Movie: The Amazing Spider-Man 2; Director: Marc Webb; Studio: Sony Pictures; Rating: PG-13; My finding: 3 out of 5 stars.
In many ways, Marc Webb's sequel to 2012's "The Amazing Spider-Man" is both a major improvement and a colossal disappointment.
Spider-Man is easily one of my least favorite major superheroes. Half of that is the annoying teenager inside the mask with all the bad jokes and raging hormones, and inability to express the way he feels with the girl he loves and others around him.
Something different is happening in this one, though. The powers that be are allowing Spider-Man to grow a little. His immaturity shines at times and he uses his powers largely for amusement, as I think we all would given the ability to sling and swing our way around the Big Apple, but he has to make some choices.
The problem with that growth is that the powers that be also want to wow and astound us around every corner. There's simply too much here to take in. Young Peter Parker must battle two super-villains, attempt to balance news coverage and public perception of vigilante justice, save his romantic life, help his elderly aunt with finances and figure out his past.
It's this last part that often provides the most raw emotional power and surprising storytelling technique. The sequence prior to the opening credits, while anachronistic with its use of modern computer technology despite being from the time Peter was a young boy, is enthralling. It could very well have made its own conspiracy thriller movie if expanded.
Peter's father, Richard, destroys the product of an experiment already well known to fans of Spider-Man, and has his clearance at Oscorp, a multinational
medical and other technology conglomerate, revoked immediately. He now knows he's on the run and he and his wife take off, leaving young Peter in the hands of his aunt and uncle for what they figure will be forever.
And they're not wrong.
After the title sequence, though, that familiar feeling of obnoxiousness rocks back into the frame as Spider-Man swings, swoops and carries on through the mean streets all the while spouting one-liners I couldn't imagine any of my friends in high school ever stooping low enough to try out for themselves. Save the store clerk, save the bullied child, save the world.
Within minutes, Spidey has to stop Russian gangsters from running off with some pretty particular plutonium rods in a mad street chase with NYPD. The head honcho of the outfit is Paul Giamatti, teaching all of us that as lame as forehead tattoos already are, they can get even more lame. Giamatti is a fine actor whose fame and talent are wasted in this extremely limited role, so it's obviously window dressing for the next franchise installment.
During that heist is when we meet Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), a man so nerdy and shy we wouldn't have paid him a mind had he not had a brief moment with Spidey that will change his life forever. He becomes obsessed and considers Spider-Man his first and only friend in a world that casts him aside and fails to notice him or his contributions, which are many and mighty.
Despite director Webb's best efforts to keep the pace moving at rapid-fire pace, Foxx puts as much humanity into Dillon as he possibly can. We feel for Max but recognize his life in isolation from human interaction has left him a bitter shell of a man. Obsession is for those who don't find balance in life.
Eventually Max will become Electro, as formidable an opponent as any in the Spider-Man world. After falling into a tank of electric eels, all feel like Max is a goner. Instead he becomes a blue battery of a man who pulls in the juice to lash it out at the world who had oppressed him for far too long.
Interwoven within this story is the death of billionaire and Oscorp founder Norman Osborn (an uncredited Chris Cooper) and his final interaction with his son Harry, which is their first meeting in a decade. There he reveals a medical course the Osborn line suffers from, which instills a sense of purpose into young Harry, who has just inherited the corporation while only 20 years old.
There is far too much plot to go through. So much plot, in fact, that it's simply impressive the filmmakers were able to interweave the thing into a cohesive and comprehensible whole as well as they do. While it may be too much to process and large parts of the development of characters may have ended on the cutting room floor in favor of more and more battles that each would have been the epic finale in any action movie just a few years ago, there's still enough there to enjoy the film.
It is the quieter moments when we find that British actor Andrew Garfield may have been the perfect pick for rebooting the series, which was already done with (ugh!) Tobey Maguire not too long ago. He has the slyness and sense of fun to pull off imagining him as a careless recent high school graduate, while also being able to embody the trials of having too many secrets and other stuff life forces at us in those formative years.
Those who know Garfield only from "The Social Network" may be surprised by the range, but he had already shown off his abilities in the British "Red Riding" television movie series of 2009, which are based on some rather excellent if unbelievably dark modern hard-boiled detective fiction.
The surprising best part may be Dane DeHaan's performance as Harry. I'd never seen him before, but his credit lists includes stints on HBO's "In Treatment" and "True Blood." There's a pain in his eyes at all times, no matter if he's smiling and laughing or freaking out over his impending death. He gave the role much greater weight than would be expected for the scion of a tremendous fortune.
The many parts that compose "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" could each have formed the basis of their own installment in what is looking to be a better-than-average action franchise. They're each thrilling and surprisingly weighty but, when taken together, may be just too much to leave an audience with something to ponder or even explain.
(Flint McColgan is a staff writer for The Minot Daily News. His movie reviews appear in Thursday's Arts &?Entertainment section.)