The screen settles on a teen in mourning, and through some deft editing and camerawork, we watch as this brooding protagonist remains in the exact same position even as the months fly by and the previously bare ground is now covered with snow. The person in question is ... Bella Swan, and the movie is 2009's The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Now, we have Peter Parker in essentially the exact same setup, and it's a delicious irony: A superhero flick, the sort adored by fanboys everywhere, is stealing from Twilight, a franchise abhorred by these same gaggle of guys? Say it ain't so, Mark Webb!
Then again, what should we expect from a franchise that was rebooted simply for financial gain? The cobwebs hadn't even settled on Tobey Maguire's Spidey suit before Marvel and Sony elected to return to their lucrative cash cow by offering a new series a mere five years after the original trilogy came to a close. Consequently, the rush job known as The Amazing Spider-Man suffered in comparison to the films (at least the first two) helmed by Sam Raimi and starring a perfectly cast Maguire as everyone's favorite wallcrawler. The problems with the reboot could be found front and center with the casting of Andrew Garfield; as I wrote in my original review, "Suddenly, Peter Parker is no longer the ultimate outsider, the self-deprecating, geeky kid who locates the hero buried within. Now, he's the poster boy for the iPhone generation, a surly hipster who, oh yeah, just happens to also be a superhero. ... The actor tries his hardest, but when it looks as if Peter Parker just stepped out of a GQ photo shoot (right down to the perfectly coifed hair), it's hard to take him seriously as someone who's perpetually ignored by girls and harassed by guys."
For all its problems - the lack of a vibrant human dimension, a weak villain in The Lizard, the casting of Forrest Gump's mom as Peter's Aunt May - the film wasn't a complete debacle; on the contrary, it was adequate summer-movie filler, the type that's best to catch when the only other options are an afternoon peeling off sunburnt skin or an evening suffering through the latest Adam Sandler comedy.
Still, with such efforts as The Avengers and The Dark Knight Trilogy upping the ante, the movie felt comparatively puny, a designation that also applies to this latest entry. Overall, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 offers a slight improvement over its predecessor, but not enough that we can feel excited about the future of this franchise.
The best component of TAS-M2 is the developing relationship between Peter and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). The character of Gwen often felt like an afterthought in the previous installment, but not here. Instead, Webb and his quartet of writers take care to establish the bond between the lovebirds, and Garfield and Stone both do exemplary jobs of conveying the feelings and frustrations of their star-crossed lovers.
With this romance landing in the pole position of the positives, the runner-up slot goes to the casting of Jamie Foxx as Max Dillon, a lowly and lonely engineer who's eventually transformed into the powerful and destructive Electro. Foxx brings genuine pathos to the character of Max/Electro, who in some ways brings to mind Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (right down to his siphoning of vast amounts of electricity), and even as the character's villainy grows, Foxx ensures that he never completely loses audience sympathy.
Electro is a compelling enough villain that he could have benefitted from more screen time; unfortunately, the film suffers the same fate as Raimi's Spider-Man 3 by cramming too many villains into the proceedings. Not even counting the peripheral baddies - Colm Feore's slick businessman, Marton Csokas' mad scientist, Chris Cooper's corrupt Norman Osborn - there's overkill in also including both the Green Goblin (although Dane DeHaan is effective as his alter ego, Harry Osborn) and the Rhino (the usually reliable Paul Giamatti is practically unwatchable in a part that almost makes one long for the days of Topher Grace's Venom).
As for the effects that bring our superhero and his nemeses to life, they curiously run hot and cold, hearkening back to the shaky visuals of Raimi's first Spider-Man flick rather than the more accomplished work seen in its two sequels as well as in this film's predecessor.
Of course, it also doesn't help that Webb maddeningly plays around with the tools of the trade with the reckless abandon of a pubescent kid discovering his own pecker, slowing down many shots to the point of absurdity.
Otherwise, it's business as usual, including the obligatory Stan Lee cameo. The appearances by the Marvel mastermind have always been treats in other superhero sagas - they're comparable to the sightings of Alfred Hitchcock in his pictures - but here the filmmakers just toss the poor old man out there, not even trying to distinguish his fleeting moment with any semblance of wit or innovation.
When even the legendary Stan Lee gets swept aside, it's obvious that the cash register has replaced the comic book as the main source of inspiration.