Buckle up, true believers — the summer movie season has officially arrived. While April’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier unofficially inducted the season, Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is here to kick off a month that includes Neighbors, Godzilla, and X-Men: Days of Future Past. If those titles aren’t enough to whet our appetites, I don’t know what is. Returning from the first Amazing Spider-Man, director Mark Webb delivers the grand spectacle we’ve come to expect from a superhero movie, while also finally following up on his rom-com promise after his brilliant Sundance debut (500) Days of Summer. The biggest surprise may be that one of the year’s best romances comes packaged with all the flash and sparkle of a summer blockbuster.
Spider-Man 2 kicks off with a few more tidbits about Peter Parker’s (Andrew Garfield) awol parents, Richard and Mary (Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz), who are trying to upload a file to the something mysteriously referred to as “Roosevelt,” before being killed off. In the present, Peter loves being our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Even if it means getting caught up in a high-speed chase/shootout involving Aleksai Systevich (Paul Giamatti) trying to steal plutonium on the way to his high school graduation missing Gwen Stacy’s (Emma Stone) valedictorian speech. Peter is haunted by the death of Gwen’s father at the hands of The Lizard and is torn to keep the promise he made to the dying Captain to stay away from Gwen for her safety.
Eventually, Gwen breaks up with Peter and may be leaving for England to attend Oxford. On the villain front, Oscorp electrical engineer Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) has a Riddler-esque introduction leading to him turning into the deadly Electro and Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) has returned from boarding school to take over Oscorp after his father Norman (Chris Cooper) informs him he’s passed on a genetic disease that will kill him. Harry figures out that the only thing that can save him is Spider-Man’s blood, and Electro wants to get back at Oscorp for stealing his electrical design and covering up his supposed death.
If this all sounds like a case of sequelitis — where everyone is out to prove more is better — it is and isn’t. Things thankfully never get too convoluted or overcrowded. They could have had Mary Jane Watson been introduced, but I think Webb took the right road to clear the air for the Peter/Gwen relationship. Talk about an adorable on-screen couple, their relationship is the saving grace in amidst all the flashing lights and computer generated mayhem. The rest of the cast look like they’re having a ball, even if DeHaan is a bit stiff in his early scenes. As he starts to succumb to his degenerative disease and Harry starts to become more desperate he certainly loosens up. And the big action scenes definitely deliver on your ticket price.
Does everything work? Mostly. There are a lot more zingy one-liners in this Amazing Spider-Man, but I can’t help but think the smarter elements come courtesy writer Jeff Pinkner. While he may be one of three J.J. Abrams cronies credited to the screenplay, I’m sure he was the brains behind Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci’s brawn. The opening scene had me worried as it suffered a case of shaky-cam and a bad musical choice almost kills an important scene. And some tone issues start to make the ending feel totally off-kilter. I discussed this with a colleague on the way to the parking lot and we believe that the out-of-place scene was meant to be an end credit easter egg that got added to the main event after Sony and Fox decided to cross promote the upcoming X-Men movie — yes, stay through the credits. Fanboys will undoubtedly have plenty of bones to pick. But fanboys be damned, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is an amazing way to kick off the season in high-flying, web-slinging action.
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