1. There's a moment in 2004's original Spider-Man 2, directed by Sam Raimi, that represents the peak of what a comic-book movie can do. It's when an unmasked Spider-Man attempts to save a (geographically impossible, but no matter) elevated NYC subway train from careening off the platform and into the street below. It's an exciting scene, but what really matters, what's really great, is what comes afterward. Once he stops the train, Peter Parker passes out from exhaustion, and the New Yorkers on the subway car do something extraordinary: They grab him and carry him to a safe place, gently lying him down and tending to his wounds. "He's... he's just a kid," one says. The key to the Spider-Man myth is that he's just a New York City kid, an outerborough kid, a schnook like everybody else, who realizes it's his job to save the world. Spider-Man is beloved—cared for—because he's one of us.
2. After two terrific films, Raimi's series went off the rails with 2007's third movie—god, that dance sequence—but to keep up licensing rights, we got a reboot just five years later. This new set of films has never quite understood Spider-Man, though: his connection to the city, how his ordinariness is what makes him extraordinary. He never seems to be a New Yorker, or even anything other than a moony, sensitive teenager who, every once in a while, turns into a piece of CGI. These movies are always going to be over-the-top, but the worst ones feel like cartoons, and childish ones at that. The remakes have never really found a reason to exist outside of contractual rights; there just really wasn't a need for a new Spider-Man, and director Mark Webb hasn't come up with anything new to say with them. They're faint, faded copies of better films.
3. The best part of the rebooted series is the two leads: Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are charming and have undeniable chemistry, to the point that you find yourself wanting them to just ditch the Spandex already and go live in a romantic comedy together. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 crackles to life when Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy are talking to each other, and grinds to a halt otherwise. This is a very bad thing for a superhero action movie. This time, Harry Osborn (played by Dane DeHann with far more energy than James Franco ever gave the role) needs Spider-Man's blood to stay alive, and there is a big electric monster played by Jamie Foxx, and something something something Peter Parker's dad. The film is as bored with the plot as you are, and the action sequences are trite and overdone; there's nothing you haven't seen dozens of times before.
4. There's also a weird layer of unintentional kitsch to the villains here—this is far more Batman & Robin than The Dark Knight. Much of the blame can be placed on the shoulders of Foxx, a charismatic, talented actor who, when he doesn't care about a project, can give off a unmistakeable aura of not-give-a-shit-ness. His character doesn't make any sense—he falls in and out of love with Spider-Man for no reason, at ridiculous extreme—and his line readings are dangerously similar to Arnold Schwarzenegger's as Mr. Freeze. (Paul Giamatti also shows up briefly as a bad guy named Rhino, in a fevered, goofy performance that made me wish he'd been the film's Big Bad all along.) Webb, previously best known for (500) Days of Summer, clearly feels more comfortable with the Parker/Stacy romantic moments than he does the fight sequences or villain characterizations, and it results in some real groaners, not to mention a few puns.
5. The only parts of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 that work are those scenes with Garfield and Stone, who bring energy and life to characters that otherwise might have felt somewhat lifeless. You don't quite realize just how good the work they're doing is until the end, when, out of nowhere, the movie snaps into focus and turns surprisingly emotional. The last 15 minutes are unquestionably effective, thanks mostly to the efforts of Garfield, a fantastic young actor who is in danger of falling down the Peter Parker rabbit hole. (These are the only two movies he's made in the past four years.) If you just left these two actors alone and let them just follow the sparks they generate to their natural conclusion, you might have something. When I first heard that Garfield and Stone were involved in these reboots, I was excited—you like to see excellent actors get big roles in front of a lot of people. But now I think Spider-Man is beneath both of them. I feel like the suit and the CGI keeps standing in their way. Go do a Nicholas Sparks movie and get on with your life. The Green Goblin can take care of himself.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.
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