Massive spoilers ahead.
This is what happens in the last 40 minutes or so of The Amazing Spider-Man 2:
Harry Osborn breaks Max Dillon out of prison. Osborn goes off to reclaim Oscorp, gaining access to the company’s secret laboratory. Seeking a cure for his terminal illness, he injects himself with the spider-serum. It goes terribly. Meanwhile, Dillon – Electro – attacks the city, shutting down the power grid. He’s ultimately defeated by Spider-Man. By now (minutes later? hours?), Osborn has become the Green Goblin. Goblin attacks Spider-Man. Spider-Man stops the Goblin, but not before he kills Gwen Stacy.
The movie continues. Overwhelmed by grief, burdened with guilt, Peter quits being Spider-Man. Osborn, now in prison, manipulates behind the scenes to further experimentation in the secret projects division at Oscorp. The company develops a number of villainous supersuits: we get a glimpse at a couple (the Doctor Octopus arms, the Vulture wings). Oscorp begins by recruiting a volunteer: a forgettable bank robber we met at the beginning of the film. Aleksei Sytsevich gets into the mechanical costume, declares himself the Rhino, and wreaks havoc on the city. Spider-Man returns. The credits roll as the fight begins.
Superhero sequels tend to be bloated. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, a movie so poorly-received it necessitated the reboot that led to this sequel, comes to mind. Even Christopher Nolan’s final installment of his Batman series suffered mightily by combining one too many storylines, one too many characters. Yet the crime of bloat seems to be more egregious in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, if only because it comes strictly in the name of universe-building. Marc Webb plows through the last third as if in a rush to get to the next movie, to get to the creation of the Sinister Six.
Is this what The Avengers has begat?
Again, in the last 45 minutes, the movie tries to depict: the origin of the Goblin, the death of Gwen Stacy, the end of Spider-Man, and the creation of the Sinister Six. And as a result, it ascribes no meaning to any of these stories. The first hour and a half already suffered from a serious lack of character development, with Dillon a socially awkward electrical engineer who somehow becomes a deranged murderous psychopath because of some combination of a) Spider-Man forgetting who he was, b) people liking Spider-Man, and c) him wanting attention. Yet this is The Godfather compared to Harry Osborn’s arc.
Osborn returns from boarding school, with clear resentment and abandonment issues. He learns his father’s terminal illness is genetic, and that Spider-Man could be the key to his survival. He approaches Parker, then Spider-Man, who refuses to help out of fear that his blood will hasten Osborn’s demise.* Spidey’s fears turn out to be founded. And Osborn reacts by… becoming a deranged murderous psychopath. And after he goes after Peter and kills Gwen, he goes on to develop the Sinister Six, because I don’t even fucking know. The Osborn aspects of the movie are truly awful.
*Plot contrivance: Peter does a terrible job of articulating this concern to Harry. Unrelated, Peter refers to Harry during the climatic fight as his best friend, even though the movie clearly establishes they fell out of touch since Harry went off to boarding school ten years ago. Great job all around.
Enough of this. It was fine when they placed a teaser at the end of the credits for the next installment. It was cute when in-universe cameos became a thing. But it’s enough when core storylines suffer mightily because of franchise considerations, when installments can no longer stand on their own. It was bullshit that the Red Skull just disappears at the end of Captain America: The First Avenger because of some otherworldly business from Thor. It was bullshit when the forced constant interjection of S.H.I.E.L.D. reduced Iron Man 2 into an incoherent clusterfuck. And it is absolutely bullshit here.
If The Amazing Spider-Man suffered because it felt like a retread, then The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is done in by an existential crisis in the opposite direction – projected into the future. For as much as the movie tries to matter, the script does everything to convince us otherwise. It gives no plot development a chance to breathe. There are no arcs, no motivations, nothing. And again, the weight of everything that does happen is completely undone by that manic final sequence. Who gives a shit about the next movie when the one we’re watching right now feels this perfunctory?
P.S. The Avengers wasn’t even good!
P.P.S. As a devoted Spider-Man comic book reader growing up, I feel compelled to say that the action sequences are astonishing, and arguably worth the price of admission alone. Like, the web-slinging aspects are truly joyous. Plus, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have great chemistry. Garfield in particular fits the role that far surpasses his more ho-hum nature in the first movie. But the script is truly, genuinely awful. Sigh.