In a flashback intro, scientist Richard Parker (Campbell Scott) eludes the shadowy arm of employer Oscorp Industries after committing acts of espionage. The risk is great enough that he leaves his young son, Peter Parker, with relatives before fleeing the country in a private jet.
The paranoid thrills are as good as last month’s excellent “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” But the approach is jettisoned as soon as the grown Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), aka Spider-Man, swings into the picture.
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Then it’s a narrative free-for-all where overstuffed adventure meets corny melodrama. A chaotic cluster of sound and fury — not even with Nick Fury.
“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is not the worst Marvel superhero movie — that honor still belongs to “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” — but it is certainly the worst “Spider-Man” movie. Director Marc Webb follows up his lackluster 2012 reboot with a sequel that finds him genuinely perplexed at how to handle the central character. One must go back to the Joel Schumacher “Batman” fiascos to find a director more disconnected from his superhero source material.
The film presents Parker and valedictorian girlfriend Gwen (Emma Stone) graduating from Midtown Science High School. She’s hoping to land a scholarship to Oxford. He’s hoping she doesn’t get killed by supervillains, always a potential hazard for people close to him.
Those latest enemies include childhood friend Harry (Dane DeHaan), who is taking over CEO duties of Oscorp from his dying father (KC’s Chris Cooper as a Howard Hughes-type industrialist). The son has not only inherited his dad’s megalomania but his rare terminal disease. The prospective cure proves hazardous to everyone’s health.
The second threat is Max (Jamie Foxx), a gap-toothed tech nerd with a comb-over who suffers an accident at Oscorp. It transforms his body (and fixes his gap) into a glowing mass of electricity. Cloaked in a hoodie, he looks as if “Star Wars” Emperor Palpatine swallowed a halogen lamp.
Also crashing the party is Aleksei (Paul Giamatti), a tattooed Russian mobster who gets hold of Oscorp mechanical armor. This allows him to not only smash anything in his path but also to cackle uncontrollably and yell nonstop. The Oscar-nominated “Sideways” actor has never been worse. And, seriously, how hard is it to get a good performance out of Giamatti? Every other director who has been part of his 85 credited roles figured out how.
So what does work in this perfunctory sequel to its perfunctory reboot? The charming Stone. Sally Field as Peter’s steadfast Aunt May.
And DeHaan as friend-turned-foe the Green Goblin. The elfin actor with the Radiohead haircut marks the most obvious improvement over Sam Raimi’s previous “Spider-Man” villain. He’s much more believable (and menacing) as a wealthy disturbed loner than party boy James Franco was.
Other casting choices yield lesser payoffs. Garfield is too dashing and too old (30) to convincingly play teen science geek Parker. His strongest quality here is evoking internal struggle. He and Stone, who are dating in real life, give their interactions a nice improvised feel.
At the bottom of the performance rung is Marton Csokas as a German doctor who heads the Ravencroft Institute for the Criminally Insane (think Arkham Asylum). Not even 1940s serials featured a Teutonic antagonist so exaggerated. He might as well have a monocle and a Hitler mustache.
The reported $250 million budget of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” obviously grants it cinematic leverage. Yet these resources are wasted without a sure directorial vision.
The movie uses a state-of-the-art Auro 11.1 immersive sound process but couples it with a tone-deaf soundtrack. The character design on the villains is slick and innovative, but none of their action sequences are fun to watch. Webb (and his four credited writers) seems impatient with any scene that’s not a conversation.
A key exchange finds Peter defending his masked alter ego, saying, “He gives people hope.”
Later, the Goblin-ified Harry counters, “You don’t give people hope. You take it away.”
He might as well be talking to the filmmakers responsible for this utterly insignificant entry into the Marvel roster.