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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Perfunctory 'Amazing Spider-Man 2' struggles to strike sparks

FOXX N SHOCKS: Andrew Garfield and Jamie Foxx in The Amazing Spider-Man 2
  • Courtesy of Sony
  • FOXX 'N' SHOCKS: Andrew Garfield and Jamie Foxx in 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2'
The success of The Avengers and other hits of superheroic cinema has ensured that comic book movies will be crowding into the cineplex for years, whether or not the audiences want to see them - or even if the studios want to make them. And while it may not be fair to call The Amazing Spider-Man 2 a cash-grab - Hollywood doesn't make any superhero movie out of charity - it feels like an uninspired bridge to other installments in a franchise than a passion project in its own right.

Sony only made 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man in the first place to keep the rights for the character, and following the model of Marvel Studios, has announces plans for an interlocking film series in the continuity including Spidey-free spinoffs like the villain team The Sinister Six. Directed by Marc Webb, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 proves so interested in long-term world-building, it neglects the story we're actually watching.

Andrew Garfield reprises the title role, who enjoys the love of New York City as the costumed crime-fighter and the love of brainy beauty Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) in true identity of Peter Parker. Unfortunately, he's haunted by memories of Gwen's father, a police captain who died in previous film after making Peter swear to keep his safely away from his dangerous life. Peter grapples with his love for Gwen and desire to protect her, while also pursuing the mystery of his parents' mysterious death.

The film's villains feel only tenuously connected to the heart of the story. Peter reconnects with old friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), the heir to Oscorp, a huge corporation that's the Source Of All Evil in this particular setting. Harry also learns that he's the heir to a fatal illness and intuits that Spider-Man's blood may be the only key to his cure.

Meanwhile, Jamie Foxx plays Oscorp's least-respected employee Max Dillon, a nebbishy and exploited electrical engineer whom Spider-Man rescues while foiling a robbery. Max becomes an obsessive Spider-Fan but falls into a vat of electric eels (a plot point somehow even dumber than character's comic book origins) and becomes a glowing, scaly mutant with name Electro.

An accidental menace to public safety whose hero worship of Spider-Man turns to hate, Electro can shoot lightning bolts, see electric currents and eventually convert his body to electricity. The film's special effects prove generally imaginative and well-executed, with two knockout fight scenes in Times Square and at a power plant.

The previous film built a solid coming-of-age through-line with Peter learning his way thanks to the influence of multiple father figures. Amazing 2 feels far more uncertain and awkwardly alternates between storylines. Webb seems confounded by the film's tonal shifts. The Harry Osborn subplot plays like a downbeat night-time soap opera, and DeHaan relishes the role of the sneering scion. But the Max Dillon stuff unfolds like ill-advised comedy, from his bumbling introductory scenes to weirdly campy scenes later, when a German caricature named "Dr. Kafka" tortures Electro in an asylum. It's like a flashback to the Joel Schumacher Batman movies.

With right leading man as an anchor, Amazing 2 could earn a pass. Unfortunately, Garfield's method-acting tics subsume a once likeable character. He mumbles, he repeats lines for DeNiro-like emphasis, he does too much with his face and struggles with a supposedly Queens accent. While he came across as a vulnerable adolescent in the first film, here he seems to have a childish lack of impulse control. He'd be impossible to root for without Spider-Man's appealing concern for his fellow New Yorkers.

And Garfield makes an admittedly nice foil to the adorable Emma Stone playing a character who rejects the role of "damsel in distress" at every opportunity. Amazing 2 should earn some credit for its willingness to go in some more serious directions by the end, but doesn't really earn the darker themes. Meanwhile, other members of Spider-Man's rogue's gallery show up for appearances so brief, they seem only intended to set up The Sinister Six film. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 makes you wonder why they didn't just skip ahead to the film they really wanted to make.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2. 2 stars. Directed by Marc Webb. Stars Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone. Rated PG-13. Opens May 2. At area theaters.

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