The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (***): If you can work it in

the-amazing-spiderman-2-new-poster

The Amazing Spider-Man 2: 2014

Director Marc Webb
Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Colm Feore, Paul Giamatti, Sally Field
Screenplay Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner

The opening segment of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems like it could really be fun. The actor most suited for the role, Andrew Garfield, is flying about, really putting everything he’s got into the physical and humorous nature of Peter Parker. His nemesis, Giamatti’s Aleksei Sytsevich is bland with a bad accent. For the first time in recent memory, one can solidly point to a Giamatti performance and say “this may be a mistake,” with growing certainty.  Wait a second, Limbo from Planet of the Apes…But he’s about to be put away for good by Spidey.

In the midst of all this gleeful abandon, Parker looks in a squad car and sees the ghost of his girlfriend’s father.  This is Denis Leary in a silent cameo (or two) that’s even more glowering than his performance in the first part of the rebooted series. His last words in that story weren’t as much for any feelings for his Gwen (Stone) as they were to put a damp dramatic blanket over the building fire of their relationship and the young superhero.

It works, if sucking the fun out of an action scene is considered success. It serves to repeat the awkward two-step at the close of The Amazing Spider-Man. From joy, we see immediate pain. Wait a few beats, then jump back to joy. Then the pain again. Awesome, but not really.

In the midst of this boring structure we get two other story lines. The first is Max Dillon. Max is Jamie Foxx in his hammy worst; a “nobody” saved by Spider-Man when he was in the process of embarrassing Sytsevich. Max decides to dedicate his free time to idolizing Spider-Man while talking to him incessantly as if he’s there. He’s the subject of ridicule by his co-workers at OsCorp, and guess who has to work on his own birthday. Soon enough, he’ll be Electro.  Just as dumb and crazy, but this time in many luminescent colors.

The owner of OsCorp, Norman Osborn (Cooper), is about to die. He was a mean guy, but the script-writers never show you how. Instead, we get an exposition that would drive the soul out of a healthy lad and heap it upon his son, Harry (DeHaan). The disease that has struck the father is also passed to young Harry.  He also inherits control of Oscorp, which places him in the sights of some bad guy (Feore) who is intent mainly on doing more bad stuff.

Meanwhile, Peter resumes his search for his father because, well, he needs something else to do in between scenes with Gwen. He also befriends Harry, for no real reason other than to be there when Harry decides that he needs Spider-Man’s blood. Then Harry decides that Electro needs his help.

We haven’t even reached the point where Sytsevich turns into Rhino.

As convoluted as the plot seems to be, Webb has a good grip on what Spider-Man’s world must look like. His pacing is uneven, but it would take a miracle to make the mess of a plot into something comprehensible.

Stone.Stone is not my choice for a love interest in Spidey, but her chemistry with her real life beau Garfield is obvious. This is all undone by the scene intended to be funny.  When Spider-Man ties her to the back of her car, and she call’s him Peter, it is so forced as to be completely unsettling. It takes the last quarter of the film to undo it.

One thing they do right in is the sequencing of fights in the last 30 minutes. Taking them one at a time instead of all at once, we are spared the confusion of that we experienced the last time we had so many nemeses in a Spider-Man film. The third Raimi film could have used one less bad guy (Sand Man was a chore), but this time it feels like we only had two.

Foxx’s Electro may be the worst antagonist since Arnold’s Mr. Freeze (other suggestions are welcome). He never feels as much a menace as he feels like an actor who was once featured in the movie Booty Call.

DeHaan is not much better as Green Goblin. He chews the scenery with ferocity, almost as if he forgot his measured performance in Chronicle that paved the way for his landing this role. To be fair, though, I am completely tired of Green Goblin by now, and almost as tired of the web slinger himself. Don’t get me started on Aunt Mae as a nurse when she really is only qualified to be a Walmart Greeter.

That’s the real problem with The Amazing Spider-Man series. The ending is set up for sequels, but the lackluster box office performance in North America has lead to its sequel being pushed from 2016 to an unspecified date in 2018. Some argue that they are making The Sinister Six. That sounds like a great idea. But so did putting Giamatti in a Rhino outfit after he’d already done so brilliantly as an ape.

For all it’s faults, the movie still has it’s moments, especially its dramatic conclusion. There is a real consequence to all this flinging around and it gives the movie more gravity than Spider-Man has faced since the original Uncle Ben bit the dust outside the library. It’s unclear how we’re going to get a smart alack Spidey out of this, but for one moment, we didn’t care.

(*** out of *****)

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