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"The Amazing Spider-Man 2" review: Webb's second Spidey film is Marvel-ous

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

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“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (2014)

Garfield, who earned critical raves for his performance in "The Social Network," has starred in Columbia Pictures' Spider-Man reboot series
Photo by Mike Pont/Getty Images

Directed by Marc Webb

Written by Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci & Jeff Pinkner

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Dane DeHaan, Jamie Foxx, Paul Giamatti, Sally Field, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Colm Feore

Released by Sony Pictures this spring, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is the second installment of a continuing movie series based on the Marvel Comics character created in 1962 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

Starring Andrew Garfield (“The Social Network”) as Peter Parker and his web-slinging alter ego Spider-Man, Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, Peter’s high school crush, and Sally Field as Aunt May, director Marc Webb’s “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” takes up Peter/Spidey’s story where 2012’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” left off.

The film begins with a flashback to the beginning of the first movie, when 6-year-old Peter’s parents Richard Parker (Campbell Scott) and Mary (Embeth Davidtz) flee the country and leave Peter with Richard’s brother Ben and his wife May (Sally Field).

This time, screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci (“Star Trek Into Darkness”) and Jeff Pinkner (“Fringe”) tell the story of that fateful day from the parents’ point of view. With the exception of a few quick bits from “The Amazing Spider-Man,” the prologue shows a desperate Richard recording a video in which he explains why he and his wife are disappearing. Later, as the Parkers are aboard a private jet bound for what they hope is a safe destination, they run into a hit man disguised as one of the pilots. A fight ensues aboard the jet, and though Richard manages to kill the assassin, the Parkers are killed when the damaged plane crashes.

The story flashes forward to present day New York. As his high school graduation approaches, Peter is still leading his double life of average teenager during the school day, wall-crawling, web-slinging crime fighter the rest of the time.

In the film’s first set-piece action sequence, Spider-Man thwarts Russian mobster Aleksei Systevitch (Paul Giamatti) and his plot to steal a truck loaded with plutonium vials. He also saves the life of Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), a mild-mannered electrical engineer who works for OsCorp Industries. Max is the proverbial invisible man; he has no friends and no one at OsCorp pays him any attention. As a result, when Spider-Man rescues Max and tells him he is Spidey’s “eyes and ears,” the shy engineer develops an alarming case of superhero worship that will have sad consequences.

Meanwhile, Peter is more comfortable in his role as Spider-Man now, but he’s haunted by visions of Gwen’s late father, New York Police Department Capt. George Stacy (Denis Leary). Spider-Man had promised the dying police officer that he’d leave Gwen out of his crime-fighting crusade, but his Peter Parker side is too much in love and the two teens are dating.

However, shortly after their high school graduation, Peter tells Gwen that he can’t see her any more in part because of the promise he had made to her dad. Hurt and angry, Gwen breaks up with Peter.

As Peter wrestles with the emotional dilemmas of trying to balance his everyday life as a young adult and his destiny as Spider-Man, several new OsCorp-related elements combine to complicate matters even more.

First, Peter’s childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane Dehaan) returns to New York after a 10-year absence. Harry’s back to see his dying father Norman (an uncredited Chris Cooper), but the reunion is far from happy. Norman tells his son that the terminal illness that is killing him is hereditary and that it manifests itself in a patient’s late adolescence – Harry’s present age. When his father dies the next day, Harry takes his place as OsCorp’s CEO

As Harry begins his fight to gain control of his father’s company, Max Dillon falls into a tank of genetically engineered electric eels. As a result, Max mutates into a human electrical generator.

Scared and bewildered, Max seeks his “best friend” Spider-Man for assistance, but his admiration for the web-slinger turns to hate when Max accidentally causes a blackout in Times Square and a confrontation with police ensues. In his confused state of mind, Max – now known as Electro – thinks Spider-Man’s attempts to help him are really intended to hinder him.

Meanwhile, Harry comes to the conclusion that only Spider-Man’s blood can cure the terminal disease that killed his father and is now beginning to affect him. Harry asks Peter to contact Spider-Man and ask him to help save him from his father’s fate. Peter tries to talk Harry out of it. A transfusion may cure the disease, but it might also make it worse. Later, in his Spider-Man persona, Peter again attempts to dissuade Harry in order to protect his childhood friend. He regretfully says “no” to Harry’s last desperate plea.

Enraged and full of hate toward Spider-Man, Harry attempts to cure his life-threatening illness by going into OsCorp’s laboratory and ingesting venom from genetically-altered spiders. The spider venom doesn’t cure Harry’s disease; it makes it worse. In addition, its effects transform Harry into another nemesis for Spider-Man: The Green Goblin.

My Take

With the spectacular box office success of 2012’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” Sony Pictures, its Hollywood subsidiary Columbia Pictures, and Disney-owned Marvel Entertainment fast-tracked the development of what appears to be a series of Spider-Man movies that stand apart from Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” 2002-2007 trilogy.

Even though many critics and Spider-Man fans initially thought that rebooting the Spider-Man franchise only five years after Sony/Columbia released the last of the movies starring Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, starting over proved to be a wise decision by the studio and the filmmakers.

In some ways, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is reminiscent of Richard Donner’s vision for “Superman: The Movie” and his version of “Superman II” because, unlike many Hollywood sequels, Webb’s second film is not a remake of the first film with different characters attached. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is a natural continuation of the Peter Parker/Gwen Stacy story arc, which is more faithful to the Marvel Comics universe than its previous film incarnation in Raimi’s “Spider-Man 3.”

Webb gets incredible performances from returning cast members Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, and Sally Field. The real-life love match between Garfield and Stone adds verisimilitude to the onscreen chemistry between Peter and Gwen, and the presence of Sally Field as a less grandmotherly Aunt May enhances the relationship between the middle-aged widow and her often bewildering nephew.

Aunt May: Hey, wait. What are you doing? What are you doing? No, I do the laundry.

Peter Parker: I'm doing my laundry.

Aunt May: No, I do the laundry. No, I this is my job. I've been doing your laundry since you were 6 years old.

Peter Parker: I understand that. I'm in college now. I think it's time I took care of my own dirty underwear.

Aunt May: Last time you did it, you turned everything blue and red, so no.

Peter Parker: That was a mistake. Because I washing the American flag. My... Can I just please just...?

Aunt May: No one washes a flag.

Peter Parker: I do, and I won't anymore.

Aunt May: This is my machine.

Peter Parker: Fine. It's just underwear.

Aunt May: This is laundry, my home, my machine. Back off, eat your breakfast.

Peter Parker: All right, laundry sheriff. I'll do it later.

Of course, a Spider-Man film only works well if the protagonist has interesting and multi-dimensional antagonists that will test the web-slinger’s mettle. Car thieves and muggers may be the bane of the average New Yorker, but Spider-Man can deal with them without getting into too much jeopardy. Yes, Peter Parker does get bruises and is often stressed and tired after fighting ordinary criminals in the Big Apple. However, his true heroism comes to the fore when he is pitted against such OsCorp-connected enemies as “The Amazing Spider-Man’s” Lizard or this movie’s Electro, Green Goblin, and Aleksei Systevitch’s alter ego, Rhino.

Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, and Paul Gamiatti give riveting performances as the film’s terrible trio of villains.

Of the three actors who play Spidey’s foes, DeHaan deserves special attention. He has the unenviable task of portraying Harry Osborn, the same character played by James Franco in Raimi’s “Spider-Man” trilogy. Fortunately for DeHaan, screenwriters Kurtzman, Orci, and Pinkner take Harry (and the Green Goblin) in a different direction than Raimi’s writers did in the first Spider-Man trilogy. The 2014-era Harry’s vendetta against Spider-Man is still personal, but this time it’s not because our hero killed his father; it’s because Harry believes Spider-Man selfishly refused his plea for help.

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is a fantastic comic book style action-adventure mixed in with the ups and downs of real human relationships. Although DC Comics’ Superman and Batman are iconic characters that have been successfully portrayed on the big screen, Stan Lee’s Peter Parker is more relatable to audiences.

After all, he’s just a high school kid from Queens who acquires his abilities as a result of a spider bite, not a nearly invulnerable alien or a billionaire playboy with a vendetta against criminals. We can admire a man that can fly or cheer a caped crusader who owns a Batmobile, but most people can identify with Peter’s down-to-Earth personality and the dilemmas he faces every day as he tries to lead a normal life while fighting crime as Spider-Man.

Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy Specs

  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Ultraviolet, Subtitled
  • Language: English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 3
  • Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: Sony
  • DVD Release Date: August 19, 2014