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Does whatever six spiders can…

by Kevin J. Johnson

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 is the sequel to Sony Pictures’ reboot of the venerable comic-book franchise, reuniting Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone with director Marc Webb. It’s better than the first Amazing film, and in fact, I’d say it’s the best Spider-Man film yet. Except for Spider-Man (2002) and Spider-Man 2. And maybe Spider-Man 3.

Peter Parker (Garfield) is still learning how to juggle his great responsibilities as the webslinger and spending time with his girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Stone). However, keeping his promise to Captain George Stacy, played by Denis Leary in 2012’s ASM, forces Parker to stay away from his love in order to keep her safe. The highlight of this rebooted series has always been the interplay and chemistry between the two leads. And make no mistake, Garfield and Stone are the best on-screen couple since Jack and Rose.

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So, it’s frustrating that the film, re-written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, keeps the leads separate for as long as it does. Instead of relying on the strongest of the film’s strengths, one of the few contemporary screen romances I actually enjoy, they keep cutting back to Spider-Man’s secret origins. This is material, I might add, that should have been dealt with in the first movie or woven more thoroughly into the film as a whole, which it is not.

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A superhero narrative is only as strong as its villain(s). With Electro, played by Jamie Foxx, you have a visually dynamic, nearly impossible foe to defeat. With Harry Osborn, played by Dane DeHaan (CHRONICLE), you have Peter’s childhood friend who becomes his fiercest foe. And in ASM2, They Have Nothing To Do With Each Other.

Owing him a life debt, nebbish engineer Max Dillon becomes Spidey’s biggest fan (not unlike Edward Nygma’s crush on Bruce Wayne in Batman Forever). But after a horrible accident occurs, granting Dillon superpowers (not unlike Edward Nygma’s accident in Batman Forever), the newly named Electro swears vengeance on Spider-Man (not unlike Edward Nygma’s vendetta… well, you get it). Electro looks admittedly cooler in his film incarnation than in the comic book, but he still comes off like The Riddler meets Dr. Manhattan, which sounds way cooler than it is.

Harry Osborn returns from boarding school to tend to his ailing father, Norman Osborn (played by Chris Cooper), and his father’s company Oscorp. Harry is Peter Parker’s childhood friend, and needs his help to get Spider-Man’s spider-infused blood that may have healing properties. Parker, not wanting to reveal his true identity and unaware of what his radioactive spider blood could do to a normal human, declines. Harry swears vengeance on Spider-Man, not unlike Edward Nygma’s blah blah blah.

Between these two adversaries, the forbidden romance, and Parker trying to uncover the truth about his parents, you should have a firecracker story, or at least a pot-boiler. Instead, these ingredients are so disjointed, it comes off more like a mad grab at a buffet line than a well-cooked meal. And that’s a shame, because there are some tasty bits in this blockbuster. It’s almost like having steak and waffles: things that are good in their own right, but not necessarily together.

ASM2 has some of the best Spidey acrobatic web-swinging ever. Garfield has Peter Parker’s arachnid body language and New York accent down pat. Emma Stone is magnetic and well… is Emma Stone! Orci’s and Kurtzman’s script has humor and charm, just not enough of it. Electro and the Green Goblin are two visually compelling villains with built-in thematic heft, but their arcs toward anger and revenge are rushed. So Rushed!

Electro goes from friend to foe in the space of one scene! Give dude an entire movie to arc (no pun intended) at least, and the same goes for Harry Osborn. Each of these villains could have supported their own film, making this into a trilogy. Instead, Sony Pictures exhausted two potentially good villains in order to set up their spin-off films and future sequels. IRON MAN 2 (2010) did the same thing for the Marvel Cinematic Universe; it was less of a movie than an extended trailer for THE AVENGERS. But at least ASM2 is better than that.

Look, if the Raimi films didn’t exist, this would probably be the best Spider-Man film ever. I would’ve been blown away by this — ten years ago. Ultimately THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2’s biggest problem is SPIDER-MAN 2. Both are sequels that improve on their predecessor visually and dramatically, with a helmer more confident in depicting comic-book action and a film resulting in more energy and verve.

But SPIDER-MAN 2 is focused on its themes, and restrained its escalation in the name of economy and character development. ASM2 on the other hand, speeds its ‘characters’ and their ‘development’ on fast-forward in the name of building a ‘universe’ out of one solitary franchise. At the very least, Amazing Spider-Man 2 feels more like its own thing than the first reheated film, and that’s enough for me to recommend it albeit mildly. In the end, it works and it’s a crowd-pleaser. But man, is it a mixed bag.

I recommend it in 3D, but catch an early show and save a few bucks. Skip IMAX and save a few more bucks. Or borrow SPIDER-MAN 2 from a friend and save even more. I’ll be back with a spoiler piece later on this weekend.

 

Rating: [imax/MATINEE/dollar-show/redbox/netflix/skip-it]