The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Amazing Spider-Man 2

When Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire decided they didn't want to do any more Spider-Man movies, Sony had a problem. If they didn't get another installment going, cinematic rights to the character would revert back to Marvel. Reluctant to give up a cash cow, the studio opted to reboot the franchise, telling the superhero's origin story a mere decade after Raimi had definitively told it onscreen. There wasn't really a firm plan in place, so The Amazing Spider-Man was a bit of a mess, with plot threads that were abruptly dropped and seemingly important characters who disappeared part-way through. The result did well enough ($262,000,000 at the U.S. box office) but didn't generate the passionate reaction Raimi's films did. I was hoping that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 would fix some of the problems from the previous chapter. It does, yet it also introduces a whole new set of problems.

Andrew Garfield returns as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. He's experiencing relationship problems with girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) over the whole superhero/boyfriend balance. Strange things begin to happen when Peter's old pal Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan) returns to New York to take over his father's business, and there seems to be a direct connection to the disappearance of Peter's own dad. Meanwhile, a nerdy OsCorp employee named Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) is injured after falling into a tank full of genetically engineered electric eels while repairing the company's power grid. This turns him into the vengeful Electro, capable of manipulating energy with the power of his mind. Electro comes after Spidey, while Harry decides that he really needs to understand some of the webslinger's secrets. With two people looking for him for different reasons, Peter must find out what his father was really up to in order to save himself.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a movie full of big “buts.” (Yes, I know how that sounds.) Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone continue to have strong chemistry together, and the Peter/Gwen relationship subplot is very well-acted. But the screenplay by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner doesn't do enough with it. Raimi's Spider-Man 2 also found our hero realizing that he might need to sacrifice personal relationships to keep those he cares about most safe. That film went much more in-depth with the idea, making you feel the potential loss for him, whereas this one keeps it at surface level. It never feels like a whole lot is at stake for Peter emotionally.

The visual effects are terrific, especially the scenes in which Spider-Man swings through the city. Seen in 3D, they have a dizzying kick that gives you a sense of what it would be like to be this beloved character. But they're often used in action scenes that border on cheesiness. Spider-Man takes time to de-pants one villain with his web, and there's a scene in which Peter foils some OsCorp security guards that is staged like a Three Stooges routine. Superhero movies need not be overly serious, yet playing them with too much goofiness isn't good either.

That leads to the biggest “but.” The Amazing Spider-Man 2 solves the first movie's narrative problems, but it doesn't have a very compelling villain to generate suspense. In some ways, this is the Batman & Robin of the entire Spidey series. In addition to an excess of silly comedy and a too-light touch that both pictures share, Electro is about as menacing a villain as Arnold Schwarzenegger's Mr. Freeze. He looks silly, with his blue face and perpetual scowl. Foxx initially (over)plays Max as an almost comical, Jerry Lewis-esque dork. As Electro, he tries to be threatening, only to be foiled by the weird makeup/visual tricks and an underdeveloped motivation for hating Spider-Man. Also like Batman & Robin, the movie suffers from introducing too many villains into the plot. Aside from Electro, a couple other well-known bad guys make appearances, and one of them is similarly hindered by ridiculous-looking makeup.

Some individual moments in the movie are fun, and the two leads are certainly solid. The best things, though, are Dane DeHaan, who's delightfully devilish as Harry, and the final 15 minutes, which very meaningfully go into territory that will be familiar to anyone who's a fan of Spidey's comic book history. In the end, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, like its predecessor, can't live up to what Sam Raimi and company did with the character. This is not a terrible movie, just one that's frequently misguided and whose faults are made much more noticeable by our memories of the thrilling Spider-Man screen adventures from only a few years ago.

( 1/2 out of four)

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence. The running time is 2 hours and 22 minutes.

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