The queasy feeling sets in right after the suspenseful prologue, which shows Peter Parker’s father and mother dying in a plane crash for reasons we will learn later. Just as we think “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” might exceed the satisfying first one, our hopes collapse with the view of Paul Giamatti, his head tattooed and his eyes rolling, at the wheel of a stolen plutonium truck.
“Har har har!” he gurgles, blasting through traffic maniacally. Suddenly Spider-Man swings into view and taps on the door of the truck: “Hello, Mr. Criminal? Let me introduce myself: I’m Spider-Man.” Yes, with the entire city at risk of nuclear contamination or explosions, Spider-Man begins to make jokes.
“I KEEL YOU, LEETLE SPIDER!” screams the mad Russian, who will (spoiler alert) be around at the lamest climax of a superhero movie I can recall. Meanwhile, special effects you could have designed on a home laptop run on and on.
Everything runs on and on in this 142-minute compendium of cliches. We get the old “vigilante or savior?” argument about Spidey. He again has a best friend, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), he can’t save from self-destruction. Oscorp, the conglomeration founded by Harry’s creepy dad, is again riddled with corrupt swine who sacrifice morals for profits. (And now, incredibly, it supplies every watt of the city’s power.) Peter and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) break and make and break and make and break and make up. Aunt May (Sally Field), now attending nursing school in her 70s to stay out of the poorhouse, drops homilies.
The movie feels not only calculated but tired. We get the usual nebbishy underling (Jamie Foxx) who turns into a deranged supervillain, this time after being bitten by electric eels. Blue-painted Electro goes on a series of dull rampages, partly because no one acknowledged his birthday properly and partly because he just likes attention, yet the writers never really define his powers or his objectives. His actions inspire no fear; his potential demise inspires no sadness.
The quiet elements work best: Peter’s attempts to figure out his dad’s legacy, his uneasy friendship with Harry, the passion for Gwen he’s afraid to express. (Putting her around Spider-Man means she’s in permanent jeopardy.) Garfield and Stone have both chemistry and charm; you really believe he might give up the spider suit and follow her to England if she lands a scholarship to Oxford.
But director Marc Webb knows he has to tip the balance in favor of the chaotic, phony-looking action sequences to make cash registers ring. Those depend on execrable writing: Gwen, an intern at Oscorp for a few weeks, miraculously knows how all the machinery works at the city’s central power plant.
You think the movie can’t sink lower when a bug-eyed Dr. Kafka, speaking with a Nazi accent and wearing rubber gloves, shows up as the head of Ravenscroft Institution for the Criminally Insane and taunts Electro, “Ve vill eggsplore your mind!” But when that gibbering Russian crook from the beginning reappears as The Rhino, a shrill and doltish clown in a clunky metal suit, you realize there’s no bottom.