The Amazing Spider-Man, a 2012 reboot of the Marvel franchise, was instantly forgettable because it had no unifying identity. One sequel in, the filmmakers still haven’t found one.
I get the feeling that director Marc Webb and his team of screenwriters expect this identity to come from Andrew Garfield, their Peter Parker. They seem to have given the young actor – so promising in the likes of Never Let Me Go and The Social Network – free reign. The result, for two films now, is an ostentatiously fidgety Peter. Stammering, shrugging, repeating dialogue in a loop of cutesy insistency, Garfield seems incapable of a single straight line reading. It’s meant to be dreamy, but for my taste he doth coy too much. It’s a performance consisting almost entirely of batted eyelashes.
Especially annoying is the way Peter continually tramples on the moments that should belong to his girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). In the opening scene, he trumps her graduation speech with his spider stunts; later, he nearly derails her interview with Oxford because he doesn’t want her to move to England. I guess it makes sense that Spider-Man would be clingy, but this is ridiculous.
Garfield’s performance consists almost entirely of batted eyelashes.
This may make it sound as if this Spidey has found an identity, after all – as the One Direction of Spider-Man movies. But I haven’t gotten to the countless other things going on, often in conflict with each other. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 also encompasses Peter’s confrontation with the truth about his parents, who abandoned him when he was young; a poorly conceived new villain of sorts named Electro (a wasted Jamie Foxx); corporate intrigue at Oscorp, where Gwen works; and the emergence of the Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan, whose prickly cool made me wish I was watching him star in a Great Gatsby movie instead). The Amazing Spider-Man 2 runs two hours and 20 minutes, and that’s not nearly enough time to properly develop all of these plot strands. Perhaps that’s why the final 10 minutes – featuring the haphazard appearance of yet another villain, the Rhino (Paul Giamatti) – feels as if The Amazing Spider-Man 3 has already begun.
This is, in essence, a throw-everything-at-the-wall movie, in hopes that something – the romance, the action, a villain maybe? – might stick. Yet the best comic-book movies have a crucial sense of coherence, to the point that their identity can be captured in one word. A few weeks before this Spider-Man came out we had another superhero sequel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which was intriguingly defined by its disillusionment. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series? I could describe them not simply as dark, but as burdened. I can even sum up Sam Raimi’s earlier take on the Spider-Man story with a single descriptor: effervescent.
The word that comes to mind so far with this Webb-Garfield variation on Spider-Man? Unnecessary.