There is a moment within the overlong mess of a film that is Amazing Spider-Man 2 that really nails the essence of the character. A young bespectacled boy is fleeing from some bullies and they knock down his science project. They attempt to smash it and nearly succeed before they're interrupted by our titular hero. The boys scurry off and Spidey and the young fellow are left alone. He scoops up the remains of the project and actually puts it back together with webbing. "A wind turbine?! You made this? That is amazing!" The smile on the child's face could light up an entire city block and there's a great long shot of them walking down the alley as the Webhead escorts him home.
THAT is Spider-Man. The guy who fights off rampaging villains like Rhino, makes mad quips while doing so yet stops to help out hapless nerds being terrorized by bullies. He was that kid before the radioactive spider, before the costume and before the chaos of a life filled with constant fighting and derring-do. It was such a perfect moment that I nearly lost myself in it. Pure liquid bliss that cascades over the audience and we all were in its spell.
That is quickly displaced by yet another bit of boring exposition, characters actually telling us what is happening or more beautiful yet ultimately hollow CGI. I don't know who to point a finger at really. I can't turn my ire towards Andrew Garfield or Emma Stone. They're pitch perfect as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy respectively. Garfield's take on Spider-Man is exactly what I want and, frankly, I like him better than Tobey Maguire. Stone is as effervescent and charming as she's ever been on screen and such an effective foil to Garfield. Their chemistry is magnificent and all of the far more personal and intimate moments are knocked out the park. Webb's past with the romantic-comedy end of things shines through in the more quiet scenes. His expert hand at getting those great character bits are, sadly, overshadowed by his inability to effectively piece together a truly coherent whole.
If anything I'm going to blame the horribly untalented duo of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. These jokers are at it yet again much like they did with the Star Trek franchise, particularly Into Darkness. It feels a lot like they're just looking at large storyboards with push-pin notes for scene ideas and just slapping it down on the page. The quiet moments that are so well done are consistently stomped on by the empty bombast of big set-pieces, flimsy exposition or even going so far as to have characters just appear and explain what is happening. Are you serious? There's an instance of two "fans" of Spider-Man on TV talking about how his suit is rubberized thus his ability to fight Electro. Don't do that. That is BAD writing. I know this is a superhero movie and I'm not expecting Oscar calibre work here but don't be so lazy.
You can say what you want about the Sam Raimi directed films (which are far superior even including Spider-Man 3) but he didn't get lazy with the way he approached the character. Those films also would feel rather out of place in the current superhero cinematic landscape as most of our heroics are rather serious and adult comparatively. Every time Marc Webb lead our gang in the right direction (the big opening chase involving a stolen truck full of Oscorp owned plutonium is a prime example) that progress is erased by frail characterization or dialogue that just doesn't work or is unnecessary. One thing it definitely has in common with the Raimi trilogy is the feeling of being overstuffed. The third film, Emo Peter Parker and all, felt like it was bursting at the seams with the shoe-horned Venom plot. We've got not only Electro (Jamie Foxx) but also the Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan) and even Rhino (Paul Giamatti) to boot. All of this in a 2 hour and 23 minute package that is overlong but honestly wasn't long enough to cover all the ground they were wanting to.
The special effects, despite the fact that near the end of the movie there is such a saturation of it that it resembles more cartoon than anything resembling cinema, are quite dazzling. I was impressed time and time again by the carnage Electro was able to cause. The swinging sequences are so well done as well and one of the few times I felt I got my money's worth out of the added cost for 3D (especially in IMAX). The huge effects budget, however, cannot cover up the downright lazy and ineffective approach to this latest chapter by the guys behind the scenes.
Oh yes! Electro! The big bad of the film and, frankly, if he was gone I wouldn't have missed him. His role in the film made it feel like, really, there were two separate films happening all at the same time. We have the more intense personal dramatics involving Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy and the struggles of dealing with being the hero and trying to have it all butting heads with what I can only describe as a Joel Schumacher-esque 90's superhero flick. Jamie Foxx, who is actually quite a good actor as films like Django prove, is so obscured by the digital persona of Electro that really he was more set-dressing than anything else. He starts off as the unnoticed and mistreated Oscorp worker Max Dillon before being transformed and, even then, it had this entirely too similar feel of Jim Carrey's turn in Batman Forever. Near the end of it Electro became like Arnold's Mr. Freeze in Batman & Robin though and that is never a good thing. Ever. The movie rolled along at a disjointed pace while only reinforcing that Electro was there to establish the big set-pieces. The biggest, near the end, is sufficiently pretty to look at but is so overwrought and, at times, a bit dumb.
Dane DeHaan, who also is a pretty darn good actor, really doesn't deliver as Harry Osborn either. Osborn, the younger, standing in the immense shadow of his Father has big shoes to fill. Sure. That's fine and all but he's just wholly unconvincing compared to what we got before with James Franco. You tell me right now that the scene in Raimi's second Spider-Man film where he actually unmasks Spidey to discover Peter Parker isn't powerful. Go ahead. Try. I recall quite clearly just how big of an impact that had. Why? The relationship between Peter and Harry had actually been BUILT upon. It was fleshed out! Here we get a rush job of establishing that Peter and Harry have been friends for years. Okay. Great? It only gets worse as he's crammed into the Green Goblin outfit replete with disgusting make-up. If you've read the comics and know of a certain iconic scene that involves the Green Goblin and a love interest of Spider-Man then you know exactly why he was put in the movie to begin with. Giamatti really isn't worth mentioning as he shows up twice and both times the character is broadly painted and just .. who cares?
I think what frustrates me the most, other than the feeling that we somehow got two very disparate films stitched together, is that when it gets the feeling of Spider-Man right? It gets it SO VERY right. The rapid-fire quips, the fluidity of motion and all the great character traits are in there. We just don't get enough of that. Every flash of brilliance is upended immediately by something not so great. It isn't a thoroughly unentertaining flick, though, as it definitely delivers on action and heroics. That it has in spades but its the journey of how it gets there and, ultimately, serves more as a platter to showcase upcoming franchise opportunities in the Sinister Six and so forth that really diminishes this to nothing more than an unnecessary sequel.
It is a complex machine with some well-oiled parts working within. I just wish those tasked with putting it all together knew what the hell they were doing. Right now I really wish Sony/Columbia would just let the rights to the IP just lapse back over to Marvel Studios/Disney. This film, far more than others outside of the MCU, makes nearly everything else Kevin Feige and the boys over at Marvel Studios look like bonafied art. They're doing the same thing but at least they look good while doing it and know how to do it right. You might want to wait until DVD/Blu-Ray for this one folks.