Sometimes you can just tell a film is going to be bad.
When Jamie Foxx’s Max Dillon first appears on-screen, a sad sack with a bad combover and an inferiority complex who mutters to himself while embodying every “nobody-destined-to-be-given-life-changing-powers-that-will-be-used-for-evil”cliché we’ve seen done better by Jim Carrey in Batman Forever, Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns and countless other comic book movie villains, I knew that I was in for a long night.
Matt Dillon, who magically becomes the supervillain Electro after touching some power lines he shouldn’t have touched, isn’t the only problem with The Amazing Spider-man 2, but he is certainly the most glaring. Every moment he is on the screen is painful to watch. His story arc is dull and utterly predictable, Foxx’s acting seems incredibly forced and he looks oddly similar to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze. (Whether all of the similarities to the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher Batman franchise were intentional or just a symptom of a writing staff completely out of ideas is hard to say, but there definitely are many.)
Electro never feels like much a threat and never really has much of a plan – except, of course, for causing a blackout across all of New York. He mainly just floats around shouting about how much he hates Spider-man, who he liked at the beginning of the film because Spider-man saved his life, but who he then turned on because … reasons.
He isn’t the only villain though. Dane DeHaan plays Harry Osborn/Green Goblin. DeHaan does an admirable job trying to make the character work, but unlike the previous Spider-man franchise, which slow played the Harry/Peter frenemy storyline over its three films, Marc Webb and Company try to shoehorn all of the backstory and tension into the opening part of this film, rushing through the storyline in order to pit them against each other by the final act. The result is fairly underwhelming, especially since their conflict was one of the highlights of the last Spider-man trilogy. Also, like Electro’s, the Green Goblin’s appearance is utterly ridiculous. (In Harry’s case, it is thanks to a genetic illness for which he has no cure, and a make up department who was clearly told to “just have fun with it.”)
Paul Giamatti also shows up as Aleksei Sytsevich, who at the end of the film transforms into another well-known Spidey-villain. But you get the sense he was charging the crew by the minute to appear in the film by just how little screen time he is given. It’s a shame since Giamatti makes most films he’s in better by simply being in them, but he’s given so little to do here that he barely registers.
Speaking of cameos, Denis Leary appears in a series of unintentionally hilarious moments as a figment-of-Peter’s-imagination version of Captain Stacy, who just silently scowls at him from a distance. If nothing else good comes from this film, Leary’s appearances in it are a fantastic Tumblr blog waiting to happen.
One of the few highlights of the film is Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, Peter Parker’s girlfriend. She has great chemistry with co-star Andrew Garfield (which is no surprise considering they are dating in real life) and she injects a lot of personality and charisma into Gwen. The film is generally at its best when she is on the screen and I was happy to see her play a big role in the finale.
The special effects continue to be top notch as well. Watching Spider-man swing around the city is always a thrill. And all of the action sequences looked impressive, even if they weren’t very compellingly-written.
Still, overall this franchise continues to feel like a missed opportunity. Spider-man is such a rich character with a compelling rogue’s gallery and yet Marc Webb continues to either find himself doing a weak retread of characters better utilized by Sam Raimi or completely squandering new villains like Electro or The Lizard.
However, this franchise shows no signs of stopping. And I imagine that The Amazing Spider-man 2 will still do quite well at the box office regardless of how bad it is. Which means another sequel is likely inevitable. So even though The Amazing Spider-man 2 was a much worse film than its predecessor, here’s hoping that the third time is the charm.