Movie review: 'Amazing Spider-Man 2' spins a too-familiar tale
Saying that a franchise-building blockbuster is formulaic is like accusing the ocean of being wet but, still, could "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" have tried to shake things up a little?
Director Marc Webb follows up his 2012 reboot of Marvel's durable comic-book character with a movie that screams "more of the same" particularly when it comes to action sequences, computer-animated effects and the near-miss romance between teen sweethearts Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone).
But too many elements are too goofy for a movie that, ultimately, aims to explore and expand the tragic-heroic dimension of the Spider-Man mythology.
We get a taste of that tragedy in a prologue, showing the final hours of Peter's parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz), before swinging wildly into Peter's happy-go-lucky existence as Spider-Man. He's running late to his high-school graduation, where Gwen is valedictorian, so he can nab some thugs (led by Paul Giamatti) trying to heist some plutonium in Manhattan.
Peter foils the bad guys and makes it in time to pick up his diploma and plant a smooch on Gwen. Soon, though, Peter and Gwen have broken up over Peter's fears of endangering her with his crime-fighting.
Those fears are well-founded, as new menaces emerge from the nasty conglomerate Oscorp which Peter's old friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) has just inherited. Harry believes his rare genetic disorder could be cured by obtaining a sample of Spider-Man's blood, and he becomes enraged when Spidey says no. Meanwhile, an accident at Oscorp has turned nerdy engineer Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) into a new supervillain: the lightning-throwing Electro.
It took four writers the superteam of Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci ("Star Trek Into Darkness") and Jeff Pinkner ("Lost"), with story credit also going to James Vanderbilt ("White House Down") to put together a story that feels assembled from the blueprints of every other action blockbuster.
The action scenes serve as mileposts: one at the beginning, one in the middle and the big enchilada at the end. You could set your watch to the action beats, except you'd keep checking to see if your watch stopped, because the dialogue scenes between the explosions are so sluggishly paced.
The film drops hints of massive conspiracies involving Oscorp, as well as nods toward other icons in the Spider-Man canon. These moments are great for the fanboys who read the comic books and can interpret the signs. But for the rest of us, they're teasers for future blockbusters.
Webb's tonal shifts, moving from action drama to slapsticky comedy, are jarring. Foxx suffers the most from this, as he tries in vain to connect the comically geeky Max to the scary and psychopathic Electro.
The brightest bits of "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" come in the final half-hour, mostly from what Stone brings to the party. She works, against the script and decades of film tradition, to keep Gwen from being just another distressed damsel and gives the movie the emotional gravity Webb has failed to generate in the first 90 minutes.
'The Amazing Spider-Man 2'
Marvel's web-spinning crime-fighter is back in an action blockbuster that sticks too close to the formula.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens Friday.
Rating • PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence.
Running time • 142 minutes.