If there’s anything that Spider-Man has learned in the two years since his latest reboot with “The Amazing Spider-Man,” it’s schtick. Yeah, that old-fashioned, borscht belt humor. I’m not sure which of the three screenwriters (Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci & Jeff Pinkner) decided to flip the funny switch, but it gets left on a tad too long in this entertaining yet over-plotted, over-long sequel.
“We wanted this film to be more playful, more fun,” says returning director Marc Webb. “It’s not,” says this critic. Much of the seriousness you expect from such a well known comic book hero deflates when Spidey throws out that common punchline “Just don’t call me late for dinner” early in the film, while he’s frantically battling a group of Russian gangsters stealing Oscorp plutonium, lead by an unrecognizable Paul Giamatti (later decked out as metallic baddie Rhino).
So, we already know that along with great power comes great responsibility. Now it also comes with a bum sense of humor. And a slice of moldy wry. Maybe it’s how Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is drawn this time. A more gangly, still love-stuck senior at Midtown Science High School, in a conundrum that’s not realistically addressed. He’s misfiring on his on-again, off-again relationship with sassy, smart g.f. Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). The chemistry just isn’t there in this installment and the emotional level across the board feels forced and worn out.
On the plus side, the film looks great. In IMAX and 3-D, audiences will marvel (yes, pun intended) at the masked web master as he traverses the airspace above the wide city streets. The versatile camerawork, courtesy of director of photography Dan Mindel, is entrancing as you follow close behind Spidey while he swings from one skyscraper to the next. Mark Friedberg’s production design is terrific, and Electro’s makeup/fx look real cool in a bluezy, oozy and eventually non-corporeal way. Unfortunately, when Electro enters the “grid,” I kept thinking this was a story line just used in the Johnny Depp stinker “Transcendence.” Stuntwise, is it really necessary to crash so many police cars in the opening scene? Are these Keystone Kops really all bad drivers?
As the many parts of the story are set up, fleshed out, and intertwined, the too many plot lines kept piling up, such as:
- The key (but not the sole) villain here is Electro (Jamie Fox) a.k.a. Max Dillon, a meek, geek Oscorp techie who ends up shocking the heck out of folk in Times Square and believing that Spider-Man is not the friendly “best friend” hero he had once worshipped. Don’t blink as you might miss Rhino and a rather gnarly Green Goblin.
- In an effort to reveal what happened to the parents of Peter, there is a large flow of backstory that concerns his dad (played by Campbell Scott) and, briefly, his mom (Embeth Davidtz), who were dispersed with back in the first film. This involves planes, (subway) trains, but no automobiles.
- Aunt May (Sally Field) is fine as Peter’s sole living relative (disregarding any cousins he doesn’t know about), but even she is struggling to become a nurse to help fund Peter’s higher education. What an inconsiderate nephew to make her work so hard!
- Although I don’t recall if any of Peter’s college plans are mentioned, Gwen seems headed overseas to Oxford, adding to the crime-fighter’s romantic angst.
- Speaking of Gwen, her father (Denis Leary), who perished in the first reboot, occasionally spooks Peter as a silent heckler, a ghostly reminder that the screenwriters are really desperate.
- Meanwhile, at Oscorp, as its founder Norman Osborn (an uncredited Chris Cooper) is dying, his prodigal son Harry (“Chronicle” star Dane DeHaan) returns home and gets counseled by his former colleague Peter. There is a retroviral hyperplasia, a genetic “curse,” in his family tree, and this condition is probably best explained by the people at FamilyTreeDNA, but it seems Harry needs to tap some Spidey blood, for better or for worse. But heck, you know it’s never for the better in films like this! Maybe he should be a vampire instead of the Green Goblin?
- Oscorp buys the city’s power grid. That comes in handy during the film’s climactic fight. There are also some sinister executives afoot in the company’s mammoth headquarters, which allows for a severe segment of over-acting. Everyone suffers—the audience, a (briefly) imprisoned Electro, and (thankfully) the sadistic doctor let loose to do his dastardly deeds in one of those drained-of-humanity mental institutions.
There is no joy in Mudville, or in New York City, or in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Its web is half-spun and all you’re gonna be left with at the end is an empty box of popcorn and the filmmaker’s sad sense of tired complacency.