The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Opens Fri., May 2 at Ark Lodge, Majestic Bay, Sundance, and other theaters. Rated PG-13. 140 minutes.
Every few years in China, a huge new wave of young filmgoers discovers American pop culture for the first time. They send us iPhones, steel, and washing machines; we send them disposable superheroes in return. Tobey Maguire’s Spidey is long forgotten, just as are the Batman actors before Christian Bale. The Hollywood product cycle grows ever shorter, and we’re already two-thirds of the way through the Andrew Garfield era. Will anyone miss him when he’s gone?
The furrowed brow and sulking, not so much. If Maguire was all open-faced wonder about his accidental arachnid skill set, Garfield’s more of a brooder—Peter Parker hiding in his room despite the entreaties of Aunt May (Sally Field). He’s given a welcome few goofy grace notes with girlfriend Gwen (Emma Stone), but most of the time we’re watching his masked CG avatar swing seamlessly through Manhattan canyons, not the actual thespian. The dazzling computer effects have advanced so far from the Sam Raimi/Maguire pictures that most viewers won’t even notice the absence. Everything slowly builds after a zingy first hour to a two-part finale that’s more coded than directed. Where are the actors? No one cares.
Neither do Garfield, Stone, their castmates, or director Marc Webb. Returning from Part I, his reputation based on the gossamer rom-com (500) Days of Summer, Webb keeps the tone light, caps the sulking, and limits the inside jokes. The plot and dialogue are elementary—subtitles not required anywhere on the planet. There’s no sex and hardly any blood to Gwen and Peter’s adventures; these two collegians have a wholesome, early-’60s optimism that matches the Marvel origins of this teenage superhero. Both love science with an earnest, Space Age fervor. When Gwen speaks of a prospective Oxford scholarship, she’s more excited than a girl showing off her new nail polish.
Amid this big satisfying bucket of popcorn, one appreciates the burnt kernels and flowerings of various careers. Unquestionably on their way up are Stone and Dane DeHaan (as Peter’s pal/nemesis). On his way down is Jamie Foxx, barely recognizable as a blue-glowing electrical supervillain. Providing hidden value in small roles are Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz (as Peter’s parents in an extended action prologue), Chris Cooper (spot the cameo . . . ), Colm Feore (oily corporate Iago), Denis Leary (ghost) and Paul Giamatti (sure, what the hell, I’ll shave my head to play a Russian goon). Garfield’s stock is more of a hold than a buy; after 2016’s series-ender, he’ll have to tack hard in a non-Spandex direction. Given the money invested in Spidey’s aerial ballets with the camera (totally untethered, as in Gravity), it’s nice to see the budget padded with so many pros.
And a final word about value: While this enjoyable sequel is no Gravity, it’s worth the 3-D IMAX ticket price. The movie was designed for such scale, for maximum spectacle, for export. Peter jokes with Gwen about following her to London, but why stop there? Kill the nagging Aunt May already and give that parochial kid a passport. The Eiffel Tower, pyramids, and Great Wall await.