Peter Parker

Andrew Garfield and Dane DeHaan star in Columbia Pictures’ “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.”

 

Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy of Sony Pictures | Daily Texan Staff

Two years after “The Avengers” made over $600 million dollars, audiences are starting to feel the repercussions. As every studio in Hollywood scrambles to replicate Marvel’s success, superhero films can no longer tell their own stories. The films must set up sequels and spin-off franchises. But, while Marvel’s weakest film, “Iron Man 2,” devoted a small chunk of its runtime to setting up future installments, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” devotes a small chunk of its runtime to telling a coherent story. Everyone involved with this film is capable of doing better work, but they’re hamstrung by a palpable, franchise-minded cynicism.

Now that the origin story is out of the way, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” finds Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) reconnecting with childhood pal Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), who has just inherited Oscorp, the shadowy corporation that may have killed Peter’s father. Meanwhile, Peter’s alter-ego, Spider-Man, must contend with a menagerie of new villains and keep love interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) out of the line of fire.

Before listing the many things this film does wrong, it’s essential to mention the things it gets right. Sony basically wrote director Marc Webb a blank check for this film, and he does a great job capturing the exhilaration of being Spider-Man, showing the web-slinging hero swinging through New York City with seamless, fluid visual effects. The film’s strongest element is the crackling chemistry between the real-life couple of Garfield and Stone, but even that is bogged down by the script by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci.

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2”’s biggest problem is that the script, which has nothing resembling a central arc. Garfield makes for a great Peter Parker, affable and snarky, but the film saddles him with a dull investigation into his past that bogs the film down and fundamentally alters the nature of Peter’s character for no particular reason. The film is full of useless plot digressions like this, and there’s no driving force to the narrative, which propels its overflowing cast into confrontations with the grace and subtlety of a 6-year-old banging action figures together.

Among the sprawling supporting cast, Paul Giamatti is totally wasted as a disposable baddie in a handful of scenes. Sally Field does her best with mere minutes of screen time, coming out of nowhere to score the film’s strongest emotional beat with a simple, perfectly delivered monologue. DeHaan is impressive in the rare moments when the film allows him to cut loose and be a villain, but he struggles to make an impression when the script demands he play dour and angsty.

Jamie Foxx, on the other hand, is far more heavily featured and all the more unlucky for it. Foxx has never been more miscast than as Max Dillon, a meek Oscorp employee overwhelmed with excitement after being saved by Spider-Man. Foxx has played meek well before, but here he never moves beyond an impression of Stephen Root’s character in “Office Space.” After a workplace accident turns him into supervillain Electro, Foxx takes on a jellyfish-esque CGI varnish, and it’s tough for his performance to register when he looks like the side of a kiddie pool. All in all, Foxx’s character is utterly inconsequential to the film’s plot, but without him, the number of showy action scenes would be sliced in half.

The film’s soundtrack shamelessly panders, adding wholly inappropriate, but popular, songs from Kid Cudi or Phillip Phillips over scenes of Peter investigating his parents’ deaths or doing science experiments. But the single most embarrassing moment in the entire film — or maybe in film history — is the climactic battle in which Electro uses his powers to compose a dubstep version of “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” while he dodges Spider-Man’s attacks.

This film shouldn’t be avoided because it’s bad, but because it’s nothing more than a product – glossy and inoffensively engaging. In its desperation to be Marvel, Sony forgot to engage its audience, reducing the “Spider-Man” franchise to a, soulless trailer for films to come. The solution is simple: Don’t go see this movie.

(Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

Back when Sony announced “The Amazing Spider-Man” as a reboot of the franchise after director Sam Raimi and star Tobey Maguire bailed on a potential fourth installment, they might have been a little off. After all, a reboot implies a reinvention, and while “The Amazing Spider-Man” makes a few small tweaks to its hero’s origins, it’s really a remake of “Spider-Man,” a mere 10 years after that film hit theaters.

If you saw the 2002 original, or have any familiarity with Spider-Man’s history, you know most of the story already. The smart yet awkward Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is bitten by a radioactive spider, one that gives him the ability to climb walls and impossibly fast reflexes. He learns the consequences of his powers after his Uncle Ben’s (Martin Sheen) death, and dedicates his life to fighting crime. “The Amazing Spider-Man” mixes in a few new elements, namely Peter’s interest in the circumstances that resulted in his living with his aunt and uncle. This ultimately leads him to Dr. Curtis Connors (Rhys Ifans), whose obsession with growing back a missing arm leads to his becoming the Lizard, a scaly, near-immortal beast.

In their reinvention of the franchise, Sony went with “(500) Days of Summer” director Marc Webb. This could have been a total disaster, throwing a rookie director into very deep water, but Webb rises to the challenge admirably. His strongest scenes are still the bumbling, sweet moments when Peter and his crush Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) get to flirt with one another. However, Webb also delivers an exciting, satisfying spectacle of a finale, and his use of the film’s Manhattan setting, particularly as Peter is first learning about his powers, is a franchise best. Webb also made some truly inspired casting choices, ranging from Martin Sheen’s warm take on Uncle Ben to Denis Leary, whose role lacks his trademark bite but still manages to play out an interesting, vital character arc.

Garfield was an interesting choice for Peter Parker, cast long before Garfield started amassing Oscar buzz for his performance in “The Social Network,” and he nails the character’s trademark awkward charisma. His take on Spider-Man is much more humorous than Maguire’s, and much more fun to watch. Garfield plays Parker as much smarter than the original films gave him credit for as well, something that comes across in small details like Garfield’s boyish face in his father’s oversized glasses, or in the big ones like the web shooters Parker builds for himself.

Casting Stone was another bold move, especially when they asked her to play Gwen Stacy instead of Mary Jane Watson, Peter’s love interest from the first three films. However, so early in the story, the characters are more or less interchangeable, and the gracelessly charming way Peter relates to his love interests is more or less the same with both characters.

A major problem with “The Amazing Spider-Man” is, frankly, that there’s no reason it couldn’t just be “Spider-Man 4.” The James Bond films get away with recasting their hero without much confusion, so why can’t superhero films adapt to the same standard? The Raimi films had also spent time setting up Dylan Baker’s Curtis Connors, who Raimi planned to transform into the Lizard this time around, and it’s a shame that we didn’t get to see Baker’s take on the villain. While Ifans is perfectly fine in the role, it seems to demand a subtle creepiness that Baker could have delivered.

More importantly, “The Amazing Spider-Man” spends half its runtime telling the exact same story that “Spider-Man” told just 10 years ago. Audiences may have short memories, but it’s still a waste of time to tell Spider-Man’s origin story if you’re just going to wheel out the exact same narrative with a few cosmetic tweaks to it. “The Amazing Spider-Man” may not be telling a particularly new or original story, but thankfully, Webb still keeps it exciting, coaxes strong performances out of each of his actors, and crafts a familiar but entertaining superhero film that will surely keep you sated until “The Dark Knight Rises” hits later this month.