By Tim Posada, 5/08/2014
Greater stakes and the budget to match – this is a “Spider-Man” film in the making since his Spidey sense kicked in almost 52 years ago. Yes, it’s twice as loud, but proves more deafening against almost all its predecessors (“Spider-Man 3” is still the low). But that doesn’t stop this largely forgettable summer superhero smash from delivering the popcorn goods and setting the groundwork for many more (hopefully) better films to come.
With the original story and one foe down, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” pits Spidey (Andrew Garfield) against three villains, a troubled love life and a mysterious family past (how and why did his parent die…perhaps we’ll find out). Come high school graduation, young Peter Parker (Garfield) faces many life choices, namely determining if a superhero can have a love life and still enjoy his spandexed night life. Enter your average young adult indecisiveness. After several off-and-ons, Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) finally replaces that annoying ellipses with a period, and the two part ways. Cue montage sequence of the passing time.
Meanwhile, three villains emerge. Now if three sounds convoluted, at least Aleksei Sytsevich/Rhino (Paul Giamatti) merely bookends the film. Good thing too since his character only mumbles in a stereotypical Eastern European accent. There’s even a few other supervillain and antihero cameos: Alistair Smythe (B.J. Novak), known as the Spider-Slayer in the comics, Dr. Ashley Kafka (Marton Csokas) and Felicia (Felicity Jones), who’s most likely Felicia Hardy/Black Cat.
The primary threats are Electro and the Green Goblin. Max Dillon’s (Jamie Foxx) transformation into a Blue Man Group supervillain with a sparkling personality, Electro, occurs rather quickly. But not quick enough. This Oscar-winning actor channels Jim Carrey’s Riddler from “Batman Forever”. That’s not a good thing. He’s Spidey’s ultimate fanboy –– just a few weeks away from a restraining order. Add some experimental electric eel bites to socially-encumbered psychosis, and you’ve got the makings of a very, very cliche villain.
And then there’s the Green Goblin. Rather than bother with Norman Osborn (this time played by Chris Cooper, appearing in a couple scenes), we go straight to his son, Harry (Dane DeHaan). Casting the mentally deranged telekinetic from “Chronicle” had great promise, but DeHaan’s performance is even more rigid than Foxx’s. He’s no Willem Defoe. That should be a good thing. But in place of the 2002 “Spider-Man’s” awful Power-Ranger-inspired gobstume, when Harry arrives on his glider, the hokey outfit, punk rock hair, discolored teeth and creepy facial expressions dishonor the memory of the iconic villain.
Foxx and company are hardly to blame for the performance mess. This is more a leadership problem. Screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (the new “Star Treks”) – revising Jeff Pinkner’s first draft – and director Marc Webb cast a narrative web no Spidey film can or should contain. I blame poor planning.
In the wake of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Sony set out to create its own universe with Spider-Man at the center. Harry will lead the first supervillain team-up film, “The Sinister Six”, and a “Venom” film is also in the works. In some ways, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” feels like “Iron Man 2”: it tries so hard to establish a universe without telling a cohesive story. At least this “Spider” outdoes that bland “Iron Man”. Hopefully Sony will figure things out by the next onslaught of films.
If little else, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone fill in the gaps left by co-stars. The chemistry isn’t as strong, especially since they share too little screen time, but they’re no less enjoyable throughout.
The real hero here, is the composing team. Hans Zimmer (“The Dark Knight” and “Inception”) knows his way around a conventional film score, but this one reaches new heights. Call themselves The Magnificent Six, Zimmer teamed with hip-hop artist Pharrell Williams, Smiths guitarist/songwriter Johnny Marr, Incubus guitarist Mike Einziger and David A. Stewart of the Eurythmics. It might be a ploy, but it’s an effective one. Sure, Electro’s sad-life theme song is incredibly corny, but layering the final showdown with dubstep is fitting.
Despite its many flaws, this is still a “Spider-Man” film, complete with creative action sequences and everyone’s favorite urban Tarzan swinging through one of the most picturesque cities in the world. A few missteps don’t kill the whole franchise (though Giamatti’s head popping out of a CGI Rhino body is amateurish); they just set a lower precedent for future installments.