Movies like THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 are frustrating. What it gets right, it gets really right. But what it gets wrong outnumbers the good stuff by a fairly wide margin. So, one minute, audiences will be having a really great time, thrilling at the sights that Marc Webb shows us, and taking pleasure in Andrew Garfield's work as Peter Parker and Spider-Man and Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy. The next, audiences will be wincing at the ludicrous turns that Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner's script takes, and the histrionics of Jamie Foxx's Electro and Dane DeHaan's Harry Osborn. How much the bad outweighes the good is up to the viewer. But there's a lot of bad writing here to navigate to get to the good stuff.
Andrew Garfield deserves a better movie than this. His Peter Parker/Spider-Man is terrific. I've always thought that when Peter put the suit on, it was a release for him. His life, with school, the loss of his Uncle Ben, and his financial troubles, was a burden, and only as Spider-Man, riding the city on his webs, did Peter feel truly free. Garfield nails that aspect of his character completely, and it's a real joy to watch him as Spider-Man. He's not quite as good at Peter Parker, but still enjoyable; he and Emma Stone have really good chemistry together, but the script gives him some awkward character beats that don't make a whole lot of logical sense. In THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 we see Parker investigating his parents' disappearance, and trying to figure out how to defeat Electro (Jamie Foxx), a once-fan of Spider-Man who has turned deadly enemy, and frankly I expected a smarter Peter Parker than this. The plot is that obvious, and it's never good when the audience is miles ahead of the protagonist like we are in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2.
Emma Stone as Gwen gives as good as she takes in the Peter Parker/Gwen Stacy relationship, and I think that's where Marc Webb's direction truly takes flight. Their camaraderie together is infectious, and their scenes together are funny and heartwarming. Peter loves Gwen, but he is still haunted by the death of her father (Denis Leary), and decides to break off the relationship before terrible things happen to her. We've seen this before in SPIDER-MAN, of course, but the actors sell it even though we've been round-and-round with this story.
Unfortunately, it's the villains that sink this ship. Foxx's Electro is straight out of The Riddler in BATMAN FOREVER, with the exact same character beats. I couldn't buy Foxx as an awkward social dork, and I couldn't buy him as an all-powerful supervillain either. Dane DeHann's desperation in finding a cure for his illness, the same illness that struck his father Norman (Chris Cooper), brings Harry into Spider-Man's orbit, but that story thread feels forced, and in the end, becomes pointless anyway. Paul Giamatti's character is so one note and barely gets enough screen time to even register. Kurtzman, Orci, and Pinkner have put together so much plot that it becomes overwhelming. There's too much plot that doesn't go anywhere in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, and it seems like the scriptwriters are trying so hard to hide that fact that they add story point on top of story point.
From a larger outlook, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 is basically plotless. There are changes to some of the characters, but it all leads to the same place in the end. We need to see movement; we need to know that the events of the film have affected the characters, and not just to service whatever plot happens next. Instead, these characters are slaves to the story, and it's all paint-by-numbers. There is nothing the characters can do to change the tide of the plot, and as a result, we aren't active with the story. It's a juggernaut without any nuance, instead of a living breathing tale that we can interact with. I expect that of Kurtzman and Orci at this point, and it feels like a staple of their work. You either ride with the plot, or you get the hell out of the way. Subtlety has no place here.
Perhaps the worst aspect of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 is that the filmmakers seem to be more invested in telling stories in the future instead of concentrating on the story they're telling right now. Perhaps that's endemic to all the Marvel movies that aren't under the Disney/Marvel umbrella - these non-Marvel studios keep worrying about whether or not they are going to lose their precious franchise that they forget to make a compelling movie. "Sure," they seem to say, "This story may be weak, but it's all building to a bigger, better story in the future!" That's great, but I don't live in the future. I'm living in the present. And in the present, I'd much rather have a good movie than the potential for a great movie down the road. Any future sequels should come forward because the original film is good enough to warrant it. I'd love to see a SPIDER-MAN movie that's just a day in the life of Webhead, and not have to worry about a larger arc that may or may not potentially work. There are one-shot comics too, and sometimes the simplest stories offer the greatest pleasures. It does no good to constantly move forward when you don't have a destination in mind. That's what sharks are supposed to do, not movies.