'The Amazing Spider-Man 2': Garfield improves, but franchise doesn't

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceMay 1, 2014 

Film Summer Preview

Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone star in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

NIKO TAVERNISE — ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • MOVIE REVIEW

    'The Amazing Spider-Man 2'

    ★★★☆☆

    PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence. Columbia/Sony Pictures. 2:20. 2D: Winchester; drive-ins: Harrodsburg, Paris, Winchester. 2D and 3D: Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Movie Tavern, Nicholasville, Richmond, Woodhill.

If there's a tie that binds most of the characters of the Marvel Universe, it's the mutability of the supposedly immutable human body. Characters are poisoned by radiation, zapped by electricity, bitten by spiders or broken, crushed, ruined or whatever.

And as Spider-Man cracks in The Amazing Spider-Man 2: "Shake it off. It's just your bones, muscles, ... ."

But the real world doesn't work like that. That's one reason the comic book world has such a lasting appeal. Bullies are foiled, criminals are caught, and great wrongs are righted with intervention by supernaturally augmented humans.

Amazing 2 is kind of about that. It's a violent film, with blood and death in between the digitally animated brawls. Human bodies are tortured and broken, and there's not always a web slinger there to stop that flipping police car, that hurtling bus, that Russian psychopath or that jet that's about to crash.

It's not an altogether pleasant experience.

Things tend to drag. Director Marc Webb has problems with focus, continuity (watch Gwen Stacy's outfits) and keeping the many story threads straight. Many otherwise faceless extras pop off the screen as if he's about to give their nameless characters the same significance as creator Stan Lee himself — who always has cameos in these Marvels.

But Andrew Garfield finds his voice as the character, making his second try at Peter Parker a caffeinated wise-cracker, enjoying his notoriety, talking to himself just like the guy in the comic book. He's funny.

Clueless Aunt May (Sally Field) wonders why he has soot all over his face.

"I was ... cleaning the chimney!"

"We have no chimney!"

Peter hums Spider-Man's theme song and hurls himself into situations with a teen's recklessness. He almost misses his and Gwen's (Emma Stone) high school graduation while dealing with a villain named Aleksei (Paul Giamatti).

But even though he doesn't carry the angst of Tobey Maguire in the previous Spider-Man reboot (2002-07), Peter has problems. He sees Gwen's late dad (Denis Leary) everywhere he looks, and remembers his promise to the dead cop to distance himself from his daughter, due to the danger.

Peter, of course, hasn't seen the opening scene in the movie, in which we flash back to the grisly deaths of Peter's parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz). Peter has no idea that his great chemistry with rich-kid pal Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) will go nowhere, because some of us remember 2002's Spider-Man and how Harry turns out (he becomes the villainous Green Goblin).

Jamie Foxx plays Max, an ignored, humiliated electrical engineer who has an accident involving electric eels and power lines. That transforms him from a Spider-Man fanboy into Electro, a glowing blue guy in a hoodie.

In the ethos of this movie, Peter/Spidey reasons with the tormented villains, trying to connect with the doomed rich kid or this "nobody" engineer.

"You're not a nobody, you're somebody!"

Except for Giamatti's Aleksei. He's just bad.

Returning director Webb relies, again, on the 3-D (and IMAX, in some theaters) flying effects to cover the rough patches — and there are many — in Amazing 2.

Garfield and Stone have a nice sass to their scenes, but Webb can do nothing to give this relationship the longing and heat of the earlier films' moments between Maguire and Kirsten Dunst.

Webb's team of screenwriters don't find any pathos in all this computer-animated flying and fighting, not until the finale.

So while this Spider-Man is, if anything, more competent than the first film from 2012, it's still not one that demands you stick around after the credits. There's nothing there.

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