Film Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone remain a highly appealing screen couple, but this frenetic superhero sequel may be a case of one (or two) too many villains.

Like many a sequel, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the continuation of the 2012 reboot of the comic-book franchise, feels the urge to double-down on action and mayhem. Make that triple-down: The movie introduces not one, not two, but three super-villains, though the last makes his altered appearance only in the final minutes. Wedged between the frenetic set-pieces is the element that made the first film special: the chemistry of its onscreen and off-screen romantic leads, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Their engaging byplay remains intact, even if director Marc Webb doesn't seem to believe in the adage that less is more.

As you may recall, the first Webb movie opened with young Peter Parker’s parents Robert and Mary (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) leaving the boy with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May (Martin Sheen and Sally Field). The new film shows what happened afterward: a fight aboard a sabotaged plane as Robert Parker tries desperately to transmit a mysterious video file. Cut to the present day, as the grown Peter (Garfield) delights in his role as masked, web-slinging crime-fighter, foiling a Russian maniac (Paul Giamatti) who’s careening through the streets of Manhattan in a truck filled with dangerous cargo. Perhaps he delights too much, since there’s an awful lot of carnage left in his wake that he doesn’t seem to pay much attention to amidst his wisecracking. But Spider-Man does take a few moments to remove one Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) from the path of a speeding vehicle—the beginning of a case of hero worship that will have major consequences. Spidey’s latest display of derring-do also happens to coincide with his high-school graduation, which he just makes as Peter’s name is called.

One thing Peter is not cavalier about is his promise to late NYPD Captain George Stacy that he would protect his daughter Gwen (Stone) by keeping away from her. In fact, it tortures him, since he is still very much in love with his classmate. Their on-again, off-again romance fills the quieter, and often more welcome, moments of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. But there are two other big plotlines here. First is the fate of Max, an undervalued employee at mammoth Oscorp, who is nearly killed in an industrial accident involving a huge vat of electric eels and transforms into the energy-sucking Electro. A showdown in Times Square leaves him feeling slighted by his onetime idol Spider-Man, whom he now views as an archenemy. The third thread of the movie is Peter’s relationship with his childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), the son of Richard Parker’s onetime business partner, the ruthless Norman Osborn. Harry takes over Oscorp, and soon becomes convinced that the blood of the genetically altered Spider-Man is the antidote to the fatal disease passed down from his father. When Harry is done scheming, he emerges as yet another classic Marvel villain, the Green Goblin.

Spider-Man 2 is rife with confrontations between Spidey and his new nemeses, and the staging, production design and visual effects are impressive, from the shattering of the giant billboards in Times Square to a climactic battle that will be devastating to those who haven't read the comic books. Garfield and Stone are once again a charming team, Foxx puts formidable fury into his electric rages, Field has some poignant moments as the devoted Aunt May, and the androgynous DeHaan makes a riveting camera subject as the brooding Harry. But I prefer the relatively more sedate rhythms of the first film’s reworked origin story to this movie’s overstuffed, overheated vibe. Still, those tender scenes between Peter and Gwen remind us that Webb, who made his name as the director of the offbeat rom-com (500) Days of Summer, can still turn up the romantic heat.

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