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'Amazing Spider-Man 2' review: Serviceable, but far short of amazing

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2

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Somewhere in the middle of "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," a character laments how much he dislikes 'complicated' things. That character would not be a fan of the very ambitious, tragically anemic latest Spider-Man flick.

This sequel tries to accomplish far too much -- and fails to accomplish many of its goals with much success.

In short: Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) faces the incredibly powerful villain Electro (Jamie Foxx), while Peter also deals with the return of his childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) and a complicated relationship with his girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). (watch the trailer)

The snide summary of "Amazing Spider-Man 2" is simply 'Spider-man fights bad guys who randomly show up and he might lose his girlfriend.' (The worst example of this is anything involving the Paul Giamatti character - although Giamatti's second appearance in the film is much more entertaining.)

This sequel tries to smash together several disparate plot lines: the return of Harry, Peter's on-again/off-again relationship with Gwen, the odd rise of Electro and the truth of Peter's parents.

The one plot thread that comes close to working is also the emotional core of "Amazing 2," as Peter is torn between his love for Gwen and his reluctance to put her in harm's way. And once again, Emma Stone proves the strongest and best element of the Marc Webb-directed "Spider-Man" films. Stone is once again charming, quick-witted and strong as Spider-Man's girlfriend. While the Gwen-Peter storyline is the strongest in this film, it is also the most heavy-handed, rife with very direct, spell-out-the-plot exposition that's sometimes clunky.

Everything else about "Amazing 2" is obligatory narrative nonsense.

The first "Amazing Spider-Man" established an unnecessary 'mystery' around the death of Peter's parents -- and this sequel is thus obligated to once again address this bizarre story thread. And unraveling this mystery has the absolute minimal impact on the narrative - it simply justifies a single point of the story's background.

Oscar-winner Foxx is absolutely wasted in this silly character of Electro, whose very existence seems to be to pose a very dangerous threat to Spider-Man. But his 'origin' story amounts to little more than a science experience gone wrong - and some hurt feelings. Electro has no clear motivation or goal. And what's worse: his powers are vague at best. Electro can teleport and destroy towers - but some webbing stops him cold?

So much of Electro makes little sense. A compelling argument could be made that "Amazing 2" could have been better off without Electro entirely.

Virtually everything about Harry Osborn's story arch amounts to setting up a "Sinister Six" film spinoff. More effort is spent on shoehorning Osborn and setting up future films than establishing Harry as a character of much dimension. Basically he didn't like his daddy and petulantly demands Spider-Man's help.

And, without spoiling anything, Harry has exactly one incredibly important plot contribution -- but otherwise, he has little actual impact on the overall story.

Basically the only aspect of "Amazing 2" that undeniably works is how well realized the Spider-Man characters are realized in this film. While other comic book films have tried to make their films more 'grounded' (ie, "Dark Knight"), these "Amazing Spider-Man" films are decidedly more "comic-booky." Marc Webb has cracked how to make lizards, electric gods and exo-skeleton mecha suits very cool. And the few minutes Harry Osborn gets to shine in the third act, Dane DeHaan makes it clear why he was the obvious choice for Osborn.

"Amazing 2" is at its best when characters are in costume -- and really wanders aimlessly when characters are left to navigate this film's narrative.

Final verdict: "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" features fun visuals and feels like a genuine Spider-Man comic brought to life. But its overcrowded story restricts any one of the plot threads of gaining much depth ... leaving most of them too shallow to make any genuine emotion impact. In the end, "Amazing 2" is a margin improvement over its disappointing predecessor.

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