We fade from black to a red Spider-Man logo, as the fade even further reveals that the logo is on the back of our friendly rebooted Spider-Man, free-falling in midair as he waits for the right moment to shoot a web vine.
With a woosh and some zip, Spidey pulls himself back up and begins a breathtaking sequence as he dips and fives between the tight architectural valleys of New York City. Peter screams joyfully, and is excited to go out and fight some crime. It’s a terrific bit with digitally constructed imagery and inventive camera placement that matches Gravity in its willingness to bend comprehension to show a person interacting unbelievably with their environment. Hell, it’s maybe even a little amazing. Spider-Man is ready to embrace greatness.
It’s a pity the film can’t give Spider-Man much to be great with beyond that. The Amazing Spider-Man 2, sabotages the excitable Spider-Man just to put markers in place so that Sony can have a lucrative, multi-filmed “Spider-verse.” For every nifty effect or whole-hearted moment, and there are a few, the film presents its lucrative, already gigantic audience with handfuls of clunky building blocks. This Spidey flick is mostly about amassing, and not enough about amazing.
Set not long after Marc Webb’s sensationally sincere 2012 reboot, Peter Parker/Spider-Man faces off against a bevy of enemies. Spider-Man hurts and accidentally inspires an electrician Max Dillon (a painfully misused Jamie Foxx) to become a blue-hued baddy that shoots bolts of electricity, the self-proclaimed “Electro.” Peter reunites with long-gone best buddy Harry Osborn (a game Dane DeHaan), only to see the petulant boy billionaire Osborn turn in to a crazed monster, “Green Goblin.” Spider-Man must stop the goofy Russian criminal The Rhino from blowing up the city. Twice. Peter must also face off against Oscorp, a generically nefarious corporation that houses the means for super-villains to be made. Peter also whimpers over the possibility of losing the love of his life, Gwen Stacy (the always smoldering Emma Stone), to Oxford. It’s a lot for any film to bear, but see, that’s not the problem. Robert Altman could tell dozens of little stories all the time.
In “Amazing Spider-Man 2,” each story is seeded and only mildly explored as olive branches for other things. Sequels, spin-offs, future digital action scenes; next to nothing in Spidey 2 happens as a means to continue the actions and incidentals of Spider-Man, a Marvel comic property not owned by Disney. Without spoiling, the business intentions of this movie are disappointingly clear. The script creates little intrigue as side-stories start and stop at the expense of telling a whole story about the continuing adventures of Spider-Man. This script is riddled with cliffhangers and half-hearted intrigue. Only in the last 15 minutes does the movie get unabashedly exciting, as the film settles on trying to be a super-hero film about Peter-Parker, and the consequences of his spandex-clad vigilantism while struggling to be amazing.
Where the 2012 iteration was an earnest, more humane fare, Amazing Spider-Man 2 is more than happy to be a big, summer extravaganza. The nimble, game, and still promising directorial style of Marc Webb mostly succumbs to the selfish needs of Sony. Webb, fresh off the indie treat (500) Days of Summer, took an already bloated Spider-Man franchise off gonzo fan-favorite Sam Raimi’s hands, and scaled it back down (despite a still-ludicrous $230 million budget) into the story of an awkward teenager’s incredible discovery of his super-self. It had the heart of an indie, with feelings deeply rendered by two terrific young leads with Stone, and the now already exhausted and unfocused Andrew Garfield. It was the closest heir to Richard Donner’s immaculate Superman: the Movie within the superhero genre.
Now, it’s a Richard Lester and Superman II vibe for Spidey, with asides, goofs, and stilted storytelling. The key ingredients of the original are here with Webb, Stone, and Garfield. Yet the whole endeavor has been chaired by a hungry studio putting too damn much into the mix. Odds are you’ve seen press releases about this film’s sequels and spin-offs already, and it couldn’t be more apparent that Webb’s sequel is a means to tease out those future businesses. Enjoyable shards shine through, but not often enough for even Spider-Man to overcome.
Another consideration is the change in writing line-up. 2012 The Amazing Spider-Man had a two-time Oscar winner (Alvin Sargent), a sweet-minded, seven-time Harry Potter scribe (Steve Kloves), and an action guru that did the delightful “The Rundown” (James Vanderbilt). This time, it’s Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Jeff Pinkner, popular writers known for writing “Lost,” and “Fringe.” Those were shows that about distrust of big companies and genetics, with a love for incomplete storytelling and cliffhangers. One can’t help but wonder if this movie was leftovers from Fringe. It’s a wickedly woven, dire web.