Other familiar elements are thrown into the mix: a few tedious gags involving the old Spider-Man cartoon theme, a big speech by Aunt May, and fraught questions regarding the obligations owed to not one, not two, but three dead fathers. (There’s more family melodrama on display here than in a lifetime of Thanksgiving dinners.)
Perhaps aware than none of these bits are adding up to a satisfying whole, the screenwriters also throw in a few fresher flourishes: an Arkham-esque prison for the criminally insane in which the jailers experiment on their charges, a high-school physics problem about how to stop Spidey’s web shooters from shorting out in Electro’s presence, and a secret lab hidden in a place so silly that the Bond franchise wouldn’t have gone there even at its lowest point.
Who, you ask, are the screenwriters responsible for this vertiginous whirl of narrative components? Why Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, of course, the multi-billion-dollar maestros of two Star Treks, two Transformerses, a Mission: Impossible, and a Cowboys & Aliens. Their Spider-Man script (also credited to writers Jeff Pinkner and James Vanderbilt), opens a new front in the duo's ongoing war to render all big-budget cinema completely and forever incoherent.
It hardly helps that Webb’s direction lacks the nimbleness he displayed in the first film (and before that, in 500 Days of Summer). The frequent deployments of sodden slow-motion, the lugubrious music-video montages—every scene feels like it goes on for at least one beat too long. And don’t even get me started on the jangling electronic score, which is like something out of a Tangerine Nightmare.
Garfield and Stone do the best they can with the material, and summon up a few moments of incandescent chemistry. But ultimately the movie proves itself too heavy a lift even for its two stars. Foxx, by contrast, supplies a canned performance, or more accurately two: first as nerdy, bullied Max and later as roaring, glowing Electro. Colm Feore and B.J. Novak show up as a couple of smirky, jerky Oscorp executives. And as the third, almost-literal afterthought of a supervillain, Rhino, Paul Giamatti is easily the weakest that I have ever seen him. The best thing that can be said of the role is that it is tiny.
Which brings us to DeHaan (In Treatment, Chronicle), who plays Harry. How to put this? There are unlikable movie characters whom we hope will eventually receive their comeuppances, and there are movie characters so unlikable that they make us want to exit the theater altogether. DeHaan’s Harry is the latter sort. I realize that the actor is trying to portray whiny petulance and sneering entitlement. But this is a rare case in which the mimesis is altogether too persuasive.
That said, the fundamental flaw with The Amazing Spider-Man 2—and easily the most amazing thing about it—is how much dissonant material the filmmakers managed to cram into its already-swollen, 142-minute running time. This was a movie during which I swear I could actually feel the cells of my body aging. There is a scene near the end of the film that is meant to be—that ought to be—profoundly moving. But given the dull, punishing weight of all that has come before, it’s hard to muster the energy to feel much of anything.
Where can Spider-Man possibly go from here? Sony is planning for a third installment two years from now and a fourth two years after that. Late in this movie, we even get a tour of possible future villains, as Harry inspects the secret Oscorp armory in which they keep all the super-weapons they have yet to inflict upon an innocent populace: Doc Ock’s arms, the Vulture’s wings… (I swear to you that I am not making this up.)
Wherever this version of the franchise is headed, we can rest assured that corporate logic is already inexorably contemplating ways to reboot the reboot. (The Spectacular Spider-Man?) A modest suggestion: Next time, go straight to the overwrought, multi-villain mishmash in the first installment.