Spidey is competent but not so ‘Amazing’

McClatchyMay 2, 2014 

If there’s a tie that binds most of the characters of the Marvel Universe together, it’s the mutability of the supposedly immutable human body. Characters are poisoned by radiation, zapped by electricity, bitten by spiders or broken, crushed, ruined or whatever.

As Spider-Man cracks in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” just “shake it off. It’s just your bones, muscles ... .”

But the real world doesn’t work like that. That’s one reason this comic book world has such a lasting appeal. Bullies are foiled, criminals are caught and great wrongs righted with supernatural intervention by supernaturally augmented humans.

“Amazing 2” is kind of about that. It’s a violent film, with blood and death in between the digitally-animated brawls. Human bodies are tortured and broken, and there’s not always a web-slinger there to stop that flipping police car, that hurtling bus, that Russian psychopath or that jet that’s about to crash.

It’s not an altogether pleasant experience. Things tend to drag as director Marc Webb has problems with focus, keeping the many story threads straight and continuity (watch Gwen Stacy’s outfits). Many otherwise faceless extras pop off the screen as if he’s about to give their nameless characters the same significance as Stan Lee himself, who always has cameos in Marvel films.

But Andrew Garfield finds his voice as the character, making his second try at Peter Parker a caffeinated wise-cracker, enjoying his notoriety, talking to himself just like the guy in the comic book. He’s funny.

Clueless Aunt May (Sally Field) wonders why he has soot all over his face.

“I was … cleaning the chimney!”

“We HAVE no chimney!”

Peter hums Spider-Man’s theme song and hurls himself into situations with a teen’s recklessness. He almost misses his and Gwen’s (Emma Stone) high school graduation, dealing with a villain named Aleksei (Paul Giamatti).

But even though he doesn’t carry the angst of Tobey Maguire’s Spidey, Peter has problems. He sees Gwen’s late dad (Denis Leary) everywhere he looks, and remembers his promise to the dead cop to distance himself from his daughter because of the danger.

Peter hasn’t seen the opening scene in the movie, in which we flash back to Peter’s parents’ (Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz) grisly deaths. And Peter has no idea that his great chemistry with long lost rich-kid pal Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) will go nowhere, because some of us remember 2002’s “Spider-Man” and how Harry turns out.

Jamie Foxx is an ignored, humiliated electrical engineer who has an accident involving electric eels and power lines. That transforms him from a Spider-Man fanboy into a glowing blue guy in a hoodie. In the ethos of this movie, Peter/Spidey reasons with the tormented villains, trying to connect with the doomed rich kid (Osborn) or this “nobody” engineer.

“You’re not a nobody, you’re SOMEbody!”

Except for Giamatti’s Russian. He’s just … bad.

Webb relies again on the 3-D (and IMAX) flying effects to cover the rough patches — and there are many — in “Amazing 2.” While Garfield and Stone have a nice sass to their scenes, Webb can do nothing to give this relationship the longing and heat of the Kirsten Dunst/Maguire moments from the earlier films.

And Webb’s team of screenwriters don’t find any pathos in all this computer-animated flying and fighting, not until the finale.

So while this “Spider-Man” is, if anything, more competent than the first film, it’s still not one that demands that you stick around after the credits. There’s nothing there.

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2

H H H 1/2 I

Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Sally Field, Paul Giamatti

Director: Marc Webb

Running time: 2:20

Rated: PG-13; sequences of sci-fi action/violence

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