If you want to know, in the most profound sense of knowing - the depth of understanding at a level both intellectual and spiritual that imparts true wisdom and not just the recognition of bald facts - if you want to know, with all the fibers of your body, soul, and mind, what corporate accounting looks like in cinematic form, then you should go see The Amazing Spider-Man 2. It is the second film in a series of films designed to stretch as long as Sony can keep it alive, conceived for the single purpose of doing something, ANYTHING with the character while that company owns the rights, for if they are too long dormant in making new Spider-Man vehicles, those rights revert to Marvel Entertainment's corporate owner, The Walt Disney Company. That it has been released into theaters as the "official" first movie of the 2014 blockbuster season is all well and good, but this isn't really a piece of popular entertainment; it's a move in the ongoing dick-measuring chess game played every moment of every day by the half-dozen companies that control all media everywhere.

But heck, when I describe it like that, I almost make it sound good.

TASM2 picks up generally where The Amazing Spider-Man left off in 2012: New York teenager Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) loves classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), but feels that he must be careful around her, since he is also the city's most prominent superhero-vigilante, Spider-Man. So they kind of break up. And this leaves Peter free to attend all his energies to the onslaught of colorful new criminals that happen in movies like these: it seems that Oscorp - the giant multinational tech behemoth run by Norman Osborn (an uncredited Chris Cooper) until his very recent death, at which point it was taken over by his son Harry (Dane DeHaan), a former childhood friend of Peter's - is full of all kinds of bleak and nasty secrets, one of which turns the meek and socially awkward electrical engineer Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) into a blow, glowing avatar of living energy calling himself Electro. And Electro does not at first mean to do ill in the world, but his quick ability to perceive slights, real and imagined, has given him such a cruel attitude that he decides to destroy the Oscorp-built energy grid that powers the whole city. And in this he is egged on by Harry, bitter at a world that has, for all of his 20 years, deprived him of love and any meaningful contact, with his only real inheritance from his father being a horrible, incurable disease. Peter has to figure out not only how to combat a being of pure energy, but also what he feels towards Gwen, for while they are surely still in love, there seem to be nothing but reasons why they can't be together.

I can forgive you for wondering if somewhere in that word salad, there's a plot. But TASM2 doesn't have one. The one and only thing that's truly amazing about the film, in fact, is that its able to haul itself over the two-hour-and-twenty-minute mark without actually having any kind of shape, narrative or emotional throughline, or clearly established stakes or conflict. If the filmmakers seemed to have any real talent, intentions, or ingenuity, I'd be happy to call this a cross between a CGI-laden big studio tentpole and neo-realist storytelling, in which scenes are strung together not because of their linear connections, but because Peter Parker's life would tend to consist of moments such as the ones we see, happening all out of order and without reference to each other.

But none of the four individuals credited with crafting the screenplay and scenario - Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman, Jeff Pinkner, and James Vanderbilt (the last is the only with previous Spider-Man experience) - seem very likely to have had visions of De Sica dancing in their head, and TASM2 is so particularly similar to Orci & Kurtzman's many exercises in noisy explosions, action at the expense of narrative cohesion, and characters who bark out aphorisms in place of having psychological traits, that I think it's fair to call a cigar a cigar. Nor does director Marc Webb seem especially inclined to give the film much personality: the whole thing is carefully anonymous, even more than his TASM1 was, with the only scenes in which there's any sparkle at all in those where Garfield gets to interact with his real-life girlfriend, Stone, or with Sally Field as Peter's loving and kind but prickly aunt May. Here at least, the film has the energy of watching actors giving each other good feedback and helping each other into emotional states that resemble feelings.

Mostly, though, it's a machine, designed for the apparent sole purpose of making unpleasant, erratic objects. Away from the two women, Garfield's attempt to play Peter/Spider-Man's jokey, irreverent attitude comes across like the biggest entitled dick you ever met (and, in fact, even in most of his scenes with Stone and Field, he's a bit too cocky and selfish for comfort; I think this might be part of his alleged character arc, though like everything else about the writing in TASM2, it starts out of nothing, doesn't have any flow, and goes nowhere), and the characters he faces off against are agonisingly flat. So much for the human element. As far as being a blunt-force popcorn movie, it does have, maybe, the most consistent and visually appealing CGI in any Spider-Man movie to date(discounting Electro, a complete fizzle on every level - scripting, acting, design, execution), and intermittently solid setpieces, though all of them are, as will happen, conspicuously over-edited (and by no less an editor than the usually-great Pietro Scalia!), plagued by slow-motion, and hobbled by the worst score Hans Zimmer has composed in years: bouncy, brassy nonsense that would be a better fit for a swashbuckling '40s B-movie than an urban action epic.

There are a few moments that completely work: the first time we see Spider-Man in action, swooping through New York, is the best-such sequence the franchise has produced, with a more kinetic camera and better sound design, and the film's emotional climax is surprisingly effective given how little this film works to earn it by itself (it's a character-based moment that assumes we've been following the characters through two movies - legitimate, but annoying).. But there are far more moments that utterly flop: the opening and closing scenes are especially, respectively an irrelevant flashback and a gaudy tack-on that strangles whatever sort of shape the movie has managed to take, in favor of adding a spurious commercial for whatever movie comes next in the franchise. Or the creation of Electro scene, so contrived and arbitrary as to be legitimately bad-movie hilarious. If TASM1 committed the terrible blockbuster sin of being boring, TASM2 doubles-down: it is boring and sloppy and stupid. When future generations of pop culture historians analyze the process by which the superhero movie fad ended, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if they point to this as ground zero.