Monday, May 5, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Almost all the joy that Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone brought to the rebooted "The Amazing Spider-Man" two years ago has been sucked out of the fun-free zone that is "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," which makes up in volubility what it lacks in coherence and dramatic thrust.

Strangely, the movie runs two and a half hours, and often seems to run in slow motion, yet it doesn't feel torturously long, probably because the story is so threadbare. (Usually overcomplicated plot machinations are to blame for a blockbuster's hemorrhoidal squirminess.) Unlike many, I do like Garfield in the part (or maybe I just like the idea of a real actor as the face of a superhero franchise), but not even his key strength - emotional sensitivity that makes Peter Parker's anguish and doubt plausible - can salvage scenes with Sally Field as his Aunt May that are so syrupy they can give you diabetes, or the terminally square wisecracks Spidey fires off while protecting a bullied kid and an Oscorp employee (Jamie Foxx) whose blueprints have tumbled out of his hands onto the street.

This last character, Max Dillon, has to be one of the most off-puttingly creepy in recent movies, not to mention (for an engineer) operating at a childlike developmental level. (After Spidey collects his papers for him, he thinks they're best friends; later, when he and Stone's Gwen Stacy ride up the 100-story Oscorp elevator together, he's amazed she remembers his name, which he told her at the lobby level.) After a fall into a tank of electric eels turns Max into Electro, director Marc Webb and three writers trump up the slightest of perceived slights to provide motivation for Electro's battle royale with Spidey. What on Earth is an actor as good as Jamie Foxx doing, besides cashing a paycheck, in this god-awful, humorless part? Dane DeHaan plays Harry, the washout (and washed-out) son of Oscorp founder Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper), who suddenly and purposelessly morphs into the Green Goblin for a second and equally unenjoyable climactic showdown. (This follows a scene in which he recruits Electro, implorng him to break out of the shackles of Oscorp's Dr. Kafka, leaving us to wonder why he didn't simply do so an hour earlier.) 

Garfield and Stone - and the chemistry between them (they're off-screen sweeties) -- are the best things about "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," though the character of Gwen, while smart, remains highly reactive; these days, we often know women in movies are smart only because their jobs - or they themselves, explicitly - tell us so. I gave "The Amazing Spider-Man" three stars and had high hopes for this next installment, but it's too patently a placeholder ("3" is already in the works). Not enough work and heart went into making it a stand-alone entertainment.

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