‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dan DeHaan and Paul Giamatti
Running time: 142 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence
Bottomline: A hot and cold mess
It is entirely possible we have exhausted the potential of the mainstream super-hero movie. I say “mainstream” because it will always be possible for some daring storyteller to do something that turns the genre upside down.
But Hollywood studios don’t spend hundreds of millions of dollars on truly ground-breaking movies. They only shell out blockbuster money for visual spectacles adhering to the usual patterns.
And that’s pretty much what we get with “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” The movie left me thinking: As fun as it has been, maybe it’s time to move on from this whole superhero thing if this is the best one of the premiere superhero franchises can do.
Not that this is a thoroughly bad movie. “Spider-Man 2” has some truly wondrous moments.
It offers possibly the best visualization of Spidey (Andrew Garfield) swooping gracefully and recklessly among New York City skyscrapers of any entry in the franchise. Certain scenes are genuinely breathtaking.
And like “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” this movie is not afraid of plot turns completely changing the hero’s world. One 10-minute stretch during the third act is absolutely gut-wrenching, perfect in tone and forces Peter Parker to reassess everything he believes.
Yet despite that earth-shattering surprise and a steady string of stunning action sequences, one can’t escape the feeling we are just going through the motions at this point.
The cast and crew all surely collected a healthy paycheck, which we will dutifully subsidize by buying tickets to a movie that will play out exactly as we know it will. It has become a ritual of American culture, a little like going to Fourth of July fireworks displays. They are as tedious as they are rewarding. Yet something compels us to keep going each year, possibly just after seeing the latest super-hero movie.
In case this is starting to sound like a critic’s malaise, I assure you “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” fails as much as it succeeds. It is yet another terribly inconsistent movie.
All of the actors perform like they are in different movies.
Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy is in romantic comedy mode most of the time. Sally Field as Aunt May gives an outstanding performance that would fit better in an adult drama. Dan DeHaan as Harry Osborn seems to think he is in a remake of “Less Than Zero.”
Poor Jamie Foxx is asked to transform from an embarrassingly caricatured nerd character reminiscent of Steve Urkel — I promise I’m not exaggerating — into a tortured villain whose vengeful spirit grows along with his superpowers. No actor could have made his character work.
Then Paul Giamatti shows up with a cartoonish performance of possibly the worst villain ever to appear in a comic book or movie.
All the while, Garfield does an admirable job of trying to adapt to the performance style of the moment and mold these scenes into something like a story arc.
The jarring mishmash of acting styles is the most curious thing about this film because the director, Marc Webb, was recruited for the franchise specifically for the deft characterization and tonal control in his first feature, “(500) Days of Summer.”
Of course, this might not be the fault of the director at all. No less than seven screenwriters contributed to the script. No wonder the narration seems to shift abruptly from one voice to another. It quite literally did so during the writing process.
Like I’ve said numerous times, the writers seem to think they can get away with subpar writing because it is a super-hero movie and most of the audience will be young.
Although they deserve better, young moviegoers will probably turn out in masses to see “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” and it will make the small fortune Sony, Columbia and Marvel have projected to their stockholders.
Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University of North Georgia. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.