Two years on from the first pointless reboot of the Spider-Man story — a mere five years after the previous version had wrapped up — the pointless sequel has arrived. Except now we've had two more years of cogent, witty Avengers flicks, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 suffers badly by comparison. This looks like a throwback to a time when comic-book movies were kiddie fare and nothing else; it feels like a campy Saturday-morning cartoon left over from the 1970s, and not the smart, relevant science-fiction action drama the genre has matured into on the big screen.
There's nothing wrong with a movie that's only for the little ones, and this one is fine for them. As long as they can sit still for the nearly two-and-half-hour runtime, that is. Clearly, returning director Marc Webb would like for this to be taken as serious drama, at least in part, so amid the cartoonish action, they crammed in some angst for Peter Parker over the mystery of his parents' fate. This gives us one truly moving scene between Peter (Andrew Garfield) and Aunt May (Sally Field) that pains both of them. It nearly brought me to tears: Field is, of course, a cinematic goddess with a deeply sympathetic screen presence, and Garfield is the sort of actor who doesn't sublimate emotion; it's all out there on his face all the time.
But those few dramatic moments seem cut-and-pasted from another film. That Peter does not appear to be the same one who engages in vaudevillian antics with caricatures of bad guys. (And he barely is the same guy: Instead, he's a CGI construct who doesn't move in realistic ways, even for a mutant, with Garfield's voice spouting some clownish jests from somewhere in the vicinity.) They're the kind of cartoon villains who will pause their evildoing for a warm moment between Spidey and a little kid from the crowd of onlookers … and Spider-Man's coup de grâce after defeating a bad guy will be to pull down the criminal's trousers to reveal a pair of "funny" boxer shorts. Groucho Marx might approve, but
who else would?
There was little concern on anyone's part to ensure that Peter's girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone, shamefully misused), is anything more than a caricature, either. Her main job seems to be standing around in her gorgeous wardrobe looking "amazing" and being "adorable." Even after some extreme buffeting during the film's climactic battle — in which she is naturally put in jeopardy just to torment Peter — she doesn't even have a run in her very expensive stockings. The only other thing she gets to do is to suddenly have secret, apparently impossible-to-come-by knowledge just when it benefits Peter … and can move the plot along.
This is the sort of movie in which a mad scientist (Marton Csokas) wears real lipstick and eyeliner; perhaps he's channeling Dr. Frank-N-Furter. It's the sort of movie in which the employees of world-class scientific operation Oscorp have to be so insanely undedicated to their work that they knowingly endanger the actual physical structure of their Manhattan skyscraper — because that's funny, and because it's needed to set up the Rube Goldberg situation that will create a new supervillain. This is the sort of movie in which both supervillains — nerdy engineer and Spider-Man fan Max Dillion, who becomes the electrifying Electro (Jamie Foxx), and Peter's friend Harry Osborn, who becomes the Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan) — turn on a dime from loving Peter/Spidey to hating him.
The bad guys are just bad, OK? The hero can crack wise in life-and-death situations not out of bitterness or cynicism or anger (like, say, Tony Stark does), but simply because he's the good guy and neither he nor the story itself has any doubts whatsoever that he will prevail. Simplistic tales of good and evil may satisfy little kids, but those of us who've come to expect deeper layers in our mutants and caped crusaders demand more.