I don’t normally write reviews for superhero blockbusters because the way I see it -whether or not they are good – they are pretty much critic-proof, especially to ones as small as I am in the sense that no matter what I say these films are going to make enough money to end world hunger. But when people I hold dear are telling me how much they enjoyed the travesty I just witnessed, I can’t just say nothing. I can’t just stand by as so much evil and greed successfully pervades the cinema.
At this point in most reviews I give a quick plot synopsis, but I won’t here. After all, the people in this film didn’t give a second thought to any plot significance.
Webb continues to put together great casts in his Spiderman films only to prevent them from letting any emotion out of the cookie-cutter frame he forces on the characters. Andrew Garfield could be one the best actors in his age group if not for these films. You can see him injecting as much emotion as he can into his dialogue scenes. The same could be said for Dane DeHaan, whose natural fragility and vulnerability is put to waste in the role of Harry Osborn. His scenes come across as more forced than felt. His performance only holds any credibility if you watch it with the belief that he starts channeling Nic Cage when he turns to the dark side. Emma Stone practically exudes charm, but that’s all she gets to do here. Gone is any sense of Gwen Stacy existing outside of Peter Parker, she is only there to smile and re-encourage his stalking problem. Stone is capable of far better, and I get the feeling Gwen could be too. One of the biggest blunders this reboot has pulled is simply by having Gwen Stacy in them. Even if you haven’t read a single Spiderman comic nor been on the Internet since its birth, you would still see her death coming so far away when Gwen practically holds up a picket sign in her graduation speech to foreshadow her death. When the moment finally arrives, the fact you knew it was coming all along minimizes the impact of the whole event.
Jamie Foxx is practically non-existent once he turns into Electro, and even before that is cartoonish but only under the circumstances that he becomes a cardboard cutout of a villain. Felicity Jones shows up as Felicia Hardy for 3 scenes – a total of maybe no more than 5 minutes of screentime – to cycle through accents and serve no purpose other than the prospect of becoming Black Cat in future films. But they couldn’t even give us a cat pun somewhere in her scenes, she is literally just there to try and squeeze out some fake fan excitement. She serves as a microcosm to how little effort has gone into the creation of this universe. Chris Cooper and Paul Giamatti show up to ham themselves – somewhat enjoyably but still tonally discordant to the rest of the film – for some paychecks.
The biggest problem Webb has had in his Spiderman films is tone. Webb purports that these films are grittier than Raimi’s, but still asks us to reach with him for suspension in disbelief without putting any effort in story and character. He has a giant 2nd-rate CGI Lizard. A man who becomes Electro does so by falling into a pool of electric eels – and then turns into a (you guessed it) 2nd-rate CGI Dr. Manhattan knockoff. Harry Osborne literally becomes a goblin by injecting spider venom. In Raimi’s hands these characters and scenes would have been just as ridiculous, but with glee, humanity and some sense of fun engrained into them. Raimi understood how ridiculous the Spiderman universe is, and rather than shy away from it and hope nobody notices like Webb does, he embraced it. Raimi had fun with it, something Webb would do well to experience. Webb’s action sequences feel stale and formulaic, lacking the life and energy Raimi put into his.
This film – and its franchise – stands as a monument to the greed and cruel indifference of Hollywood Blockbuster Franchise filmmaking. No character nor film exists for itself. It all exists to make money and more films that will then make more money. Where Marvel’s Avengers universe takes the time to tell stories and spend time with wonderful characters along the way in redefining how studios make franchises, Sony is just hurrying along to get to the next one, the next paycheck. Rather than answer any questions raised in the first film, it only asks more with the promise that one day it might be worth your time. Might be. With each 2+ hour endeavor with Webb’s Spiderman franchise, it becomes more clear that nobody knows where to take this. But the thing is they don’t have to care. They can be as lazy as they want as long as people show up on opening weekend. These movies are going to make money, and that is the only thing that matters to Webb and Sony.