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Even with a 73% on Rotten Tomatoes, a 7.2 on IMDB, and a 66 on Metacritic, it’s almost universally agreed that The Amazing Spider-Man was mostly garbage. Despite electric chemistry between stars Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, the story bowed to the whim of the bizarre and childish, painting a doltish picture that recycled much of Sam Raimi‘s 2002 original. That is when it wasn’t involved with a villain’s pea-brained attempts to turn the residents of NYC into lizards. It was so inexplicably dumb that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 finds Harry Osborn – as a penitent mouthpiece for director Marc Webb – pointing out the absurdity of the reboot’s web-footed plotting. Thankfully this latest iteration will leave children and adults stupefied for a (mostly) different reason.

Since the events of the first film, Spider-Man has become a symbol of hope, a harbinger of otherwise overlooked justice, a vestige of good. Hell there’s even a scene where he interrupts a gang of bullies picking on a schoolyard nerd. Topical with potential real world impact? Double check.

As the weight of his promise to “keep Gwen out of it” weighs heavily upon him, his most meaningful relationship is in a constant state of “Whosawhatsis?” Even in the midst of his own high school graduation, he blows off Gwen and his awaiting diploma to put down Aleksei Sytsevich – Paul Giamatti sporting a deliciously xenophobic Russian accent. It’s clear that Spider-Man is his priority numero uno.

During that riotous downtown spectacle, Spidey saves Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) who goes on to court an unhealthy obsession with Spider-Man that eventually evolves into electric-charged malice. More on this later. Between reacquainting with old pal Harry (Dane DeHaan), piecing together the clues of his parent’s mysterious past, getting it on with Gwen, beating down Electro, making skrilla with freelance photography, keeping hordes of bullies at bay, and you know, just being f*cking Spider-Man, there’s a spider lot on his spider plate. Little does he spider know that his little spider world is about to get totally spider rocked. End plot summary. 

Webb and his team of vix effects gurus have upped the ante by a significant margin, making Spider-Man’s in-air acrobatics simply stunning when not entirely nerdtastically jaw-dropping. Webb manages to offer a taste of variety in Spidey’s web slinging action, slowing things Synder-style or occasionally stopping time (it’s the web time to The Matrix‘s bullet time) and zipping around what blocking this way comes to fulfill a sense of Parker’s preternatural senses.

In doing so, his peppy camerawork mostly draws dumbstruck excitement but even manages to milk some dramatic gravitas, that is until Spidey’s web shooters go dry – or short-circuit. Webb’s direction sings when he stops the clock but its his knack for staging the big set pieces with rich, tactile aplomb that make him so perfectly suited for the job. Though Spider-Man will likely never be the best of the supers, what Webb is doing with his actions scenes (which are surprisingly sparse throughout the film) is certainly next level.

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But like Webb’s direction, Garfield and his cast of cohorts have also matured a bit, to the many thanks of this audience member. Without a noxious Denis Leary (though he does appear in ghost form) and a wasted Rhys Ifans cluttering up the stage, this installment makes way for a crew of all around better characters and welcomes the continued adoration of those cheering for the Gwen Stacy/Peter Parker (is that abbreviated to Pewen or Gweener?) romance. It results in a Spider-Man movie that’s notably darker, more confident and markedly better than its predecessor. But that doesn’t mean it’s not without its faults.

Thanks to Sony’s heinous marketing blitz that knew no bounds, I fully expected to be guffawing at Jamie Foxx’s transbluescent Electro and thoroughly put off by yet another iteration of The Green Goblin (the third in 12 years) but they were unexpected easy highlights of the film. What I did not expect was to be face-palming over the repetitive nature of Gweener’s intimate scenes. Their on-again-off-again love fumble harkens to Raimi’s annoying Mary Jane/Peter Parker ‘will they or won’t they’ saga but I guess I should just expect Parker to be as inconsistent about his girlfriends as he is about his attitude. Seriously, this guy is pretty much full-blown bipolar.

Oscillating between nice guy with face-breaking grin to prissy grumbler flinging things across the room like he’s Honey Boo-Boo three slices of Dark Forest cake deep, Peter Parker would benefit greatly from a chill pill. Since much of the film is dedicated to his wavering attachment to Gwen, Peter’s pretty much stuck on “mope” setting. Yet as Spiderman, he’s got more whip to his wisecracks than Mr. Epps in a cotton field. We see the seams between Webb’s (500) Days of Summer ways colliding with the action figure slinging studio heads.

Everything is cherries and cream inside that spandex onesie and yet whenever he peeks his head out of his costume, his real world problems weigh him down tremendously. Threading together Spider-Man’s iconic quip-heavy persona with a decidedly angsty Peter creates some tonal inconstancy that the film never manages to resolve.

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A similar complaint can be directed at the villain department. With two full villain arcs to charge through, neither Max Dillon/Electro or Harry Osburn/The Green Goblin are given ample time to settle before they’re shaken up and thrown ravenous at NYC.

For a man whose powers come from bathing in a pack of radioactive electric eels, Dillon/Electro’s initial hesitation about his role was actually surprisingly potent. Rather than immediately turn to evil (here’s looking at you Mr. Osburn) he’s like a man transported into the body of a bear, unaware of his true potential and yet armed to defend himself against hostile enemies. His puppy dog introduction wins over our sympathy even if his whole “destroy everything” mantra that later comes into play seems inorganic and cheap. As Dillon/Electro, Foxx embraces the ridiculous elements of a big blue dude made of electricity but never embarrasses his Academy Award trophy in the process.

And though Harry Osborn’s transition would have been much better and carried more gravity had he been introduced earlier in this iteration of Spider-Man, Dane DeHaan does magnificent work in his glider-bound shoes. Seriously, this guy is a revelation, smugly arriving on the scene to show up the smattering of veteran talent surrounding him. I’ve always loved DeHaan’s dramatic work but really appreciate something so campy and unhinged from him. He’s soulful but deeply maniacal, a Joker-lite. Is it too early to call him a menacing, young version of Leo? Time will tell.

Even set to the background noise of Webb and Garfield pondering leaving the series sooner rather than later, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 does move the puck forward a significant amount, setting up future installments that look to deviate further and further from Raimi’s beloved trilogy (ok first two are beloved, third is deservedly reviled.) With certain characters still in play and others notably missing from the picture, I have to admit that I’m actually looking forward to what’s next (especially the unorthodox sounding Sinister Six movie) rather than simply awaiting another mandatory installment…or four.  

C+

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