The problem with Marc Webb’s reboot of Spider-Man can be boiled down to one word: scale.
Sam Raimi’s take on the character was smaller, more personal, more intimate. You could best see this in the villains. Throughout Raimi’s three films, Spider-Man’s enemies were intimately tied to Peter Parker, and the struggles between hero and villains played out on the psychological level as much as on the physical one. New York as a whole was threatened only once, and even then almost accidentally. The iconic images from Raimi’s films are of Spider-Man stopping a runaway train or going mano-a-mano with the Green Goblin.
Webb, by contrast, seems to think there’s no threat too large for our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man to handle. In his first entry, the city’s population was almost turned into a race of giant lizard men. That was just a warm-up, however, as the sequel sees Spider-Man go toe to toe with a villain that can transform into electricity.
Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) is a Spider-Man obsessive who undergoes a nasty transformation involving electric eels after an industrial accident at Oscorp. Left for dead by the amoral corporate bosses, all evidence of his existence erased, Dillon finds that he has the power to control electricity. More than that, he can actually turn himself into disembodied power and ride the electricity lines. Feeling spurned by Spider-Man, the newly rechristened Electro vows to plunge the city into darkness and kill his one-time hero.
Spider-Man’s alter ego, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), is having problems of his own. Girl problems, to be precise, as he wrestles with his love for Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and the promise he made to her dead father to keep her far away from Spider-Man’s shenanigans. He’s also trying to discover why his parents were mysteriously killed, and to reconcile with his friend and billionaire heir Norman Osborn (Dane DeHaan), who happens to be dying of a terrible disease and believes that only Spider-Man’s radioactive blood can save him.
There are two competing films in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The first is big budget spectacle, one that looks pretty but is more or less incoherent and relies on the audience not caring that Electro’s powers are radically diminished when he squares off against Spider-Man.
To wit: This is a man we’ve seen kill another person while invisible by burning an electric hole in his chest, who Spider-Man is nonetheless able to defeat with webs and manhole covers and stuff. It’s just silly.
The second, more intimate, film is far more interesting but given far too little screen time. Worst of all for longtime fans of the character, this second, almost tangential, plotline utterly wastes one of the defining moments in the character’s history. I’m reminded of the atrocity that is X-Men: The Last Stand, a film that mined bits and pieces of the most famous aspects of X-Men lore to create a dreadful, soggy mishmash of a film that left everyone, novice and expert alike, unsatisfied.
Given that the series is facing villain overload—I haven’t even discussed the awful wasting of The Rhino (Paul Giamatti) in this picture—things don’t promise to get much better, as the studio has been teasing (threatening?) that a Sinister Six film is in our future. Combined with DC/WB’s vision to foist a Superman-Batman film featuring, among others, Wonder Woman and Cyborg, ahead of a Justice League film that will star God only knows how many more heroes, it seems that the studios are learning all the wrong things from the success of The Avengers. Bigger may be better, but you have to build up to it. You can’t do it all at once.