Presumably to avoid confusion, Sony has added the words "The Amazing" to the titles of its current Spider-Man series. What? He wasn't amazing the first time around? Was Tobey Maguire the Meh Spider-Man? This rebranding feels like a defensive gesture, given that the character (as played by Andrew Garfield in 2012) was no more amazing than his 2002 counterpart (Maguire). And the film was frankly somewhat less amazing.
Is it any different this time? It would make sense to compare this second installment of Sony's reboot to its counterpart in the previous Spider-Man trilogy. It would make sense to talk about franchises and reboots in general. The problem is that it made sense last time, and I did it two years ago when Spider-Man, version 2.1 (or was it 1.2?) was released. Of course, if it's OK for the studio to assemble their films from boilerplates, I probably shouldn't worry about indulging in the same practice.
Unfortunately the result would be, well, you know, dull, and I'd really like to avoid that. (I wish Sony had as well.)
The opening of the current entry follows the template set in 2012: An introductory sequence provides yet more cloak-and-dagger back story about Peter Parker's abandonment by his folks (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz).
(This is apparently taking place sometime in the late '90s, so it's very impressive that Pa Parker has really fast Internet access from within a crashing airplane. He obviously wasn't using the same ISP I use.)
Back in present day, Spider-Man saves the life of Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), an ubergeek electrical engineer at Oscorp Industries. (Pretty nearly everybody in the city seems to work for Oscorp.) An electrical accident turns Max into Electro, a powerful villain who feeds on electricity and really hates Spidey.
Electro is the movie's main villain, but Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan, channeling the young Edward Furlong) — Peter's former best friend and heir to the Oscorp empire — takes over his late father's insane Green Goblin identity.
While all this is brewing, Peter simply can't keep his hands off of Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), despite frequent remonstrations from either the ghost of Gwen's dad (Denis Leary) or Peter's hallucinations of same.
When Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, et al., created Spider-Man back in the '60s, the character's most crucial aspect was his ordinariness. He could be any smart, maladjusted high school boy who just happened to have been bitten by a radioactive spider. The biggest difference between the first and second film trilogies is that Peter is no longer so ordinary. In the grand tradition of King Arthur, Superman, Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, and oodles of others, Peter is now the Chosen One, destined for glory by his lineage (represented here by his actual DNA).
Ho hum. Yes, that's a universal, ever present myth, but it neuters some of what made Spider-Man interesting in the first place: he was the Random Accidental One.
On the up side, it must be mentioned (in vague terms) that the film's climactic tragedy is very faithfully reproduced from the original comic.
The action sequences are adequate, but they never really sing. By far, the best thing the film has going for it is the casting of Garfield and Stone. Stone doesn't even have to break a sweat to be instantly appealing on screen. The camera may not love Garfield as much, but his portrayal — which cranks up Maguire's geekiness to an almost pathological level — holds our interest throughout.
ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on "FilmWeek" on KPCC-FM (89.3).