Two summers ago, Director Marc Webb (who deserved the job based on his last name alone) set out to update the Spider-Man franchise for the millennial generation. That’s right. Original star Tobey Maguire barely had enough time to change out of the iconic web-slinging suit before Brit-raised Andrew Garfield hopped inside. The end result was “The Amazing Spider-Man,” a 2012 summer blockbuster that failed to bring anything new to theatergoers. The latest edition proves that sometimes sequels can be better than the original, and the appropriately titled “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” finally lives up to its self-aggrandizing introductory adjective. Simply put, it’s amazing.
Picking up more or less where the first story left off, we are once again introduced to the affable Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), this time on his high school graduation day. Whereas all of his fellow classmates, including his gorgeous girlfriend Gwenn Stacy (Emma Stone), are dressed in their celebratory cap and gown, Peter is too busy dressing up as someone else entirely: Spider-Man. Even a huge life moment like graduation doesn’t seem nearly as important to the teenaged superhero when New York City’s safety is at stake.
After a very hit or miss inaugural outing as the masked web-slinger, Andrew Garfield seems right at home this time around. Whether he is flying through the streets of Manhattan, smack-talking a bad guy before taking him down, or simply catching up with Aunt May (Sally Fields), Garfield is perfect. Does that mean that Garfield is growing into an actor of truly unprecedented worth, or that Stan Lee’s most recognizable comic book character really is that transcendental that a kid from across the pond can play him so perfectly? Maybe it’s a little bit of both.
With a running time of over two hours and twenty minutes, there’s a lot of story to this sequel. But of all the villains Spider-Man faces throughout the film, none is greater than Electro (Jamie Foxx). Foxx is as chilling and eccentric as ever in the role.
Capturing every juicy duel between Spider-Man and Electro is Marc Webb and his cinematographer Daniel Mindel (Savages). Using a dizzying array of camera tricks that sweep the audience off their feet and has them swinging through the city streets right alongside the masked hero, it’s hard not to feel as if you are a part of the movie. The excellently incorporated 3D adds a lot as well. From a script by Alex Kurtzman (Star Trek), Roberto Orci (Transformers) and Jeff Pinkner (Fringe), each action sequence grows exponentially more creative and complex as the story progresses. The result is something of a superhero religious experience.
Yet, even with all of its annihilated buildings and blown-to-bits police cars, Webb and his team of writers are at their best during the more tender moments in the story. The director, who came to prominence with his indie RomCom hit “500 Days of Summer,” is a master of the intimate relationship. “Spiderman” is no exception. The tenderness Webb creates between Gwenn and Peter is about as real as it gets, and Garfield and Stone feed off of one another especially well. I wouldn’t be surprised if even the manliest of manly fan boys gets caught up in all of the fiery passion the pair exude on screen.
An inspiring love interest isn’t the only human element infused into Peter’s world. The film opens with an extended prologue featuring Peter’s real parents… the parents that left the boy with no answers or even a semblance of an idea of who they were. As the story progresses, teenage Peter attempts to, once and for all, put the pieces of the puzzle behind his parents sudden and unexpected abandonment together. The Tobey Maguire original series didn’t really expand on this side of the story, so for newcomers, Spidey’s backstory is new ground.
What Peter discovers about his parents is actually tied to another new character in the series — Harry Osborne (Dane Dehane). Harry, who is the sole heir to the Osborne Oscorp Corporation after his father dies, is Peter’s long time best friend, and it doesn’t take long to see why. The pair are dynamite together, which makes it all that more heartbreaking to see young Harry begin to wither away due to a rare genetic disease. Peter, or Spider-Man rather, could potentially hold the key to the boy’s recovery, but even for his best friend, it might be too risky for him to take off the mask and show who he really is.
With outstanding performances from its top billed cast, the film also benefits from its equally extraordinary supporting cast. A-listers like Paul Giamatti, Sally Field, B.J. Novak, Felicity Jones, and Chris Cooper help boost the credibility of this blockbuster.
When it comes to comic book movies, and more specifically comic book fans, there is always some sort of controversy between the purists and the casual enthusiast. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is no exception. While I won’t give anything away, check out a host of other websites for spoilers if you must, the character arc of one particular femme is handled — for the lack of a better word — uniquely. That’s it! I’m not going to spend any more space on it. This is a movie review, not a comic book discussion.
And because this is a movie review, I can only say that following in the footsteps of last month’s “Captain America: The Winter Solider,” “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is definitely a comic book sequel worth seeing. Whether you love the first one, or are coming into the series with a fresh pair of eyes, there is a little something for everyone in Marc Webb’s latest addition to the franchise. Sony has plenty more on tap for the foreseeable future. Let’s hope they stay this good.
By David Morris
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence