Warning: if you plan to see this movie, this review contains major spoilers which may reveal major plot points.
Have you ever seen a movie that you knew was not written for you but for a teenage audience? You know the type: small on story arc, small on character development but big on special effects, fight scenes and CGI. I felt this way by the end of the movie. As a teenager, I know I would have loved this movie and I think this movie succeeds for teenagers who never saw the original Spidey movie trilogy. For this review: let me break down the movie based on the characters to see what worked and what didn't.
Peter Parker's parents: By far this was the most interesting storyline. The opening scene grabbed me and didn't let go until it faded into the back of a plummeting Peter Parker. It continued the plotline from Amazing Spider-Man that we had so many questions about. I enjoyed everything about this: Peter's frustration in wanting to know more and how this strains the relationship between him and his Aunt May, his discovered of his father's lab and the closure it gives to Peter about his father's work. In other words, this really worked and was a satisfying storyline.
Peter Parker's guilt about being with Gwen: Having Officer Stacey show up at the beginning of the movie to remind him of the promise he should keep worked somewhat. It helps build Peter's developing character of having to deal with so much in his life that makes him so genuine. It was a good device to use but why didn't it show up later in the movie when Peter couldn't save Gwen's life? More on this below.
Peter And Gwen: if I had seen this with my kids (7 and 11 years old), they would have gotten tired of all the kissing scenes between them. There were so many of these Sony could have marketed this movie as a romantic action-adventure superhero movie. My oldest kid gets so turned off by kissing scenes in any movie he would have hated this movie. While I enjoyed Peter and Gwen's on-screen chemistry, I was yawning. This is not why I went to see this movie.
So now this brings me to Gwen's death. Sure it was a surprise and it was done well. What concerns me is Peter afterwards. Why did he not feel guilty that he didn't save her? Wouldn't Gwen be showing up like her dad in the movie after her death? He mourned her for a long time after her death but what gets him out of it? I swore Aunt May was going to give the same speech to Peter about us needing Spider-Man back like in the second movie of the original trilogy
but the inspiration came from Gwen's valedictorian speech. This was a nice touch but couldn't Peter have done some soul-searching on his own to realize the things Gwen said in her cliched speech? It would have been satisfied if Peter was inspired by the little boy dressed as Spider-Man if that boy had ended up on a live TV news report that Peter saw.
Max Dillon: so Max Dillon is a nerd but he's more of a Hollywood exaggeration of what a nerd should be for 2014 (meaning they have no idea). I agree with a review I read that Jamie Foxx's Electro was like Jim Carrey's cartoonish interpretation of The Riddler from an old Batman movie. The worst of this was the birthday cake scene in which Max Dillon has a pretend conversation with Spider-Man in his kitchen. This scene was supposed to exemplify Max's obsession. We don't see it germinate after he first meets Spider-Man. Instead, we see it full-blown already in its pathological state. This is the kind of shortcut (ie, character development leap) that cheats the audience that pays attention. If I had to use the bathroom and came back in the middle of this scene, I wouldn't have minded this, thinking I had missed a scene.
Electro: I liked this character though I didn't know the motivation behind him being so angry and what those electrical eels did to him. We all know all about the radioactive spider for Spider-Man, but what about those eels? What did they pass on to him besides an electric current? Electro was menacing but what's behind him wanting to be a baddie? He told Spidey that he wanted to be a god. This came as a surprise. He shows up in Times Square wanting to be understood and this is what we get. I think he just wanted to be accepted, liked and, of course, respected. Couldn't Peter have just suggested to Sparkles what Uncle Ben told him?
Peter and Aunt May: I loved how Aunt May had things about herself she wanted to hide and the strain they showed in their relationship. The Laundry Sheriff scene worked. Also, Sally Fields was so good at showing how upset her character was when she discovered what was on Peter's wall. This was one of the most authentic scenes in the movie: Aunt May felt hurt that Peter wanted to know more about his father because she thought this meant she wasn't doing a good job as a parent to him.
Harry Osborne: Dane DeHaan did a great job playing the heir to the Osborne Empire. The scene between him and the dying Norman was pretty cool. My only sour grape is the shaking hand that Norman showed at the bed had should have been shown prior to Harry's meeting with his father for foreshadowing purposes. The more I looked at DeHaan as Harry, the more he resembled Leonardo DiCaprio. But his character went awry for me when there wasn't much development in leading up to Harry getting forced out of Oscorp, not much of a motive other than scapegoating. Harry's credibility sank even more when he got past the Ravencroft guards at the gate. That seemed too easy.
Harry as Green Goblin: While I liked the make-up job, his cue in at the power plant just after Electro was destroyed seemed too convenient. I liked Harry's character. He was driven because what he wanted was a matter of life and death to him, even if he had to risk his life. I felt a little cheated by one thing though. In spite of the venom that turned Harry into Green Goblin, we don't really know whether it did the trick to help him with his terminal illness. We only know the effects of the venom come and go according to Harry after he ends up in Ravencraft.
So how could this movie have been better? More development of Peter Parker's struggles with managing his relationship with Gwen and how it creates the burden of being Spider-Man. Electro's character could have been more developed. How does an introverted nerd who cannot relate to others turn into a power-hungry villain?
Lastly, I do not recommend this movie for young kids. The scenes that need explaining and hand-holding are the opening scene of Peter Parker's parents, when Max falls into the tank of electric eels, the revenge of Electro on that doctor at Ravencroft and the physical transformation of Harry into the Green Goblin. It'll make a great rental but for now, keep the young kids at home.