The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has an uncommon emotional warmth, but it muffs the CGI spectacle designed to suck up bucks at the worldwide omniplex. I don't think this is the way superhero blockbusters are supposed to work.
Sony's decision to "reboot" this franchise two years ago—just five years after Sam Raimi's Spider-Man series whimpered to a close—was a brazen snarl of corporate calculation. Hiring indie director Marc Webb to replace Raimi was a smart move (and no doubt lightened the budget), but then Webb was lumbered with having to rehash Spider-Man's origin story yet again. The resulting movie, with over-qualified Andrew Garfield squeezing into the supersuit, triggered instant Spidey fatigue (and was a huge hit, so buzz off).
Now, freed to take the story in a more interesting direction, and assisted by a new team of writers (including Star Trek vets Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci), Webb delivers a tale of thwarted love and father-son melancholy that verges on heartfelt, but is squashed by out-of-control computer effects, in CGI setpiece scenes that seem to go on forever.
Garfield returns as Peter Parker, the nice guy with a sideline in superheroics. He and his love interest, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone again), are just graduating from high school, and Peter is rethinking the promise he made to Gwen's late father to stay away from his daughter so as not to draw her into his dangerous superhero doings. Garfield and Stone, who've been a real-life item for a couple of years now, bring a nice romantic rhythm to their characters' relationship, Stone dispensing wry quippage and Garfield aw-shucksing in return. It would seem difficult not to like these two, although there will surely be those who find a way.
Peter is also preoccupied with the mystery of why his parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz, seen in flashbacks) suddenly abandoned him as a little boy, leaving him to be raised by his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (unseen because dead). Peter's research into the folks' disappearance indicates a connection with his dad's biogenetic work at the Osborn Corporation, which involved–yes–spiders.
And then there are the supervillains. The previous movie had one bad guy, a mad scientist who turned into a big digital lizard–a creature of dull retro-cheesiness. Now there are three villains (and several others lurking unidentified among the subsidiary characters). Chief among them is a timid OsCorp engineer named Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), who falls into a vat of electric eels (pretty cool) and emerges as the fearsome Electro, a sort of human battery who makes his way around New York via the city's power grid. This character, with sparks of energy crackling beneath his ashen skin, is apparently a fan fave from the Marvel comics; but for movie purposes, his superpower lacks visual grip. Shooting lightning bolts out of his hands? Whatever. He's no Doc Ock.
Then there's Harry Osborn, tartly played by Dane DeHaan, who suggests Leonardo DiCaprio in a sour mood. Harry is Peter's childhood friend and the son of OsCorp owner Norman Osborn (a dimly lit Chris Cooper). Harry is estranged from his cold-hearted father, who is now dying. Paying a farewell visit, Harry is informed by Norman that the mysterious disease currently ending his life is hereditary—that Harry has it, too, and its effects will soon become apparent. There's one possible cure, which also relates to that long-ago spider research. This sounds like a job for Spider-Man, so Harry approaches his old buddy Peter, who moonlights as a news photographer for The Daily Bugle and specializes in Spidey shots. Peter arranges a meeting, but it doesn't go well. Harry becomes enraged and…well, if you remember the Raimi movies, you'll know what happens next.
There's no denying the inventive construction of the vehicular crash-and-bash that kicks the movie into gear. This involves a Russian thug (Paul Giamatti) who has hijacked a truckload of OsCorp plutonium, and Spider-Man, who zooms in to stop him. There's much clever juggling of deadly plutonium canisters, and a lot of mile-a-minute wisecrackery that suggests yet another career for our hero in Vegas standup. It's pretty entertaining.
But the first big face-off between Spider-Man and Electro, staged in Times Square, with the villain's face glaring down from huge video screens all around, goes on so long you wonder when Electro's battery will start running down. A similar please-make-it-stop feeling is prompted by their later confrontation atop an ornate clock tower. All of this is expensively well-done, in a familiar manner, but there's way too much of it.
As you may have heard, one major character dies in this movie. Fans with no Internet connection may be startled by this event, but even those who remember it from the comics, where it happened 40 years ago, might be touched by the actors' performances. Heartless trolls can avert their eyes.
The movie ends with another character returning in full costume to tease the next sequel (or maybe The Sinister Six, a multi-villain jamboree scheduled to go into production early next year). The millions of fans of this never-ending story will be happy to know there's more on the way, and why should they be mocked? More jaded observers, however, still wondering why this franchise had to be re-launched in the first place, may find that it's still hard to get excited all over again.