I’m not sure “amazing” is the right word. I’m thinking more along the lines of “The Potentially Adequate Spider-Man,” or “The Almost Tolerable Spider-Man.” Maybe even “The Sort of Acceptable Spider-Man.”
First things first--this isn’t a bad movie. It’s got some flash and many decent parts that add up to less than its potential, like something off an assembly line. From concept to staging to execution it feels like marketers were more involved than anyone who ever had the slightest interest in Spider-Man as a story idea.
The lead, Andrew Garfield, makes a solid Peter Parker. He shares good chemistry with Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy. Their relationship is easily the most believable and entertaining aspect of the movie, which yielded a strange response in this viewer. I found myself wanting less and less Spider-Man as the movie progressed. Sacrilege? I don’t know.
Second things second--there’s more story going on than the movie needs. If you recall the first segment in this reboot, we raced through Peter meeting Gwen, Peter falling for Gwen, Gwen falling for Peter and Gwen’s dad getting killed all in one movie. It felt a bit much at the time. This movie is similarly paced. This time we race through multiple Peter-Gwen breakups and makeups and multiple villains in order to get to her classic death at the hands of the Green Goblin. It feels like that would more naturally be the conclusion of a third movie. Particularly since this Spider-man has never even seen, let alone fought, the Green Goblin before he shows up to cause the tragic deed. Gwen’s death is probably the most effective moment of the film, but it, like most everything else, seems a kilter. Off balance and oddly proportioned.
Origin time is one of the structural weaknesses on display. The first movies in any comic franchise have to wrestle with how to stick in the origin without bogging down. The second movies are generally free of that burden, something Disney has used to excellent effect in the more recent Marvel movies. This Sony venture, however, actually recycles that problem with its villains. We spend a lot of time on the origin of Electro and the Green Goblin, who doesn’t even appear until the final act. Add in a lot of clichéd back story about Peter’s father, and the baggage becomes acute.
The opening montage picks the least interesting aspect of this movie with which to kick off. That would be Peter‘s dad. We begin in a flashback of the night he left Peter with Uncle Ben and Aunt May to flee the evils of Oscorp with his wife in a private jet (pretty snazzy for an impoverished scientist on the run). He’s trying to download what turns out to be a three-minute You Tube video from his portable on the plane. Of course an evil Oscorp assassin is onboard. What follows is one of the most visually incoherent fights ever filmed. Mercifully, the plane crashes at the end of it.
All in all, a weak and unnecessary start. We care about Peter, not his dead Dad. We want to see Spider-Man fight bad guys, not his geeky scientist father. Simply show us the downloaded You Tube video later.
Our first villain up to bat is a crazed Russian named Aleksei Sytsevich. He’s stolen a load of plutonium that apparently was stored in Oscorp corporate headquarters located smack dab in the middle of Manhattan. That’s pretty unbelievable even for a comic book. Spider-Man dispatches him with some solid acrobatics just in time to make it to his high school graduation. Gwen is the valedictorian. Naturally, she gives a speech about life and death and using the time you have. Wonder what that’s supposed to foreshadow?
Our second villain, Harry Osborne returns home from boarding school and college to be greeted by his dying father. Papa Osborne tells him that all Osbornes have a fatal genetic condition that will kill Harry. Oh, and although this was never mentioned in the previous movie, apparently Harry Osborne and Peter Parker were great friends as kids. They reunite to become total best bros in an instant. If that doesn’t interest you, chill. They’ll hate each other by the end of the movie, another case of enormous story compression. If Harry and Peter’s relationship was going to be so pivotal, it should have been played up in the first movie.
On to our third villain. The natural charisma of Jaime Foxx is wasted by putting him in nerd makeup and having him be a crazy, friendless electrical engineer named Max Dillon who works at Oscorp (you didn’t think we’d have any plot element unrelated to Oscorp, did you?). He’s also a Spider-Man stalker after Spider-Man saves his life. He imagines the two of them as best friends. Cliché after over the top cliché.
So how does Foxx become Electro? A silly industrial accident, you say? Bingo. If you think being a cutting edge tech behemoth means Oscorp would pay the slightest attention to even the most rudimentary aspects of industrial safety, then you’re in the wrong movie. If I recall, there’s an electrical fault. No maintenance personnel are available. So of course Max has to climb up and precariously balance himself to reach it. **** ladders. Then poor Max calls to have the power turned off to the affected area, only to be told to **** off. That’s a nice lockout and tagout program Oscorp has. I’m guessing the over/under on electrocutions per year in this one building is twenty.
Oh, and there are some mutant electrical eels, too. They’re kept in giant vats with no lid on top. Just wide open right under all those electrical cableways unfortunate engineers have to balance on to fix stuff. Seriously. You can guess what happens.
We’re a long way into this movie by now, and it’s needlessly squandering good will. Fortunately, Max’s big blowup in Time’s Square is entertaining: very colorful and well staged. Spider-Man is also displayed to good effect doing his spider stuff. The battles with Electro come to life in a way a lot of this movie really doesn’t.
Things turn disjointed and dreary again with Harry. Despite his father having lived a quite productive life to around age fifty (even looking pretty normal aside from one arm crutch in a filmed flashback), Harry immediately starts turning into a toad. His hands are shaking and he’s got a Gom-like growth on his face. Searching his father’s work, Harry comes to the conclusion that he needs Spider-Man’s blood to cure him. Okay. Sure. So naturally he asks ace photographer Peter Parker, who has taken a few photos of Spider-Man, to track him down. Spider-Man shows up to say they don’t know if his blood would help or harm Harry. That makes the answer no. And no, he’s not going to try and work with the whole “I want to help you, Harry” line to see if there’s some middle ground to, you know, try to help.
Harry’s pissed. He’s even more pissed when some greedy Oscorp executives frame him for Max Dillon’s eel accident so they can take over the company. What’s a disgraced, disinherited young bon vivant with no security clearance to do? Why, just drive up to a high security prison, taser a couple of guards and sneak into the high-tech cell where Electro is being held. It’s as simple as that. Admit it, you’ve never broken into a high security prison cuz’ you’re just lazy.
In order to tie all our disparate elements together, (deep breath) Harry offers to free Electro to get his vengeance on Spider-man through a plan Harry has to lure the Web Crawler in, provided Electro will get him back into the Oscorp Tower to raid the Special Projects Division. Can we assume that’s where they keep the Manhattan-special plutonium? In the end of the movie, we’ll see it’s also where they keep a whole host of super villain suits. Spider-Man is never going to fight a single villain who didn’t originate from Oscorp.
Spider-Man stops Gwen before she can get to the airport to head for England where she has a scholarship waiting at Oxford. They kiss and make-up right as Electro takes down the brand new super power plant (also apparently located in the vicinity of Manhattan) that powers the whole city. Electro does that as Harry is injecting himself with bioenhanced spider venom from the Special Projects Division. We’re kind of busy.
Did I forget to mention that Peter also found his Dad’s old downloaded You Tube video? It was sent to a computer in a secret compartment in an abandoned subway station once used by Franklin Roosevelt. The You Tube video says the secrets of the spider venom can’t be unlocked without the DNA of Peter’s father, which is why I guess it turned his son into Spider-Man.
Is all of this really necessary? I like Gwen. I like a good Spider battle. Can’t we just have more of that?
Spider-Man beats Electro with the help of Gwen. She magnetized his web shooters to repel Electro’s Emperor Palpatine lightning and turns the power plant back on exactly when needed. Because of course she does. Then the Green Goblin (formerly Harry) shows up in a special Projects Division battle suit to kidnap Gwen. It’s awkward. “Hi, I’m the villain selected for the most meaningful tragedy of your life. May I introduce myself before we fight?”
The final battle is in some kind of clock tower. Spider-Man wins, but Gwen falls to her death, failing to be saved by inches. Spider-man cries over her body. It’s the best moment of the movie, but I’m kind of played out at this point.
Peter mopes for months. Harry is in jail. He doesn’t look all Gobliny anymore. I don’t know why, but it was a pretty crappy look anyway. He’s now planning all kinds of evil stuff for Spider-Man, courtesy of some mystery guy with access to all the super villain suits in Oscorp’s basement. They actually have a rhino suit. They give that to Aleksei Sytsevich (remember him from the beginning?) He goes on yet another tear through the middle of Manhattan seeking Spider-Man, whose been missing for months. As luck would have it, Peter happens to rewatch Gwen’s valedictorian speech at precisely that moment and is inspired to become Spider-Man once again.
He starts to fight the Rhino. The screen fades to black.
A little too exhausting. This movie has good elements in it, but they’re buried under too much careless bloat. It needed a good twenty minutes trimmed out of the 142 minute running time with the script correspondingly tightened up. Electro is here because electrical villains are cool. Harry comes in because he’s needed to be the Green Goblin in the last twenty minutes. The Green Goblin has to come in to kill Gwen because that happened in a classic comic book. No one’s actually turning all of those stage marks into a thought out story.
They should look to “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” for an example. It’s got an awful lot going on, yet never really overloads. It’s much better paced.