Monday, May 12, 2014


Although it surpasses its predecessor, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (*** OUT OF ****) suffers from too many villains.  Meantime, audiences should prepare themselves for more narrative tweaking on the part of “(500) Days of Summer” director Marc Webb, “Star Trek” writers Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci, and “Fringe” scribe Jeff Pinkner to the classic Marvel Comics characters created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko back in August 1962.  Initially, “Evil Dead” director Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” trilogy coupled Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker with Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson, while the Andrew Garfield reboot pairs Peter with Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy.  Technically, in the comics, Gwen was Peter Parker’s first love.  Clearly, Webb’s reboot shows more fidelity to the comics than the original Raimi trilogy.  Peter and Gwen were dating before our hero met Mary Jane.  Comparably, Superman has two comic book love interests: Lois Lane and Lana Lang.  Mind you, Lois has dominated the movies.  This time around the tweaking involves a villain that Tobey Maguire tangled with in his first web-crawling chronicle.  Of course, people don’t watch “Spider-man” movies, or any superhero saga, to agonize over the fate of the invincible entity.  We show up for the latest outlandish villain, their origin story, the inevitable showdown with Spider-Man, and pyrotechnical constellation of special effects. 

Imitating the Warner Brothers’ Batman franchise, Webb and company pit Spidey against three villains to keep him busy throughout this occasionally tedious two hour and twenty minute plus pandemonium.  Judged by this criterion, “Amazing Spider-Man 2” trumps its one-adversary predecessor with a triple threat treat.  Happily, Jamie Fox’s glowering Electro, Dane DeHaan’s bizarre Green Goblin, and Paul Giamatti’s obstreperous Rhino are far livelier than Rhys Ifans’ dreary Lizard.  Electro puts up the fiercest fight.  Green Goblin doesn’t match Electro in terms of actual combat, but he contributes to the worst thing that happens in the third act.  Indeed, the allure then is not just for the adversaries but also for the hero’s closest friends.  Apart from Sally Fields’ indestructible Aunt May, Gwen Stacy is the only other hold-over from the 2012 original.  Webb and his writers add a wrinkle that raises the romance above its usual peripheral subplot status.  Everything that Spider-Man does has consequences for Gwen.  Naturally, a superhero spends his life negotiating an obstacle course, and the love interest complicates matters.  Spider-Man worries about Gwen not so much because he loves her.  We’re reminded Spider-Man swore an oath to her gruff father, the late Captain Stacy, that he would stay out of her life.  Every time he turns around, Spider-Man sees the specter of Captain Stacy frowning at him and this haunts him. 

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” opens about the same time as its predecessor, with a juvenile Peter in his parents’ house.  All we know from the original is that Richard Parker (Campbell Scott of “Dying Young”) and his wife deposited Peter at the house of his Uncle Ben and Aunt May.  In the sequel, we see what else happened after they left Peter and boarded a private jet to Switzerland.  This scene reminded me of the opening scene aboard a plane in the James Bond movie “Moonraker.”  Anyway, as far as we know, the Parkers perished in a plane crash, but anything—you know—can happen in a cinematic superhero franchise.  The action resumes with Spider-Man arriving in the nick of time to pick up his diploma at his high school graduation after thwarting a fanatical Russian criminal, Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti of “Rock of Ages”), from stealing plutonium vials during a runaway chase through Times Square.  This exhilarating demolition derby with Aleksei careening through downtown Manhatten traffic in a tow-truck hauling an armored car gets everything on off on the right foot.  During this mayhem, Spider-Man saves Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx of “Django Unchained”) from being struck by Sytsevich.  Afterward, we are introduced to one of Peter’s closest friends, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan of “Lawless”), who haven’t seen Peter for a decade.  Comparatively, DeHaan doesn’t eclipse James Franco from the Maguire trilogy.  Oscorp executive Donald Menken (Colm Feore of “Pearl Harbor”) ushers Harry to the bed of his dying father, Norman (Chris Cooper of “Money Train”), who bears bad tidings to his son.  Meantime, Max plunges accidentally into a tank at Oscorp and is bitten by genetically adapted electric eels.  Eventually, Max mutates into the electrifying villain Electro who generates no end of problems for Spider-Man as well as the city electric company.

Once again, Garfield outshines Maguire as the costume-clad champion, even though it is obvious that Garfield, an Englishman in his thirties, doesn’t look like an angst-afflicted teen.  The twentysomething Stone is as luminous as ever as Gwen, but she is too old to be playing a teen, too.  Nevertheless, this sympathetic couple shares enough chemistry and radiates enough charisma that it is easy for us to overlook their age disparity.  Meanwhile, you’ll have to suspend your disbelief because the larger-than-life antics could never occur in the real world.  Indeed, Electro qualifies as an unusual villain, driven by revenge, who can materialize seemingly at will whenever and wherever he wants like a wraith.  The showdown in Times Square with Spider-Man where Electro tries to electrocute everybody crackles with thrills and chills.  Battling Electro alone would have been more than sufficient for “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” but Webb and his writers unleash the nefarious Green Goblin while Gwen insists on helping Spider-Man despite the consequences.  You could probably shove your finger into a light socket and experience the same effect that this noisy, ambitious, vertigo-inducing, sci-fi fantasy delivers with gusto.  The OMG prosthetic make-up and visual effects are nothing short of stunning.  “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” doesn’t know when to quit, and it leaves us breathless after a supreme tragedy to soldier on with our webslinger hero poised to battle one more adversary. 

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