So, can we get this Spider-man back?
Watching Sam Raimi's original Spider-man movies was like seeing a life-long friend finally make it good in the big leagues. Sure, a friend who got a little cocky at his own success and bit off a bit more than he could chew, getting a bit silly in the process (which you could almost take as the very theme of Spider-man 3, but that's a post for a later date), but especially for those first two films, it was exhilarating to see for a long-time fan of the character.
The Amazing Spider-man (TASM from here on) movies, on the other hand, have been like watching said friend bottom out. Hitting hard substances, turning into a jerk, not learning from their mistakes, and totally unaware of how horrible they've become.
SPOILERS: The movie is bad, but if you feel the need to read further, know I'm going all the way down the rabbit hole here. I'd recommend you see the movie before you read further, but I can't in good conscience recommend that anyone see this movie.
I was less than pleased with TASM 1, but I was more than willing to give the sequel a chance. With the necessary "grim 'n gritty" reboot origin out of the way, the series was theoretically free to go off in exciting new directions and establish its own identity. And some early stuff seemed promising. Sure Electro as Dubstep Dr. Manhattan looked dumb, but Spidey himself looked fantastic (the costume and web-slinging action is the best its ever been) and I was hopeful about where the Gwen/Peter relationship (their chemistry was one of the few high points of the first film) would go. But after watching the movie, I don't feel like I saw Marc Webb blazing a new trail for the series.
I feel like I watched him use 2014 technology to make a 90's superhero movie.
There are maybe 5-10 minutes of this film that work, and when it works it really is perfect. Spidey goes out of his way to save people, helps kids, banters with the bad guys, and looks like he walked right off the pages of the comic book.
Unfortunately, that's 5-10 minutes out of nearly 2 and 1/2 hours. All the rest of which is bad.
What's fascinating is that it's bad in so very many ways. For starters, the film doesn't have a consistent tone. It doesn't even have two - it jumps back and forth between the corporate espionage of Peter's parents (well, okay just his dad matters - this casual sexism becomes a running theme) were involved in - including a bizarrely out-of-place and useless opening action beat - and the loosey-goosey mumblecore romance between Gwen and Peter (who's hallucinating the ghost of her dad who made Peter promise to stay away from her). Then once villains start popping up the film swings (get it?) between something resembling the "aw, shucks!" glee of Raimi's Spidey films and the HORRENDOUSLY over-the-top hammy acting and worse dialogue of Batman & Robin.
And all during this time, the film never sticks to (get it?) a single tone for more than a single scene, but worse can't even find any sort of cogent narrative. Stuff just happens for no reason other than to have another cute scene between Peter and Gwen or another action beat where CGI fights other CGI. Nothing feels connected - Electro is literally the same character in all but name as Jim Carrey's portrayal of Riddler from Batman Forever, and serves no point in the story. And Jamie Foxx isn't saddled with the worst-written or worst-acted character in the entire series simply because Dane Dehaan's Harry Osborne/Green Goblin shows up too.
For literally all of five minutes, just to kill Gwen Stacy. After there's a big climactic build-up to beating Electro, complete with scenes of everyone in the city trying to deal with the power suddenly going out as Peter and Gwen rush to save the day, it's like the movie suddenly remembers, "Oh yeah, we gotta fridge the girlfriend! Goblin time!" Meaning since Harry was never even mentioned in TASM 1, the sequel gets to cram his and Peter's friendship, its erosion, and his turn to the dark side into about half the film's running time, just so he can kill Gwen.
And there are a dozen reasons why the entire sequence just doesn't work. Peter's lack of involvement with ANYTHING to do with Green Goblin up to this point (other than refusing to give his magic spider-blood to Harry to cure him - seriously, what is it with Orci and Kurtsman and magic blood?), so he has no responsibility for that character. Gwen says repeatedly that chasing after him - after he webbed her to a car - was "My choice. MY CHOICE." (and her comes that delightful casual sexism I mentioned earlier - "See what happens when women make their own choices?" says the movie.) And even when he tries to catch her, it's not a matter of his webbing causing her neck to break, as in the comic, he's just not fast enough and she bounces off the ground.
This is a thudding (get it??? okay, actually that's really bad) misunderstanding of not only the point of that character's fate in the comics (Gwen dying is another huge source of guilt for Peter on the magnitude of feeling responsibly for Uncle Ben), but of the entire underlying philosophy of Spider-man as a character. This is two movies we've gone now without anyone saying "With great power comes great responsibility," and that's literally the first lesson Peter learns as Spider-man. It's something that Raimi's first film - as quaint as it seems now - nailed to the wall for everyone to see.
TASM's Peter stopped looking for Ben's killer midway through the first film and never picked the search up again. What's worse, this version of Peter keeps getting rewarded by shirking responsibility. Not only does he make no meaningful choices in the entire film (he waffles about being with Gwen, he waffles about helping Harry, he waffles about looking for his father which ends up having nothing to do with any other subplot), but he learns nothing. At the end of the film, after quitting Spider-man (off-screen) and moping for 5 months (via a season-changing montage - no, I'm not kidding, they actually did that), he's back in the suit with no cares, no guilt, nothing to tie him down.
It's not just that this utter mishandling of the character rankles from the perspective of someone who enjoys the source material. It's not just that the film simply has NO understanding of heroism and sacrifice that are at the core of nearly all superheroes (something that Captain America: The Winter Soldier also brought home with aplomb), it's that there's not even the semblance of a story to tie it together. I could at least try to meet a film like this halfway if it only worked as a film.
But TASM 2 doesn't work as anything but a tease for TASM 3, an endless parade of name-dropping with no payoff, "world-building" with no payoff, and lip service to the barest surface level elements of the character.
Spider-man deserves better than that, and frankly, so do audiences.