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Film Review: "The Amazing Spider-Man 2"

The tangled web he weaves


The new entry in the seemingly endless series of films emanating from the Marvel Comics factory demonstrates once again the level of maturity that the film industry expects from its target audience and also presumably the sort of content those audiences expect in today's cinema. "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" -- actually the second volume in the second trilogy of the ongoing arachnoid adventures -- pretty much repeats everything from the previous movies, hardly advancing the action, the characters, or the themes, such as they are, of the grand saga.

The movie opens with yet another expository retelling of the Peter Parker story, this time showing his scientist father (Campbell Scott) abandoning his beloved son to the care of his Aunt May (Sally Field) for mysterious reasons, then engaging in a deadly physical struggle aboard a corporate jet. The action then shifts to the present day, when on his way to his high school graduation Peter (Andrew Garfield) saves a number of New Yorkers, including a great many policemen, from an insane terrorist (Paul Giamatti) driving an armored truck loaded with plutonium, obviously intent on creating some disharmony in midtown Manhattan. That event initiates the familiar series of Spider-Man's dramatic rescues, stopping speeding vehicles, snatching people from harm's way, wrapping bad guys in his patented webs, and so on.

Aside from that predictable material, most of the movie revolves around the Osborn Company, owned by Peter's friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), formerly the employer of his father, the current employer of his girlfriend, Gwen (Emma Stone), the source of all the film's plots, and the birthplace of the antagonists. Peter's father first created the substance that transformed his son while working in the Osborn laboratory; a nerdy techie named Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) metamorphoses into a monster called Electro in the Osborn building; and drippy Harry turns himself into our old friend, the Green Goblin, in the same lab.

In a city that somehow survives the destruction regularly created by superheroes and their adversaries in a dozen blockbusters, the bad guys wreak their usual havoc -- Spidey once again neutralizes the crazy terrorist, this time inhabiting a huge armored robot, and fights an epic battle with Electro, ultimately turning him into Explodo. The Green Goblin flies in near the end, creating a tragic circumstance for the web guy, and clearly promising to pop up in the next flick, which should please millions of fans.

Of all the Marvel Comics heroes, Spider-Man appeals the most to young boys, who dream of possessing a secret identity, defeating bullies, rescuing pretty young women from evil, while swooping and soaring gracefully through the canyons of a great city. At the same time the character's adolescent angst, his sense of abandonment, his colossal self-pity, his emotional vulnerability provide an appropriate model with which young people can easily identify.

Beyond all the usual chases, shootouts, fireworks, stunts, and the sort of optical effects that make Spidey's movements graceful and thrilling, the people hardly stand out.  Andrew Garfield possesses considerably more presence than the wispy Tobey Maguire, but nobody else transcends the shallow characterization of the comic books. A couple of the actors, notably Paul Giamatti and Dane DeHaan, compensate for their limited dimensions by overacting outrageously.

On the other hand, "Spider-Man 2" may be the weepiest of all the franchise, positively awash in tears. Peter Parker cries over his parents' abandonment, then when he discovers the truth of their devotion, and again when tragedy strikes at the end of his adventure. Aunt May cries when she speaks of her difficult life, the loss of her husband Ben, the sacrifices she made in raising Peter, and when admitting a certain understandable bitterness about the whole damned situation. All the tugging at the heartstrings seems quite inappropriate for a comic book blockbuster.

Finally, for such an entirely predictable story, which should offer absolutely no surprises to Spider-Man fans, the script crams in a bundle of plots, as if the filmmakers worried that a straightforward adventure with all the usual spectacular material simply wasn't quite enough. As a result, the characters and plots keep accumulating, some of them without much explanation or any sense of continuity and connection -- despite their appeal, Spidey and Green Goblin somehow need something more.