The origin story is behind us and its time to kick some bad guy butt. Yes, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (opening today) is high-flying, silk-slinging fun, but it carries with it the same darkness and depth introduced to us by its predecessor. Caught up also in its web are one too many unfortunate comic book movie cliches that bog the movie down and distract from the central story. But as with the 2012 film, this one relies heavily on great performances by its stellar young cast, and they again don't disappoint.
Gone are the days of Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man. This Peter Parker is more of a dark and brooding loner than he is nerdy. After saving New York City from The Lizard in the first film, when we meet up with Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) this time around, he is in a - dare I say - happier place. Things are going well with his girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and they have just graduated high school. He is now a master of his spider-like skills, seemingly able to fly and defy gravity as he travels at high speeds through the towering buildings of downtown with the greatest of ease.
At home, Aunt May (Sally Field) has picked up an internship as a nurse to try to make ends meet, but her and Peter still have a very close bond. Over at the gene lab, Peter's old friend and Norman Osborn's son, Harry (Dane DeHaan) has been handed the reigns to Oscorp...but not before his father's dying words leave him deeply disturbed and forever changed.
But even with Spider-Man saving the city (albeit it nearly completely wrecking it in the process), he is a wounded, haunted soul. He keeps seeing visions of Gwen Stacy's father, whose own dying words were for Peter to stay away from his daughter. He also will never be able to feel comfortable with himself until he finds out the truth about why his parents abruptly abandoned him as a child.
Taking a cue from the first movie that re-established Peter as a tortured young man, this film spends tons of time with Peter outside of his suit. There is a very visible theme of "choice" that runs through this film, with several characters being faced with life-changing choices along the way. In the midst of a battle, Spider-Man saves an Oscorp electrical engineer, Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), and this inspires and misdirects the man to become somebody he is not. But just the same, another saved person decides to stand up to the villains near the end of the film. Yes, each person must choose what to do with their lives, taking the full brunt of consequences along with their actions. But you're familiar with the whole "with great power comes great responsibility" thing by now.
The struggle that director Marc Webb faces is walking the very fine line between creating deep and realistic characters and the cartoon-y world in which they live in. In one scene, Stone and Garfield sparkle together and in the next, you have bad guys spouting lines on par with those you might of heard in horrible films of the past, like Batman & Robin. I could have also done without a few manipulative sequences like when two passenger planes are about to collide in mid-air, and the inevitable "control room cheer" scene that follows when the planes are successfully averted.
Speaking of crappy, manipulative sequences, it was that pathetic stretch of Batman movies several years back that really established the template of over-stuffing their films with more than one bad guy. Sure, the comic books have a wealth of characters to pick from, especially character pools like Spider-Man who has been fighting numerous baddies in the comics for over 50 years. So this film not only gives us the Green Goblin, but the throwaway sidekick villains, Electro and The Rhino, whose storylines and progressions seem pulled directly from the Cliched Bad Guy Handbook.
Ironically, the stuff between Parker, Stacy and Osborn is what is truly electric. The time they spend building up these relationships pays off in major ways, especially with an emotionally-charged ending that will leave many viewers shocked. Then again, long-time fans of the comic saw this ending coming a long time ago.
So as The Amazing Spider-Man 2 goes from silly, non-violent violence to moments of true realism and grit, the transition is sometimes jarring. All in all though, this is a well-made and thoroughly entertaining film. There are funny lines, moments of real drama and a slew of "easter eggs" thrown in for the super-fans that the casual viewer will miss completely.
But it feels like there is much more at stake here then in any of the previous 10 Marvel movies combined. And that's the great, unique power that this film franchise now possesses.
Genre: Animated, Foreign, Comedy, Drama
Run Time: 2 hours, 22 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Felicity Jones, Paul Giamatti, Sally Field, B.J. Novak, Embeth Davidtz, Colm Feore
Directed by Marc Webb (The Amazing Spider-Man, (500) Days of Summer)
Opens locally on Friday, May 2, 2014 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time