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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 gives us a goofy hero with an improved love life

<i>The Amazing Spider-Man 2</i> gives us a goofy hero with an improved love life
Niko Tavernise/Columbia Pictures
Andrew Garfield stars in The Amazing Spider-man 2.

Since 2002, the year Sam Raimi's Spider-Man hit theaters, the other Spider-Man, the hero of the actual comic books, has joined the Avengers, revealed his secret identity to the world, and become a highly paid inventor who has engineered, among other marvels, a limitless energy source that science has dubbed "Parker Particles." He's met President Obama, traveled through time, and adventured with his counter-earth alter ego, a teenager of Latino and African-American descent. He's built Spider-Armor and a half-dozen new costumes; he's seen every single person in Manhattan develop spider powers at the same time, and endured flat-topped sumbitch newsman J. Jonah Jameson's election as the mayor of New York. (That happened while Spidey was larking about the Negative Zone with the Fantastic Four.) For the past thirty issues of Superior Spider-Man, Peter Parker's body and life have been taken over by the consciousness of Doctor Octopus, who, while wreaking consummate havoc, found time to earn Parker a Ph.D. and fall in love with a comely dwarf.

Movie Spider-Man, meanwhile, is still stuck solving the mystery of how he got his powers. Already as swollen as the liver of a foie-gras goose, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 devotes some 25 minutes to Peter Parker discovering the secret history behind the science-magic spider bite that made him so amazing. Here again, Spidey learns that those he loves most are in danger, and that with great power comes you-know-what, all while his rich-boy pal Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) struggles with the troubled inheritances – madness and Oscorp – that you may remember from Spider-Man 3, just two movies ago.

So, this Spider-Man does whatever a Spider-Man's done before — and during the cluttered, confusing, back-to-back climactic villain fights, he just does whatever. As he and it's-complicated girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) manipulate New York City's power grid to somehow bring down Electro (Jamie Foxx), the movie leaves it to you to figure out what's going on.

Still, not all is lost in this latest Spider-Man rebuilding year. The movie improves on its predecessor. Director Mark Webb and star Andrew Garfield give us a quipping Spider-Goof, a hero who's more a Bugs Bunny trickster than a grim ass-kicker.

His love life has brightened, too. While they continue their maybe/maybe-not romance, Peter and Gwen aren't mopey and inscrutable, as Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst were. Instead, they twitch and blush, joking about how achingly hot they are for each other even as they try to will themselves apart. These two feel so much at once that all of the emotion bunches up in their faces, like they're about to sneeze; both then take turns bending over, expelling a raw giggle, sneaking a frisky glance at the other.

Eventually, the sparkling lightness of the first hour darkens. Then the movie bloats up with mysteries and emotional crises, few of which develop with much power. In the long, sagging middle, there's no urgency connecting one sequence to the next, although the actors manage some grace notes — savor DeHaan's Harry Osborn turning from nice friend of Peter Parker's into a wolfish loon demanding that Spider-Man donate some blood to him. Never a disaster but only fitfully inspired, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 doesn't quite end well, but it does end promisingly, with hints of a huge supervillain team-up to come.

 
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