(Marc Webb, 2014)
Here's a dumb move too many super-hero movies try to pull: make the villain sympathetic.
The source material rarely bothers. Oh, there are many sympathetic (or at least rounded, human) super-villains. But then there are also hundreds of thousands of super-hero comics from which they come. O the few dozen high-profile movies in the super-hero sub-genre, it is staggering how many attempt to make the super-villain somebody we can relate to. But who wants to relate to a villain? We can admire their energy, wit, style, intelligence, efficiency, combat acumen...but relate to them as people?
Partly it's to attract actors. They want interesting characters to play, with layers and emotional beats and moments. But they should know better. The truly memorable villains aren't memorable because they are sympathetic. Heath Ledger's Joker? Terence Stamp's General Zod?
In Marc Webb's sequel to his vaguely redundant Amazing Spider-Man, Jamie Foxx's Electro suffers from just this problem. Introduced as a humble electrical engineer at Oscorp (the Evil Corporation at the heart of this particular reading of the Spider-Man mythos) named Max, he stutters with a bad haircut, unappreciated, exploited and ignored. A chance encounter with Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) makes him an uber-fan, and soon afterwards he is given electricity powers by a pretty familiar accident at work. His second encounter with Spidey leaves him feeling betrayed, and out for revenge on the wallcrawler and the world.
Here's another common super-hero movie issue: too many villains. Webb stuffs in the Green Goblin (Dane De Haan) and the Rhino (Paul Giamatti in what is effectively a hammy cameo, or a hammeo if you will) on top of Electro. They all face our hero in an overstuffed last act, and all this on top of a subplot about the disappearance of Peter Parker's parents when he was a child, the return of his boyhood friend, Harry Osborn, and his ongoing difficulties in terms of his relationship with Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone).
That is where Webb's real focus lies, and as is the case with each of the Spider-Man films, the material with Peter's private life is far more compelling than any of the cgi super-hero battles. Gwen is the love of his life, but having promised her dying father that he would keep away from her, lest she come into danger, he is in constant conflict with himself. Stone and Garfield are the best things here, and their genuine chemistry brings each of the scenes they share to life in a way the rest of the film struggles to match. Their relationship feels complicated and warm in a real, human way, giving the events of the last reel surprising emotional punch.
Aside from that, its a middling super-hero movie. Some good gags, a few nifty action scenes, a great evocation of what it might be like to web-sling through Manhattan, and far too much time devoted to dull villains and their back stories and nefarious planning. Webb's style is the very definition of emptily stylish, but he spends what feels like an awful lot of time creating effects suited to 3D screenings.
Stone and Garfield make it just about worthwhile, but really, this is no better than the worst Raimi Spier-Man film, the third. And that is a problem.