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Amazing Spider-Man 2 by Marc Webb (dir)
Review by Drew Bittner
Sony/Columbia Pictures  
Date: 02 May 2014 /

Peter Parker is now established as Spider-Man, but superhero success comes with a heavy price: he cannot be with the girl he loves, due to a promise made to her dying father. But without her, will he be able to fight the overwhelming power of Electro--or the newest supervillain in New York, the Green Goblin?

Amazing Spider-Man 2
Cast:
Andrew Garfield: Spider-Man / Peter Parker
Emma Stone: Gwen Stacy
Jamie Foxx: Electro / Max Dillon
Dane DeHaan: Green Goblin / Harry Osborn
Paul Giamatti: Rhino / Aleksei Sytsevich
Sally Field: Aunt May

Andrew Garfield reprises his stellar turn as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Amazing Spider-Man 2, taking his hero to the next point in his life and career. He's popular with the people of New York and dependable, whether it's for an armored car robbery by Russian thug Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti) or defending a kid from bullies. During that high-speed chase/fight, he rescues a meek electrical engineer, Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), who takes Spider-Man's friendly banter for a commitment to enduring friendship.

Despite Spider-Man's success, all Peter really wants is to be with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), a brainy and beautiful woman whose father extracted Peter's promise to stay away from her. Now, everywhere he goes, if Gwen crosses his mind, the spectre of Capt. Stacy (Denis Leary) is always there.

Dillon, meanwhile, is shown to be a genius who is overlooked, snubbed and abused at Oscorp, to the point of doing maintenance on an unsafe electrical conduit. A freak accident later, he is imbued with vast electromagnetic powers. He goes out into the city, causing mayhem when he taps into the electrical grid in Times Square, and provokes a confrontation that Spider-Man tries to defuse. Inevitably, Dillon (who renames himself "Electro") turns against his former hero with singleminded vengeance.

Oscorp has other problems, however, as its founder Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper) is dying of a genetic disease that runs in his family. He lives long enough to caution his son Harry (Dane DeHaan) and pass along his research--which involves work done by Richard Parker (Campbell Scott), Peter's long-dead father.

Harry and Peter reunite, resuming a friendship interrupted by Harry's long stay in far-off places, and things go well, until Harry demands that Peter enlist Spider-Man's help to fix his worsening condition. It isn't long before Harry unwisely goes to extremes to solve his own problem, setting in motion a chain of events that will shatter Spider-Man's life and forever change the city of New York.

Amazing Spider-Man 2 is nothing if not ambitious, covering lots and lots of ground in 142 minutes. We see Peter's parents, alluded to in the earlier film, and learn what happened to them; we see that Oscorp is a monster factory, of sorts, with bio- and cybertechnology far ahead of the cutting edge, and all of which could (heck, WILL) be harnessed to make supervillains; and we get the second chapter of a love story between two kids for whom it cannot work out.

The best of the film is the strong chemistry between Garfield and Stone. Real life boyfriend and girlfriend, they have a genuine spark that forms the beating heart of the movie. Their ups and downs make the movie work.

Jamie Foxx also delivers as Electro, a man whose social isolation has driven him to the edge of psychosis. When Spider-Man fails him, his hero worship curdles in an instant to bitter hatred, and his twin goals of making the world see him and getting revenge on Spider-Man resonate. He's not given an awful lot of development but Foxx makes the character work where a less talented actor might have fallen short; that said, even Foxx struggles in the third act, when Electro is more about pure destruction than a man with his own agenda.

Sally Field as Aunt May helps ground Peter in crucial moments, especially when she makes it clear she considers Peter her son...and that Peter's father may not have been as ideal as Peter wants to believe. She gives him the crucial hint to learn more about them, however, and if she has less to do than before, she makes up for it by visibly struggling with the loss of her much-loved husband Ben (Martin Sheen).

What doesn't work as well is the treatment given the other primary characters. Dane DeHaan is a terrific actor but Harry Osborn is underwritten and his transformation into the Green Goblin too abrupt. We don't get enough time to know the character before he's a cackling maniac eager to bring down Spider-Man (for his own reasons). DeHaan will have lots of screen time ahead to make Osborn more than a plot complication for Spider-Man, but it's not off to a great start.

Ditto Paul Giamatti, who gamely serves as Sytsevich, a dumb-as-rocks bad guy trying to steal plutonium for an Oscorp armored car. He's all force and no subtlety, so his eventual deployment as Rhino is no surprise. That said, in the comics, Rhino is a construct of steroids and hydraulics, not a guy in an armored suit. His cinematic version is less impressive than might have been. Again, he'll likely return in the proposed Sinister Six movie, so here's hoping that'll be better for him (and us) as well.

If the film suffers a real flaw, however, it lies in trying to do too much. There's really no need to shoehorn so much into one film--from Peter's parents to Oscorp boardroom drama to Electro's rampage and more--when the real emotion of the story lies between Peter and Gwen.

The above issues aside, it's an entertaining movie, with spectacular effects and some great character moments (Garfield really makes those work as Peter and Spider-Man both). Well worth seeing, for sure, but I suspect moviegoers will not consider it the best superhero movie of the summer.

Grade: B-

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