Director Marc Webb swings out from under Sam Raimiís shadow with The Amazing Spider-Man 2, an intoxicatingly kinetic sequel that scores high marks for action and characterization, but stumbles in its attempt to give high-voltage villain Electro a spark of motivation. Fortunately, despite the somewhat bloated 142-minute running time, Webb and screenwriters...read more
Director Marc Webb swings out from under Sam Raimiís shadow with The Amazing Spider-Man 2, an intoxicatingly kinetic sequel that scores high marks for action and characterization, but stumbles in its attempt to give high-voltage villain Electro a spark of motivation. Fortunately, despite the somewhat bloated 142-minute running time, Webb and screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Jeff Pinkner manage to keep the story moving along for the most part, although not even the voltaic climactic battle can live up to the inventive action that kicks the story into motion.
As the film opens, we find Richard (Campbell Scott) and Mary Parker (Embeth Davidtz) stealing away with some crucial Oscorp files while leaving young Peter in the care of Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben. Flash forward about a decade, and Peter is swinging into action as Spider-Man; having successfully thwarted the hijacking of an Oscorp truck by notorious Russian criminal Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti), Peter ditches the costume just in time to meet up with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) at their high-school graduation. Yet in spite of his deep love for Gwen, Peter remains haunted by his promise to her late father not to get emotionally involved with her, for fear that she could be targeted by Spider-Manís enemies.
Meanwhile, young Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) inherits control of Oscorp, as well as a deadly retrovirus, from his father Norman (Chris Cooper), and brilliant but timid Oscorp scientist Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) gets infused with a large dose of electricity while attempting to fix a faulty power circuit in the lab. Upon regaining consciousness, Max discovers that he has the ability to harness electrical currents -- and the higher the voltage, the more powerful he becomes. When a battle with Max in Times Square shorts out Spideyís web shooters, Peter goes to work developing a more reliable model of his signature weapon. Elsewhere, Harry grows convinced that Spider-Manís blood is the key to his survival. Later, villainous Oscorp chairman Donald Menken (Colm Feore) steals the company right out from under Harry, driving the vengeful youth to break Max -- now Electro -- out of the heavily guarded Ravencroft Institute for a two-pronged attack on Menken and Spider-Man. The stage for that battle is set when New York City goes dark just as Peter declares his love to Gwen, plunging the wisecracking web slinger into a fight that could forever alter the course of his life.
Having previously been hampered by Spideyís origin story in The Amazing Spider-Man, Webb hits the ground running here. With Orci, Kurtzman, and Pinkner taking over for the previous installmentís scribes (Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves, and James Vanderbilt), the screenplay offers a satisfying mix of action and exposition early on, especially with regards to Peterís relationship with Gwen. Together, Garfield and Stone share a chemistry that gives the two charactersí relationship substance -- both in lighthearted scenes and more dramatic ones as well. Likewise, the writing trio take their time in fleshing out Peterís relationship with Harry (no doubt a crucial component to the mythology), but therein also lies the problem that many viewers will have with the film -- the secondary villain is much more compelling than the primary one. Try as the writers might to give Max a motivation for unleashing his fury once he becomes Electro, they leave the audience to make a questionable leap in logic regarding his vendetta against Spider-Man. For that reason, despite Electroís impressive appearance and abilities (and a clever personal arc), he ultimately rings somewhat hollow as a true adversary. Thankfully, the writers have a bit more up their sleeves than will be revealed here, though that particular imbalance does seem like a sore oversight in a script that doesnít skimp on characterization.
Then thereís the action. The special effects in The Amazing Spider-Man were a noticeable improvement over those in the final entry of Raimiís trilogy (which came out just five years earlier). Here, the more realistic rendering and added fluidity suggest that Webb has grown more comfortable working with effects than he was in the previous installment, and that familiarity allows him to inject an impressive amount of style into the mix as well. There are moments, especially during our heroís initial confrontation with Electro in Times Square, that allow the audience to glimpse the ìSpidey senseî that has gone on to become a part of the public lexicon, even outside of comic-book shops. Itís those little flourishes that help keep the action from feeling redundant, and the audience from growing restless.
Also more apparent this time out is Spideyís penchant for cracking wise while busting skulls. Those occasionally corny one-liners are a crucial component of his colorful personality, and though the zingers here could have packed a bit more wit, Garfieldís confident delivery still manages to earn a chuckle or two on sheer enthusiasm alone. And though few are likely to be laughing during the somber scenes that follow the final battle, the future for this series looks promising if Webb and company build on the emotional core of the story while pitting the web slinger against foes that have as much substance as style. Should they, unlike Raimi, manage to avoid stumbling in the final stretch, this team have a shot at delivering a series that could give that faulty trilogy a run for its money, despite the undisputed mastery of the latterís middle installment.
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