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Movie review: 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2'

People love superheroes, and they especially love Spider-Man.  Simple as that.  Put together a halfway decent movie that has Spidey in it, with a performance in the lead role as good as what Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield have provided, and the audiences will come.  

It’s fun just to watch Spidey swing around the city, fighting crime and meeting up with New Yorkers.  “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” has some excellent scenes like that, but unfortunately it’s groaning under the weight of too many subplots, too many super-villains, and maybe a bit too much stuck-in-a-rut breakup chatter between Peter Parker and his girlfriend, Gwen Stacy.  They’re great together, but Spider-Man’s agony about the danger his crime-fighting avocation puts Gwen into is too drawn-out.  It would have been better to include more encounters with average people on the street – the cop who thinks Spidey’s a dangerous amateur, the firefighter who thanks God that old Web-Head was around to rescue people from a burning building – and stop repeating Peter and Gwen’s goodbye speeches on endless loop.

Part 2 of the rebooted Spider-Man trilogy ends up being halfway decent because it’s 50 percent too long.  It feels like two scripts had a midair collision.  Strangely enough, the screenwriters seem to have taken the worst of Sam Raimi’s original trilogy, “Spider-Man 3,” and of all things the ghastly Joel Schumacher “Batman” films as their inspiration.  Campy, childlike, over-the top villains deliver quippy monologues.  Many of the pivotal character moments don’t make much sense.  (Peter Parker is awfully willing to let his old pal Harry Osborn die from a horrible disease.)  The Green Goblin basically takes over the Under-Cooked Extraneous Antagonist role from Venom in “Spider-Man 3,” while our main bad guy Electro is basically a combination between Sandman from that film, and the Riddler from Schumacher’s “Batman Forever.”  

If you’ve seen the posters that illustrate old Spidey nemesis The Rhino as Villain Number 3, you might laugh out loud at how he actually gets used in the movie.  No other supervillain has yet been so brutally short-changed.  Also, Dennis Leary drops by to pick up the easiest paycheck in cinema history.

There’s plenty of fun in this loooooong movie despite its script problems, particularly Spider-Man’s opening pursuit of plutonium thieves, and his first battle against Electro.  Any time our wall-crawling hero is slinging webs, the fun factor spikes marvelously.  Garfield plays the hero a bit closer to the way he’s portrayed in the comics than Maguire did, including his constant stream of taunts and wisecracks while he’s fighting bad guys, and he’s got the Noo Yawk vibe down pat.  The special effects are top-notch, particularly the inventive way Spider-Sense is portrayed.

Jamie Foxx does his best with a painfully thankless role as Electro, a seemingly harmless dweeb whose fanboy crush on Spidey sours into savage hatred with psychotic speed.  He is, as mentioned above, a fundamentally childish character, a little kid’s crayon sketch of a super-villain, and for all his power, he’s just never as menacing as any of the villains in Sam Raimi’s earlier trilogy.  It’s not helping the new movies that they swapped out Raimi’s operatic Green Goblin saga for a swiftly retconned, diffident friendship between Peter and Harry, followed by some underwhelming super-villainy.  Dane DeHaan, who plays Harry, is really good at doing what this movie wants him to do, but we never get to know him or feel his inner strife, the way we did with the tortured psychic teen he played in “Chronicle.”

There’s a whole subplot about Peter Parker’s dead parents – never a presence in either the comics or the Raimi films – that eats up gobs of screen time in both this movie and its predecessor, but doesn’t really go anywhere interesting.  Another glob of the butt-numbing running time is devoted to setting up future movies, reportedly including a planned supervillain jamboree about the Sinister Six, a group of Spider-Man’s defeated foes who get the bright idea to join forces against him.  (Unfortunately for them, psychopathic super-powered criminals really don’t work well together.)  Besides echoing the other super-hero movies mentioned above, ASM2 has a bit of the “stage-setting” vibe that hurt “Iron Man 2.”  It looks like we’ll be getting the same thing from the planned “Man of Steel” sequel, which is going to set up over half a dozen DC Comics properties.  Everyone wants a piece of that lucrative “Avengers” shared-universe action.

No doubt about it though, beneath the bloat there’s plenty of good Spider-Man action in the second outing of his second trilogy, and that’s enough to recommend it to the millions of people who love the guy.  What other super-hero whistles his own theme song while punching out a thug?  And who else but your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man would be generous enough to give part of his movie’s closing credits to an entirely different band of comic-book characters?

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