With Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Colm Feore. Written by Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci & Jeff Pinkner. Directed by Marc Webb. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence. 142 minutes.
To fully understand what’s going on in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, you have to go behind the scenes. This was a series that was rebooted when Columbia Pictures realized they either had to make another film or else let the rights revert to Marvel Studios, which has been having a tremendous success with “Iron Man,” “Thor,” “The Avengers,” and the recent “Captain America.” What the makers of “Spider-Man” have learned is that superhero movies excite the fans more when they part of a larger mosaic rather than a standalone story. Thus the new film not only has Spidey battling three different villains, but it has hints and teases of many more stories to come.
The focus is how Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) completes the transition from teenage superhero to adulthood. He and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) are graduating high school at the start of the film, and he’s haunted by his promise to her late father (Denis Leary, eerily popping up) to leave her alone and not risk her life. Indeed he’s late to graduation because he’s battling Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti), who will subsequently become a major villain but barely appears in this film.
Along the way he rescues people, usually with a kind word, and this makes the day of nerdy Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), who is abused and neglected by his bosses and colleagues at Oscorp. Through one of those freak accidents that only occur in comic books (and their movie adaptations), Max is transformed into the super-charged villain Electro. Now had the film focused on this story, it might have had some depth because Max isn’t evil and so Electro’s subsequent actions take on the aspect of tragedy. Instead he’s simply an aspect of the real villain of the story, which is Oscorp, now run by Peter’s old pal Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) who, in trying to save his own life from a fatal illness, is about to become another supervillain.
Although Oscorp might be renamed Evilcorp, especially with the sinister Donald Menken (Colm Feore) pulling the strings, that’s not what the movie is really about either. Instead it’s a series of episodes in which Peter tries to make sense of his own past, figure out if he can salvage a relationship with Gwen, and meanwhile battle one villain after another. Taking a cue from the “Avengers” series, there are characters introduced who have nothing much to do who will, presumably, assume their positions center stage in subsequent films.
The result is a movie that satisfies in inverse proportion to your devotion to the comic books. The more you know, the more annoyed you may get at how this is essentially a two-and-a-half-hour trailer. On the other hand, if you never quite got what the fuss was over the original “Spider-Man” movies, you may find that–as with the first reboot–the focus of the film is in preparing Peter Parker to be more than a guy swinging through the city on his artificial webs, but someone trying to figure out his place in the world.
“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” isn’t a great superhero movie, yet Garfield is a plus, and the effects are thrilling. On the “Marvel scale” of recent films, this falls short of “Captain America: Winter Soldier” but was a lot less embarrassing than “Thor: The Dark World.” Yet be warned, this reviewer grew up reading D.C. Comics, not Marvel. Your mileage may vary.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.