By Alistair Ryder
When (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb was hired to reboot the Spiderman franchise in the style of the young adult franchises that were proving popular with audiences, it proved a surprisingly inspired decision. “The Amazing Spiderman” was the best cinematic outing for the superhero yet- all the more inspired because more focus was put on the relationship between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey than the superhero shenanigans themselves. The newly released sequel, “The Amazing Spiderman 2”, manages to do the seemingly impossible and take the crown away from Spiderman 3 as being the worst cinematic outing for Spidey yet. It is a far more conventional superhero movie, and shows that Webb isn’t a competent director of either action or special effects, things that the first installment in the rebooted franchise didn’t rely upon to succeed.
The comparison with Spiderman 3 isn’t entirely dumbfounded, as it shares that film’s weakness of having too many sub-plots that go nowhere (trying to write a simple plot synopsis for this film proved too difficult for me to do). The major offender is the “Electro” subplot, starring Jamie Foxx as a cross between Watchmen’s Dr. Manhattan and Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze from the execrable “Batman and Robin” (coincidentally, both Foxx and Paul Giamatti’s “Rhino” appear to be in a competition to see who can have the most terrible puns in this movie, neither managing to beat Arnold of course). The posters for the film suggest a massive showdown between the two, which never materializes; it does lead to the film’s best action set piece in Times Square, but even that is ruined by terrible “Sharknado” level CGI (if a film with a $200 million budget has effects this bad, the director clearly has no skill), an ill-fitting dubstep soundtrack and the fact the sequence has no repercussions later in the film.
With his debut film, (500) Days of Summer, Marc Webb positively recalled the early films of “Almost Famous” director Cameron Crowe. Here, he makes directorial choices that recall every mediocre-to-terrible film Crowe has made since- the music on the soundtrack doesn’t sync with the action on the screen, and just seems to be there for the sake of having it in the film. As documented in the semi-autobiographical “Almost Famous”, Crowe was an aspiring journalist for Rolling Stone magazine as a teenager, so his penchant for using music that doesn’t fit with the action on screen is understandable due to his enthusiasm; with Marc Webb, it doesn’t seem to be there for any reason. The most pointless sequence in the entire film is Peter Parker doing a scientific experiment with a battery sound tracked by the “Pursuit of Happiness” remix that was used in Project X. There are many similar sequences that don’t add anything, and leave you wondering why they had even been filmed, let alone left in the finished cut.
There are positives; Andrew Garfield (still playing a teenager at 30 years old) remains innately likable at Spiderman, getting the sarcastic tone of the comic book character right in exactly the way Tobey McGuire failed to do. And, of all the deliberately unrealistic performances in the film (Jamie Foxx and Paul Giamatti should know better), Dane DeHaan’s supporting performance as Harry Osborne is the film’s strongest- it’s as over-the-top and theatrical as the others, but doesn’t rely on the same broad comedy that make the other villains irritating from their opening scenes.
The film is structurally, tonally and visually a mess, often feeling like the first draft of a screenplay that was somehow not rewritten before the camera started rolling. The first reboot had heart, which here has been largely ignored (or insufficiently executed) and helped it live up to the claim of being an amazing Spiderman. It’s just a shame this isn’t an amazing Spiderman too.
NOTE– the end credits feature a just under-a-minute long sequence from “X Men: Days of Future Past” that focuses on Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique shape-shifting and hitting bad guys. Presented out of context, it doesn’t seem to be essential to the film as a whole, but does include a scene of supernatural vomiting that makes it worth staying to check out.