The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Lots of glitz and not enough grab
Never mind that Andrew Garfield, who wears the red-and-blue spandex in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and plays Spidey's teenage alter ego, Peter Parker, is actually 30 years old. Or that Emma Stone, Midtown Science High's valedictorian Gwen Stacy, is 25. Or that Dane DeHaan, aboard as Harry Osborn, Peter's childhood pal and scion of the founder of the evil mega-conglomerate Oscorp, is a decade removed from study hall and cafeteria food fights.
The sequel to 2012's reboot of the Marvel Comics franchise starring a New York City kid who morphs into a web-slinging superhero is all about adolescence: indecision and doubt, mood swings, romance, jealousy, and disputes with parental figures over doing laundry.
Directed, as was 2012's reboot, by (500) Days of Summer's Marc Webb, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a movie where a pair of high school sweethearts - Peter and Gwen - try to get their relationship right, waffling between "I love you and I can't live without you" and "I love you but I promised your dad I would leave you alone because hanging with Spider-Man could put you in grave danger." When Gwen gets a chance to go to Oxford - putting on her best mod school blazer for the interview - it's more than Peter can bear.
Between sidewalk talks ("You're Spider-Man and I love that, but I love Peter Parker more") and rooftop sulks (Spidey likes to perch atop skyscrapers before swooping down, acrobatically and totally computer-generatedly, to street level), there are the epic video-gamelike confrontations. Fleets of overturned NYPD patrol cars, scores of pedestrians scurrying amok, fireballs, head-spinning aerial combat.
These gigantic, effects-driven fight scenes (in 3D at your local 'plex) take up huge chunks of the running time: There's Spider-Man vs. gangster Aleksei Sytsevich (a ripsnorting Paul Giamatti), who hijacks an armored truck full of plutonium, barreling through Times Square, and returns as the exoskeletoned supervillain Rhino.
And Spider-Man vs. Electro, a titan of misdirected energy played - with the aid of a squad of digital artists - by Jamie Foxx. Like many a Marvel foe, Electro wasn't born bad, he's just misunderstood. Foxx's nerdy electrical engineer, Max Dillon, simply pines for affirmation from coworkers, and especially from Spider-Man, to whom he keeps a shrine in his apartment. But when Max gets dissed and dumped in a tank of electric eels, well, he turns mad - megawatt mad.
And Spider-Man vs. Green Goblin, the cackling, armor-plated nemesis and dark-skies alter ego of aforementioned Harry. When Peter - who a few citizens still might not realize is Spider-Man - can't help Harry with a serious health issue, the Oscorp heir has no recourse but to go into malevolent mode, determined to wreck Spidey's world and take his girl.
Yet, with a script that's schematic at best, it's hard to care about any of it: the Peter/Gwen romance; the Peter/Harry bromance-gone-bad; poor pitiful Electro, or the blackout he causes, throwing the city into total darkness and threatening to have jetliners crashing head-on. Electro's motivation? Simple: "I will control everything, and I will be like a god!"
(Luckily, Gwen knows the "grid specs" - those passengers will be OK.)
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 lacks the origin-story freshness of its predecessor (even if the inaugural Garfield Spider-Man came only five years after the final installment of the Sam Raimi-directed Tobey Maguire Spider-Man trilogy). It lacks a charismatic central character, too. Garfield is mumbly and gangly as Peter, and unrecognizable as Spider-Man, suited-up head to toe with the dome-like corneas that allow neither glint nor gleam of the actor's eyes.
Yes, there's chemistry between Garfield and Stone (a real-life twosome), but Gwen, who figures pivotally in the final cataclysmic confrontation, is a lash-batting cartoon of brainy cute-osity. And Foxx's Max is a one-dimensional "he-was-a-loner" sad-sack fiend.
The now-obligatory end-credits teaser suggests a spin-off of "Sinister Six" Spider-Man villains in the offing, and director Webb has committed to two more Spider-Man sequels. Now, if only they could come up with something new for Spidey to do.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 **1/2
(Out of four stars)
Directed by Marc Webb. With Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Sally Field. Distributed by Sony Pictures.
Running time: 2 hours, 22 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (intense action, violence, adult themes).
Playing at: Opens today at area theaters.