Film review: Spider-Man sequel comes up woefully short

Comic book movies are not going away anytime soon. We just wish they were better than The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Two and a half stars

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan. Directed by Marc Webb. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.

When Sony executives decided to reboot their Spider-Man franchise in 2012, they did so with a rehash of the superhero’s origin story, combined with a disappointing final act battling an unimpressive villain. The new sequel The Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn’t burdened with another retelling of Spider-Man’s origin, but it still manages to be just as forgettable as its predecessor, with a poorly paced story built around two lackluster villains and an underserved central love story.

Since Sony is so determined to build Spider-Man’s world into its own superhero universe (see sidebar), a lot of what happens in ASM2 is just fodder for future movies, and the main plot is a jumbled mess. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is firmly established as New York City’s web-slinging superhero, but the movie is an origin story nevertheless, devoting significant time to the development of villains Electro (Jamie Foxx) and the Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan).

Like the first movie’s Lizard, these are some pretty underwhelming antagonists for Spider-Man, and returning director Marc Webb and the four credited screenwriters never make the characters’ personal connections to Peter Parker feel real. Foxx’s Max Dillon is an insecure engineer who longs for attention, while DeHaan’s Harry Osborn is a spoiled rich kid with a terminal disease. Both are portrayed as victims of circumstance, but it’s hard to feel sympathy for them when they jump right to megalomania after a few hurt feelings. After the amount of buildup they get for their villainy, their evil plans are anticlimactic, without any real sense of danger for Spider-Man or the residents of New York City (despite a familiar-from-comics tragedy toward the end of the movie).

The film is on slightly more solid ground with the relationship between Peter and longtime girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), but even that falls victim to the cluttered storytelling. The bumps in Peter and Gwen’s romance feel contrived, but when they’re together, Garfield and Stone have strong chemistry, giving their somewhat dopey dialogue the ring of wittier banter. The filmmakers strain to get Gwen involved in the big action climax, but once she’s there, her presence actually serves a valuable narrative purpose.

That’s more than can be said for many of the movie’s other aspects, including lengthy flashbacks to the final days of Peter’s parents, which only draw out the origin-story elements that seemed to have concluded with the first movie. Nothing really ends this time around, and yet nothing is memorable enough to create anticipation for the inevitable flood of sequels and spinoffs, either.

Webb once again shows occasional visual flair (his scenes of Spider-Man swinging around Manhattan have a rush of first-person intensity), but mostly he delivers a rote superhero blockbuster. Spider-Man himself exhibits signs of a more distinctive personality early in the movie, as (much like his comic-book counterpart) he jokes and quips his way through a battle with the man who will become the villainous Rhino (Paul Giamatti), but soon he’s back to brooding seriousness. Like everyone else involved in this movie, he’s just going through the motions.

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