Though one could obviously see The Amazing Spider-Man 2 as yet another fantastical action flick, the film that Marc Webb has directed, from a script by Lost luminaries Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Jeff Pinkner, is more of a melodrama. Like Ang Lee’s undervalued Hulk, Webb’s latest take on web-slinger Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is, stylistically speaking, an attempt to capture the spirit of the comic-book source material—corniness, cheap thrills, and all. The narrative, which sets Parker against Electro (Jamie Foxx) and Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan), doesn’t want for ambition, but Webb proves unwilling, or incapable, of making this unwieldy story feel like anything but a deluge of backstory.
The script is the biggest part of the show here, with spiraling-out histories and detours that are as inconsequential as they are unconvincing. This surplus of story not only makes the few kinetic plot lines and action sequences feel rushed, but it also drowns out the welcome sense of pulpy characterization that the filmmakers indulge. At first Electro is merely Max, a charmless scientist slighted by his overseers at OsCorp, and who becomes obsessed with Spider-Man after being saved by him during an attack in Manhattan. His turn toward villainy, following an accident that gives him control over electricity and mutates him into a living, breathing glowstick, is rooted in an unnerving sense that his hero betrayed him.
This is not altogether different from the way Jim Carrey’s Riddler is characterized in Batman Forever, but whereas Joel Schumacher matched his aesthetic to the perverse campiness of the script, the look of Webb’s film is more akin to an Urban Outfitters billboard. Webb strives for a shallow hipness that’s denoted as much by the wardrobe (capris, floppy knit hats, etc.) as it is by Garfield’s wise-ass take on our friendly neighborhood hero. The actor plays up the goofiness quotient of Parker’s original makeup, but ditches the social anxiety, turning the character into the kind of strutting alpha-nerd one might have found in The Social Network.
Garfield’s performance gives the film a lively kick for the most part, but doesn’t quite mesh with the overbearing sentimentality afforded his relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). A sequence where he walks through oncoming traffic to meet her in a love-struck trance is the most unbelievable element of a film that also includes Paul Giamatti riding around in a mecha-rhino; the scene where Peter makes a collage on his wall halfway through the film, to essentially remind the audience what’s happened so far, is a photo-finish second. Much more rewarding is Parker’s warm relationship with Aunt May (Sally Field), who frets over his fascination with his deceased parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) and their work.
The Parkers’ experiments inevitably lead back to OsCorp, and the filmmakers’ treatment of the Osborne bloodline is the film’s primary saving grace. The scene where Harry Osborne (DeHaan), sporting an Interpol-cover-band hairdo, visits his ailing, literally reptilian father, Norman (Chris Cooper), is genuinely chilling, as Cooper’s nefarious paterfamilias leisurely reveals that Harry will die of the same genetic disease as he is now succumbing to. And Harry’s transformation into the Green Goblin smartly leans more toward the outlandishly monstrous than the “realistic,” and Max’s transformation into Electro is similarly nonsensical in the best possible way. Would that the filmmakers focused more on the relationship between Parker and these other mutants, as the film may have ultimately grappled with the issues of identity, humanistic purpose, and fate that it constantly skirts here.
In many ways, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 takes a similar attitude toward storytelling, both visually and narratively, as Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, which deems one two-hour-plus movie too small to fit in anything but bedrock for whatever the sequel’s place will be in an unending arc. In essence, these films are episodes of a hugely budgeted television series. This may be seen as a positive for some, but in the actual film, it feels more like a distinct indecisiveness, a nattering inability to focus on what’s presently happening in the narrative rather than what preceded it or what it’s effects will finally be. Webb’s latest feels like an entire 13-episode season sloppily condensed down, and yet there are still innumerable asides that add nothing to the story nor speak to whatever idiosyncrasies the filmmakers felt drawn to in the material. The film even ends just as a battle royale is getting underway, a benign cliffhanger meant not to end the movie, but open the door to the next one, treating the glut of what just finished merely as a preamble.