“An Electrifying Spin for Spider-Man”

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2”
Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan
Directed by Marc Webb

Less than two years after Sony Pictures rebooted Marvel Comics’ most famous hero with “The Amazing Spider-Man,” which saw Andrew Garfield replace Tobey Maguire as the iconic web-slinger, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” swings into theaters and proves to be a superior sequel on just about every level. Where its predecessor was widely criticized for being a redundant re-telling of an origin story that was barely ten years old, returning director Marc Webb pulls out all the stops with a grand sequel that’s more fun, more exciting and much more heartfelt.

But it still falls short of the other “Spider-Man 2” – the one that came out in 2004 and still ranks as the best Spidey of the bunch, not to mention being one of the best superhero movies of all time. Where that cinematic triumph was a deep, character-driven coming-of-age movie about a superhero, “Amazing 2” is a bit overlong, uneven and gets bogged down with CGI-heavy action sequences that feel somewhat formulaic by modern comic book-based movie standards. Moreover, the uninspired and scattershot screenplay – co-written by James Vanderbilt, Jeff Pinkner and “Star Trek” scribes Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci – lacks the type of clever humor, sharp dialogue and sense of relevancy that helped raise the bar for the recent “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

Fortunately, the irresistible and undeniable chemistry between real-life lovebirds Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, who play star-crossed lovers Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, goes a long way to help “Amazing 2” overcome its flaws and find its heart. Whenever they’re on screen together, the movie just shines. As a result, “Amazing 2” works better as a moving love story than it does as a unique special effects-driven superhero epic, though it certainly delivers the exhilarating goods on that level too.

One element much improved over the last installment: Spider-Man’s costume. While credit must be given to the filmmakers for trying to differentiate Andrew Garfield’s first outing from the three previous Tobey Maguire movies, Spidey’s outfit didn’t look right in “Amazing 1.” His new suit in “Amazing 2” is a return to form, because there are some things that shouldn’t be messed with, and Spider-Man’s costume is one of them.

Another thing that shouldn’t be messed with: “Spider-Man” movies should be fun. Not that the last movie wasn’t fun, but in an effort to make Peter Parker feel like a brooding, angst-ridden teenager of the 21st Century (which was no doubt inspired by the “Ultimate Spider-Man” comic book storyline), “Amazing 1” felt too dark and gritty. For his second time behind the camera, Marc Webb lightens up the proceedings considerably, and the vibrant, family-friendly, comic book-y vibe feels just right.

Also feeling just right is Spider-Man himself. Part of his appeal for the last 50-plus years has been his ability to taunt his enemies with wise-cracks, jokes and humor, even under the most dire of circumstances. Sam Raimi’s trilogy didn’t really go there, and Webb’s first installment touched on it briefly. But “Amazing 2” finds Spidey at his confident best, and it’s clear that Andrew Garfield is having the time of his life. His Peter Parker loves being Spider-Man, and the feeling is infectious.

But where would Spider-Man – or rather, Peter Parker – be without a little angst in his life? That’s the other side of his appeal, and he has plenty to chew on here. He’s still riddled with guilt over the death of his Uncle Ben, who died as a result of his negligence with catching a convenience store burglar. He’s still trying to figure out what happened to his parents, who disappeared after being ousted from the powerful Oscorp company. And he’s torn between developing his relationship with Gwen Stacy and the promise he made to her late police captain father to stay away from her (he knew Parker’s secret identity, which he feared would put her in harm’s way).

Spidey has his hands full too with not one, not two, but three main villains. While that may stretch the running time to 2 hours and 22 minutes (making it the longest “Spider-Man” movie to date) and conjure up bad memories of 2007’s otherwise underrated “Spider-Man 3” – which was widely panned for being bloated with too many baddies – the three-villain approach in “Amazing 2” feels more justified. The main heavy here is Electro (played effectively by Jamie Foxx), and while his initial motive to destroy Spider-Man feels a bit weak, contrived and all-too-similar to Jim Carrey’s Riddler from 1995’s “Batman Forever,” his ability to absorb and harness New York City’s power grid turns him into one of Spidey’s deadliest foes.

Then there’s Peter Parker’s old friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan, a dead-ringer for a young Leonardo DiCaprio), who’s infected with a rare genetic disease that only Spider-Man can cure. He doesn’t turn into the Green Goblin (though he’s never actually called that by name) until the final act, which leaves the rampaging Rhino (a scene-chewing Paul Giamatti) to bookend the film and pave the way as one of the baddies in the spin-off movie “The Sinister Six” (and as for who will be joining him, keep an eye out for the costumes on display in one of the film’s final scenes).

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” stands on its own while also expanding the future of the Spider-verse. In addition to the “Sinister Six” movie, plans also call for a “Venom” spin-off, and “Amazing Spider-Mans” 3 and 4 are already set for release in 2016 and 2018, respectively. Will those movies feature Alistair Smythe, who built the menacing Spider Slayers and is seen briefly in “Amazing 2” (he’s played by B.J. Novak)? Or what about Felicia Hardy (Felicity Jones), who becomes Spidey’s love interest The Black Cat? Or will Peter Parker hit the jackpot with free-spirited redhead Mary Jane Watson, who was supposed to be played in “Amazing 2” by Shailene Woodley until her scenes got cut?

It’s a lot to look forward to, but all that matters for now is that “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is as good as its name, and when it comes to the five Spidey movies that came out over the last 12 years, this “2” follows the other “2” as one of the best in the series.

-Scott Mantz