I can’t speak for anyone else, but after spending a total of 665 minutes with him, in five movies over the course of a decade, I think it’s safe to say that I know all I need to know about Spider-Man. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is out in theaters Friday, and it will certainly make a bazillion dollars, but after you sit through it — all 142 fucking minutes of it — it’s very hard to work up a compelling reason that it needed to exist, aside from the aforementioned bazillion dollars. It’s not just that it’s clumsily executed, aggressively stupid, and excruciatingly overlong (did I mention the 142 minutes?). It’s that, five films in, they’re still giving us — I’m not making this up — an origin story. Attention, Hollywood: We get it. Shy kid, fights crime, flies around, shoots the webs. We don’t need a Russian novel’s worth of backstory on this character; at this point, I know more about Peter Parker’s youth than the childhoods of people I share a bloodline with.
The latest bit of must-know background, which occupies a befuddling slab of TASM2’s considerable running time, is Peter Parker’s quest to know the real story of what happened to his parents, and why they abandoned him with Uncle Ben and Aunt May all those years ago. The trouble is, I’m pretty sure that was the big mystery in the previous film as well — and I don’t mean to be cagey, it’s just that I have to chase down the hallways of my memory to conjure up a single detail from The Amazing Spider-Man. They don’t pay me enough to revisit it before seeing this one, but the trouble is, director Marc Webb seems to assume that his 2012 film is a beloved text that we all know by heart, so he alludes to it all over the damn place; luckily, I had a comic-book buddy next to me, who was able to remind me of small details like, oh, who the villain was in the last one, and that Denis Leary died at the end, and that Harry Osborn not only wasn’t in it, but wasn’t even mentioned — even though he and Peter Parker were (according to this one) best buddies when they were kids.
The one genuinely memorable element of The Amazing Spider-Man was the chemistry between stars Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone (which extends off-screen, apparently), so obviously they cut that off as quickly as possible by breaking them up, right out of the chute. It’s not a real breakup, of course, but an excuse to have them dance around whether they can/should be together, resulting in lots of anguished moments for our Peter, who puts on his earbuds (sometimes you just have to rock out, man) and tries to solve his familial drama and relationship troubles simultaneously by assembling the dumbest string/photos/notecards bulletin board in movie history. (Sample card: “NEW YORK.” Ya know, where he lives.)
Director Webb should take the blame for some of this nonsense, but there’s plenty to go around. This viewer was unsurprised to see the shudder-inducing names of Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci among the screenwriters; that duo’s credits include the first two Transformers movies, and, as with those films, the dialogue here is so cliché-ridden you can actually hear the lines in your head well before they tumble gracelessly out of the actors’ mouths. There’s not a whiff of intelligence to be found in their cluttered, turgid, ponderous screenplay, and nothing resembling wit either — particularly when it comes to Spidey’s zany wisecracks, which are Schwarzenegger-as-Mr.-Freeze-level bad. (His first “joke” is, hand to God, a variation on that wheezy old “Just don’t call me late to dinner” line that even your lamest grandparent doesn’t use anymore.) Not that the “dramatic” beats play any better; my favorite moment may be Harry Osborn roaring, “YOU’RE A FRAUD, SPIDER-MAN!” (And not for nothing, but somebody should have told Dane DeHaan that playing the Franco role doesn’t mean he also has to give an unwatchably atrocious performance. It’s not, like, part of the character.)
Is anything worth seeing here? Not really. Jamie Foxx’s Electro is initially compelling, a somewhat sympathetic social misfit who doesn’t know his own strength, but the character degenerates into cartoon theatrics and laughable effects. Stone gets a nice moment near the climax, refusing to run away and staking a claim for independence that runs nicely counter to the superhero norm, but they turn her back into another goddamn damsel in distress maybe five minutes later. The lovely Felicity Jones appears, but she’s wasted in a nothing role, while Paul Giamatti apparently turns up in this one solely to set up the next one.
Yes, the next one. There will be a next one, just two years from now, and yet another two years after that. But what The Amazing Spider-Man 2 fails to demonstrate is why on earth we should want to see any more of the character. He’s a one-trick pony, which was the problem with this entire Amazing “reboot” to begin with; there’s something vaguely unsettling about ponying up 12 bucks to see a remake of a movie that came out just ten years earlier. This wasn’t a case of the Burton and Nolan Batmans; Batman Begins took a much different tone, and told a sharply disparate origin story. Webb is basically telling his Spider-Man stories in the same cheery pop style that Sam Raimi did, and it looks like what it is: a second-generation copy, a bad Xerox.
Maybe he just wasn’t inventive enough to go another way. Maybe the character merely doesn’t support radical reinterpretation. Or maybe, and forgive me for speaking out of school here, he’s just not all that interesting. On the other hand, maybe the current overindulgent rate of production, in the hands of a vanilla director and dullard screenwriters, is just making him seem that way.
The Amazing Spider-Man is out Friday in wide release.