Spider-Man: the teenage superhero, the humble everyman, the most relatable spandex wearing genetically enhanced warrior of them all. Spider-Man, who was almost refused publication because of his silly name, appearance and powers, has risen to the ranks of Batman and Superman because he’s us. Peter Parker is the ultimate nerd wish-fulfillment: a scrawny, socially awkward genius whose luck never really picks up even when he does get superpowers. This is why anyone gives a damn about Spider-Man but you’d be forgiven for not knowing any of this if the character had been exclusively relayed to you by Sony.
I make a point of saying Sony instead of director Mark Webb or writers Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci because the studio is clearly the guiding hand behind this highly unanticipated sequel. Sony have gone out of their way to stuff this franchise building block (because that’s all it is at this point) with conspiracies, world-building and more potential super villains than the entire franchise has had up to this point combined. When Marvel weakens a movie to build their universe it’s annoying; when Sony inelegantly stitch together a “universe” out of their single property it’s just downright embarrassing.
With all the new characters, plots twists and fight scenes, Rise of Electro ceases to be about anything. This sounds like asking too much of a comic book blockbuster but even the most superficial franchise entries have some kind of simplistic theme that is repeatedly banged over our heads in taglines and trailer voice-overs. But here there is nothing but the painfully vague and superficial “his greatest battle yet” stuck onto the poster, reading as a half-hearted attempt to package its costume porn into something vaguely resembling a cohesive film.
Thus to give a plot outline is beside the point, instead it’s better just to list the villains which include, but are not limited to, Electro (Jamie Foxx) The Rhino (Paul Giomatti) and The Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan). Foxx is the most criminally underutilized, having to lug around a backstory ripped directly from Batman Forever and a laughable dub step soundtrack (because electricity, get it?) that eventually amounts to a plot completely ancillary to the arc of any character we actually care about.
This painful hodge-podge of ideas, characters and fan service wouldn’t be so offensive if the components that this Frankenstein’s monster of a film was stitched together from weren’t actually really good. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone continue to have chemistry unlike anything in a major blockbuster of the last few years. Dane De Haan of Chronicle and The Place Beyond the Pines fame, takes up James Franco’s role from the last franchise and is excellent, veering between frightened teenager and entitled megalomaniac smoothly. Marc Webb, a long way from the twee rom-com of (500) Days of Summer, has a surprisingly strong eye for action. Despite my gripes with the film’s superficiality, the entirely CGI Spider-Man posing sky-high in New York City is still a joy to watch. They say that good spectacle can’t save a bad script but ever since the Sandman was poetically reborn in Spider-Man 3 this series has done its best to suggest otherwise.
This is the tragedy of the film and the franchise; there is real talent underneath the deafening noise of a misguided fictional universe being constructed in front of us. At moments my attention was held, I was invested in whichever emotional stakes the film flung at me but you can only be thrown from Gwen Stacy’s family post-graduation dinner to the newly introduced mad German scientist (oh yes there’s one of those) so many times before just you stop caring. Apparently there are two more Garfield vehicles in store as well as a villain focused Sinister Six film that is also artlessly set up here.
There’s nothing wrong with world building and there’s nothing wrong with mindless action but The Amazing Spider-Man 2: The Rise of Electro (with a title as awkward as its pacing) can’t even commit to any of those approaches for more than five minutes. Conor Bateman, in his review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, lamented the diminishing returns of the ever-expanding Marvel Universe but at least Marvel have the characters and the claim to being first to pull it off. If Sony’s continued milking of their single Marvel character is an indication of more studios adopting the “Marvel method” then God help us. Because all the talent in Hollywood still can’t help this hulking behemoth of a cash-cow at being any more graceful than Paul Giamatti in a mech suit.
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