfield, than Toby Maguire still acting like the boy-scout when he donned the red and blue spandex costume, a more menacing villain in Dr. Connors/The Lizard (Rhys Ifans), and anytime you hire Denis Leary in a movie, you're doing something right in my book. So, with the groundwork laid in the reboot, how does Webb follow up with The Amazing Spider-Man 2? As you can tell with the title of my review, not too good.
It's a damn shame, because there are plenty of elements that work here in the sequel. The backstory on Peter Parker's parents takes up the first 10 minutes of the film and the patriarch's motivations for leaving is one of the main interesting subplots which has a decent payoff later on. The film's score, by the always reliable Hans Zimmer, is perhaps some of the best stuff he's done since his collaboration with James Newton Howard on "The Dark Knight". His theme for Spider-Man is heroic and, well...super, and his theme for Electro (Jamie Foxx) is absolutely incredible. Parts of the score was a collaboration of a supergroup dubbed "The Magnificent Six", including Johnny Marr and Pharell Williams. It is a brilliant combination of the score actively moving and defining how the character acts, and the mix of traditional orchestral elements, electronica and vocals.
Speaking of Electro, he's played with menace and surprising feeling by Foxx, who, before his transformation into a being of pure electricity, is Max Dillon, a living doormat for Oscorp and the rest of society. He's an obsessed fan of Spidey after he rescues him from being road kill during his pursuit of a Russian mobster, and becomes an obsessed fanatic after he tells him he's his eyes and ears on the ground. All he wants is to be noticed and to be needed, and Foxx makes you feel his pain and his eventual fury.
There's also another villain, in the form of Peter's old friend, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), who comes home to watch papa Osborn (Chris Cooper) die, but not before he tells the son he's suffering from the same genetic disease that has claimed his life. Harry needs Spider-Man's blood to cure him, but when he refuses, he resorts to disparate measures to obtaining it, eventually transforming him into the Green Goblin. DeHaan is a talent to watch, and he brings a chilling presence to a boy who obtains power he just isn't ready for. You've noticed that I've spent the last couple of paragraphs talking about the villains, that you're wondering why I'm not talking about the titular star of the film, Spider-Man? That, dear reader, lies the biggest fault of the sequel.
Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) has troubles and is tormented. Why?
Is it due to his responsibilities as a high school graduate and helping take care of Aunt May (Sally Field), after the death of Uncle Ben in the reboot? Not really. He gets a job at the Daily Bugule to help burden the load, and Aunt May goes to nursing school to help put Peter through college.
Is it because he's trying to balance his secret identity with his personal life with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and because of this, he's pushing her away? Kinda, but we've already established that she knows who he is. They do have a lover's quarrel several times, but we know they're going to get back together because the script says so.
Is it because of the weight of his responsibilities threatens to break young Parker and his alter-ego? It does, but in the film's climax where someone close to him bites it.
The problem lies in the fact that Garfeild's version of Parker doesn't hold a candle to Maguire's version. Maguire understood and captured the burden/cost of being a hero: he love of his life, his studies at NYU, his friendship with Harry, and living with the fact that having all those things paints a target on their backs. Putting it frankly - to be a superhero, means being alone and isolated, and constantly watching over the people closest to them. Garfield and the screenwriters (Alex Kurtman, Roberto Orci, James Vanderbilt and Jeff Pinkner) miss this aspect of Peter's character and mythos in the sequel. When you're the main protagonist is the least interesting character in his own film, you have a serious problem. Sure, not having exciting action scenes and an overload of CGI doesn't help the cause, but you'd be missing the main reason why this installment feels like a factory-assembled product rather than a film, and that's because it's a clear setup for The Sinister Six spinoff that's in the works. At least that's why it explains why Garfield and Stone's characters feel less-important to the plot and why Paul Giamatti was essentially regulated to a cameo as Aleksei Sytsevich (aka: the Rino), the mobster Spidey fights in the opening fight sequence where we're re-introduced to the wall-crawling crime fighter, and at the end where he gets his mechanical Rhino tank! Seriously, he added nothing to the story, but to announce he'll have a bigger role in future movies!
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is just a sequel that twiddled its thumbs in anticipation for the soon-coming Sinister Six spinoff, which I wouldn't have a problem with, if the action scenes weren't bland and lacking genuine excitement, and if Parker's continued storyline didn't feel like it was taking a backseat. At this point, though? They can hype up a team-up of Goblin, Rhino, Electro, Vulture, Doc Ock, and Kraven the Hunter all they want, but it still doesn't change the simple truth that the best thing that could have happened to Spider-Man's universe would have been for the rights to evaporate from Sony's control and have the web-slinger come back under the fold of Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios. A missed opportunity all-around.
** stars out of ****