Following his graduation, Peter Parker AKA Spider-Man struggles with staying away from ex-girlfriend Gwen Stacy to fulfil a promise made to her father, which becomes more difficult as an old friend returns and an accident as Oscorp creates a new threat to New York City.
Marc Webb, 2014
When we first see Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), he’s engaged in a typical Spidey fight as the masked hero attempts to prevent a Russian crook from getting away with some radioactive material. Slapstick ensues as the two fight in a car during a car chase scene while girlfriend Gwen (Emma Stone) gives the valedictorian’s speech at their graduation, which Peter is rushing to attend. He makes it just in time to graduate, but things don’t look rosy for the couple when Gwen, tired of being jerked around, dumps Peter. The lonely, slightly stalkery teen superhero then struggles to stay away while struggling to get by on money for photographs of Spidey, with his Aunt May (Sally Field) taking on extra work to support them. When #1 Spider-Man fan Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) gets into a, er, shocking accident at his work at Oscorp he presents a threat that even Spider-man is ill equipped to handle. The drama is compounded when Peter’s childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) returns to visit his sick father and makes an impossible request of Peter. Meanwhile, Peter is still trying to solve the mystery of why his scientist father abandoned him as a child shortly before dying. With all this going on he needs Gwen more than ever, and is surprised to discover she plans to move to England.
There is just so much going on in this movie. In addition to all of that, they have hints at future movies with further villains yet to come, the weird psychiatric hospital stuff with a ridiculously hammy performance from Marton Csokas, Harry’s storyline, flashbacks to Peter’s parents, and a major moment straight from the comic book that you probably already know about if you know anything about this movie. Following the success of The Avengers, every studio wants to be the next studio with the unified universe cash cow to milk to death. As a result, this movie has absolutely no idea where it’s going and relies entirely on the talent and chemistry of its leads to carry it. Luckily, they don’t share other real-life couples’ lack of on-screen chemistry. They do wonderfully – Garfield carefully balances goofy, slightly arrogant charm with the tension that’s bubbling under the surface, keeping Spider-man from slipping into unlikeable territory with his teen angst and creeper tendencies. Emma Stone brings her usual spark to the smart, strong-willed Gwen, and the two of them are easily the best part of this complicated mess. Dane DeHaan can do a lot more than what they gave him to do in this – check out Chronicle for a better version of basically this journey, for instance. Sally Field does her darnedest as the overwrought Aunt May, squeezing out some genuine emotion, but Jamie Foxx is all over the place. Then there’s the bizarre minor supporting cast – Chris Cooper gets one scene as Norman Osborn, and Paul Giamatti two as the Rhino. Don’t even talk to me about Felicity Jones.
The storytelling leaves little room for emotion, much too concerned with shoving as much action and as many references into the overblown runtime as possible. It also gives the viewers emotional whiplash, going from teary angst to cheesy lines and musical cues sometimes in the same scene. Its core problem isn’t so much the curse of Too Many Villains as the curse of too many ideas to focus, like a hyperactive child distracted by how very shiny Electro’s powers are, or how funny it is when Spidey quips. The emotional core of the film is Gwen, who doesn’t actually get enough screentime to keep the story grounded. Far too much time is spent on Harry, and yet it’s nowhere near enough to build the friendship between Harry and Peter and make it believable, which means that their later falling-out doesn’t provide the sting it should. Loathe as I am to compare the reboot to the (much too recent) original trilogy, at least the Harry storyline had an emotional pay-off within itself there; here it relies on a problematic event from the source comics to draw out emotion, which feels like a cheap trick and an unpleasant ending. There is some fun to be had here, but nowhere near enough – Spidey fans deserve for Sony to just let this franchise go back to Marvel where he belongs, but we all know that won’t happen as long as that money is rolling in, no matter how haphazardly the films are put together.