In the first Spider-Man (2002) Peter Parker started off the proceedings by saying “...like any other story worth telling, is all about a girl...” and they carried on beautifully from there, especially the first two movies. Sure Riami’s movies had their missteps, but he knew very well what was at the heart of the tale and combined with Maguire’s earnestness he was able to do justice one of the most important characters in comic book history, even when he fell way short of the mark (looking at you Spider-Man 3). So to see someone like Marc Webb, create two successive movies with so little character of their own and a Peter Parker so lacking of nearly all the qualities which define the comic book counterpart is a colossal disappointment.
Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) has grown comfortable in his role as Spider-Man and is a regular hero around New York. He also has a job as a photographer at the Daily Bugle (Jonah Jameson still absent) and he’s still living with Aunt May still trying to piece together the puzzle behind his parents disappearance which leads him back to Oscorp. Back in town is a long lost childhood buddy, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), who seems to have daddy issues of his own (actually in the movie, nearly everyone does). Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and Peter are still seeing each other but things are a bit rocky, in parts thanks to the promise Peter made to stay away from Gwen to her dying father. Then there’s Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), a loner who worships Spider-Man, transformed into the super villain, Electro after falling into a vat full of electric eels. So while Peter and Gwen are trying to figure out if they are dating or not, Harry’s looking for Spider-Man’s blood so he can find a cure his own horrible ailment. Electro escapes and goes amok in New York, the Green Goblin shows up and Spider-Man 3 suddenly seems not such a bad movie.
Marc Webb still focuses on the one thing that works in parts, Gwen and Peter’s relationship and that too more because of Emma Stone’s wonderfully charming performance. Garfield doesn’t quite know in which direction to take his portrayal, when he tries irritated, he comes off as rude rather than sympathetic, when he does the whole lover-boy bit he comes off as clueless rather than earnest. Not that he’s a bad actor but his acting is all over the place. Love is mentioned a million times, only superseded by hope, both utterly redundant in the scheme of things since nothing the movie does can convince us of either being a tearjerker worthy commodity.
The villains on the other hand are poorly assembled, hastily put together without much thought or care. Electro only exists because the roster for The Sinister Six (a super-villain team) didn’t have his name on it. His sole purpose in this movie is to be a third-rate crossover between Emperor Palpatine and a Smurf, so that his electrical abilities give work to the CGI companies. He has no character worth hating or admiring or feeling sympathetic about. DeHaan’s turn as the Green Goblin is merely a teaser for what’s to come in the next movie, so wasted opportunity yet again.
The web-slinging action is one of the bits in which the new bunch of movies has an upper hand over the older ones. The opening scenes as we follow Spider-Man through the high-rises of New York are truly breathtaking and Han Zimmer’s loud score though derivative actually works better than James Horner’s from the first part. Even the scene at Times Square in the first battle against Electro, has a few nice moments of slow-motion but then again is jarred by juvenile scenes of showmanship played across large screens like a WWE match with a cheering and booing audience.
Dane DeHaan works well with a poorly written character but the same can’t be said of Garfield. Jamie Foxx is hammy and so is Paul Giamatti’s turn as Russian mobster, Aleksei Sytsevich, who later turns up as the Rhino, is horrendous; give the man some subtitles for god’s sake. Felicity Jones has like two lines, Sally Field still underwhelms, BJ Novak is still Ryan from The Office and Jonah Jameson only gets a mention and a line on an e-mail.
In trying to milk this cash-cow for all it’s worth, the makers have sent it further down the pit, watch it for Emma Stone and some great CGI else its plays out like a bastard child of Marc Webb's ‘(500) Days of Summer’ and Sam Raimi's ‘Spider-Man 3’.