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Monday, May 5, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Spidey’s Back (Again?)

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Maybe this is a minority view: I thought Toby Maguire was superb as Spider-Man, thank you, and rebooting the franchise so soon was more about Hollywood’s appetite for comic-based blockbusters than any groundswell for putting a new face on the old character. Apparently, moviegoers saw it Hollywood’s way, embracing The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) in sufficient numbers to set the sequel machinery in motion.

The resulting installment, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, begins with a breathless retake of the mysterious disappearance of Peter Parker’s parents—the trauma that marks him as much as that fateful spider’s bite—before lurching into the present. Swinging into action, the boy in the red-blue webbed Spandex foils a truck hijacking on the Manhattan streets with massive metal-shredding carnage. Spidey spouts stupid quips while saving the day, obviously unconcerned for his own safety (or the gravity of the story). The flitting agility of his computer-generated image drains the scene of any real suspense or tension. Spider-Man can move faster than any speeding truck, dodge any bullet, duck any sucker punch, so why break a sweat?

The intro sets up a suspicion that Maguire’s replacement, talented young British actor Andrew Garfield, is overqualified for the role as written in this patchy screenplay. That fear diminishes in the movie’s better scenes, which focus on human-size situations rather than battles royale with assorted super-villains. Garfield looks a bit less wide-eyed and innocent than his predecessor, but can melt the cocky smirk of adolescent rebellion into a warm devoted smile in less than a heartbeat. Aside from rescuing small boys from bullies, thwarting convenience store robberies and saving the world, Peter Parker is concerned with his high school sweetheart, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), worried that he endangers her safety by associating with her and about her plans to go away to Oxford for college. Meanwhile, his beloved Aunt May (Sally Field) works double-shifts to make ends meet, and he meets up with old school friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), who has just inherited a mammoth corporation, Oscorp Industries.

The corporate behemoth, staring down at Manhattan from its vaguely sinister office tower, is the story’s ground zero. Peter’s dad worked there as a researcher, Gwen toils in a clerical cubical and Harry finds that the unctuous board of directors is keeping secrets. Harry’s father and Oscorp’s founder, Norman Osborn (a sneering Chris Cooper), was an evil plutocrat masquerading as venture philanthropist and humanitarian visionary. Oscorp is deep into genetic engineering, ostensibly to cure disease and secretly to build weapons. Accidently, it breeds monsters, including this episode’s at-first-sympathetic lead villain, Electro. When emotionally insecure, put-upon maintenance engineer Max Dillon (Jaime Foxx) falls into a tank of genetically altered electric eels, he emerges as a blue creature under a hoody, wielder of the energy of electricity and nursing grudges against Oscorp and his onetime hero, Spider-Man.

The screenplay relies too much on lame humor, runs too long and often lets technology drive the story. And yet, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 touches on many interesting points including anxiety over bio-engineering, the power of corporate giants (and their influence over government), the popularity of news media spectacle and the vigilante aspect of Spider-Man’s work. “Who appointed him to enforce the law?” some wonder. But when Spidey takes a break and crime rates rise, his approval rating shoots up in the polls.

By the way, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is greased and ready for the next sequel.