Spider-Man in love (and war): ‘Amazing 2’ offers a fun romp, despite being stuffed to the gills with plot points

May 19, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
May 19, 2014

Your favorite urban web-slinger is back, and yes, the tales are true: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is indeed an entertaining romp.

This time, young Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spidey (Andrew Garfield), finds himself trying to balance his love for the brilliant young Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) with the promise he made to her late father (Denis Leary, in an uncredited cameo) that he would avoid her so that she would never be targeted by his enemies. The main bad guy, played by Jamie Foxx, is Electro, who starts off as a lowly, nerdy, Spider-Man-loving Oscorp engineer; an unfortunate encounter with bioengineered electric eels prompts Max Dillon’s transformation into a glowing blue special effect with godlike powers.

Complicating matters is 20-year-old Harry Osborn’s ascension to the helm of Oscorp following the death of his father, Norman (the excellent Chris Cooper, also uncredited). Both Osborns suffer from a rare, fatal degenerative disease, and Harry (Cole DeHaan) becomes convinced that the regenerative properties of Spider-Man’s blood could save him from a horrific fate.

An increasingly desperate Harry recruits Parker, his boyhood friend, to locate the superhero and ask him for help. (Parker, natch, is the rare photographer to have snapped clear pictures of the Big Apple’s red-and-blue-costumed superhero.) When Spider-Man balks at sharing his plasma, fearful of the potential harm a transfusion might do Harry, Electro and the future Green Goblin form a deadly alliance. The duo proceeds to plunge New York City into a chaotic and potentially deadly blackout.

But wait, there’s more! The Amazing Spider-Man 2 crams in a few subplots involving Peter’s long-dead parents — Richard, a scientist, worked on genetically engineered spiders at Oscorp — and his sole surviving relative. Aunt May (a delightful Sally Field) is studying to be a nurse and hiding a couple of secrets from her nephew, although neither seems to be particularly consequential. Also, Gwen, who meets Dillon pre-eels, is competing for a scholarship to Oxford, which may permanently scotch her on-again, off-again relationship with Peter Parker…

This sequel returns much of the cast and some of the key creative types from the 2012 Spider-Man reboot, notably director Marc Webb (who previously helmed [500] Days of Summer) and James Vanderbilt, a member of the trio that wrote the previous outing’s screenplay.

This time, Vanderbilt gets a story credit and Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner collaborated on the script. The first two of those co-wrote the 2009 and 2013 Star Trek reboots (with an assist from Damon Lindelof on the sequel); indeed, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is as overstuffed with plot points as those science-fiction features were.

Thankfully, the action sequences are indeed amazing, and the lead cast members are also compelling. Garfield, the half-British actor whose youthful aspect belies his 30 years of age, exchanges snappy dialogue and a heated kiss or two with Stone. (They’ve apparently been dating each other since the first movie.) The film even offers a few sly swipes at duplicitous corporate culture and our smartphone-enabled media age, particularly when Electro’s encounter with Spider-Man in Times Square is live-streamed on that location’s countless big screens.

Despite all the muddying-of-the-waters that the writers do by trying to accommodate everything on the makers’ extensive checklist, they ultimately make a brave choice at what should be the end of the movie. This makes it all the more disappointing that the film extends several minutes beyond its logical ending point in order to set up a sequel that will likely feature the Green Goblin and the Rhino (Paul Giamatti) along with Doctor Octopus and a few other baddies.

And speaking of that extensive checklist: True to Marvel Comics form, there’s a cameo with legendary writer Stan Lee, co-creator of Spidey along with Steve Ditko, and a post-credits sequence. (Technically, it’s a mid-credits sequence, and it features footage from the forthcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past.)

All too many big-budget pictures these days seem bloated and charmless; by contrast, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 generally feels nimble, despite a few slow stretches. The film provides excellent value on the dollar, warts and all.

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