The Amazing Spider-Man 2
2.5 stars (out of four)
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 wears its goofiness like a big smiley face button, brazenly counting on character appeal to carry a story both dopey and mopey.
Darned if the strategy doesn’t succeed, but just barely. The rebooted Marvel Comics movie franchise still needs to convince us that a redo of Sam Raimi’s relatively recent Spider-Man trilogy was really necessary.
This latest blockbuster assault wins us over, or wears us down, by dint of fine actors who are clearly enjoying themselves, in a film that thankfully doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Adorable real-life couple Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone lead the charm offensive, as good guy Peter Parker/Spider-Man and his occasional gal Gwen Stacy. They play very well together, but their most impressive thespian feat may be in convincing us that Garfield, 30, and Stone, 25, can do characters who are graduating from high school.
Yang to their yin are a couple of well-cast newcomers, both connected to evil über-firm Oscorp: Jamie Foxx as the accident-prone electrical engineer who transforms into the energy-hurling supervillain Electro; and Dane DeHaan (Chronicle) as the bratty corporate heir with problems and ambitions too numerous to mention, but who needs some magical spider venom right now, dammit!
If returning director Marc Webb had left it at this, he’d have a much stronger film. The on-again, off-again romance between Peter and Gwen works both funny bone and tearducts, while the fight scenes between Spider-Man and Electro excite the eye and raise the pulse with well-choreographed action and smart CGI.
Oh, but Webb doesn’t leave it alone, and neither does his committee of screenwriters: clock-punching franchise scribes Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Star Trek and Transformers, both) and TV toiler Jeff Pinkner (Lost, Alias, Fringe).
None of these guys know the meaning of “enough.” They prove it with a bloated and revisionist narrative, running a bladder-testing 142 minutes, that seeks to swing like Spidey through New York’s skyscrapers, yet frequently crashes to Earth.
Struggling between farce and tragedy, it lards in unnecessary characters (Paul Giamatti’s bookending psycho truck driver), wallows in melodrama (Peter’s daisy-pulling dithering over Gwen), squanders talent (Sally Field’s feisty Aunt May, reduced to a shrill nag) and dispenses tired bromides (the “keep hope alive” refrain of several characters).
None of it really amounts to much, except to lead up to The Amazing Spider-Man 3, already in the works. All of this is set to an uninspiring score by Hans Zimmer, who sounds as if he borrowed it from a CNN special report theme.
To give Webb and his hired pens their due, though, they’re pretty much singing from the Marvel songbook and some 50 years of Spider-Man lore — and yep, Marvel legend Stan Lee makes another cameo.
These guys know they’re making a comic book movie and they’re unashamed of it, to the point where Spidey actually whistles his own theme song.
If Webb and his crew could have inserted white borders between every scene, I’ll bet they would have, and it might have made the plot feel less choppy.
They’ve also made Spidey every bit as sarcastic as he is in the comic series, which is what made him Marvel’s most popular superhero to begin with. Garfield seems to be easing into that side of the character more readily than Tobey Maguire did in the original trilogy, although — call me sentimental — I still prefer Maguire as Spidey and Raimi as director.
Or at least I did for the first of their two Spider-Man collaborations, released in the first decade of this century, which were both pretty great. The weird and annoying third one convinced me and many others that Maguire and Raimi were burned out and it was time to roll up Spidey’s webbing.
The rebooted franchise is now heading into a similar situation, which makes the prospect of yet another Garfield/Webb Spider-Man teaming seem something less than amazing.
This one gets by on charm and moxie, but the next one is going to need a whole lot more to impress. Like a good story, for instance.
Peter Howell is a syndicated Toronto Star movie critic.