By NATHAN LERNER
Straight from the pages of vintage Marvel Comics, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is the latest installment in the cinematic reboot about the high-flying webslinger. It reprises Andrew Garfield in the role of adolescent protagonist, Peter Parker, and Emma Stone as his brainy sweetheart, Gwen Stacey. Assuming the form of his spandex suited alter-ego, Peter battles the mounting crime wave in Gotham.
In a narrative bridge from the precursor film, Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper), the founder of Oscorp, summons his estranged son, Harry (Dane DeHaan) for a deathbed reunion. The two have not seen each other for eight years. The spoiled rich brat glowers with resentment. Harry can’t forgive his father for having shipped him off to a boarding school, where he was abandoned. Norman reveals that he is about to succumb to retroviral hyperplasia. He then delivers more grave news — this esoteric condition is genetically transmitted. Harry is doomed to develop the fatal syndrome.
Upon Norman’s death, Harry becomes the new head of Oscorp. How can this callow youth with no entrepreneurial experience operate the $200 billion mega-business? And how will Harry deal with the gnawing dread about the hereditary disease that will likely kill him?
The film’s back-story involves the mysterious disappearance of Peter’s parents when he was a four-year old tyke. The orphaned boy subsequently beame friends with his schoolmate, Harry. Peter shows up at Oscorp headquarters to express his condolences to his long-lost pal. The two revive their childhood friendship.
Eventually, Harry concludes that Spider-Man’s blood contains the antidote to his deteriorating condition. Unaware that Spider-Man is Peter’s alternate identity, Harry desperately schemes to capture the spandex-suited crime-fighter.
The film introduces Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) as a nerdish engineer, who coincidentally works for Oscorp. He’s bespeckled, gap-toothed, and sports a processed comb-over. The brilliant man had designed the city-wide energy grid for Oscorp. Max’s bosses promptly appropriated the plans without giving him the slightest credit for developing them.
In an introductory scene, we see Max at home in his cramped apartment. It’s his birthday, but he has no family, friends, or colleagues to celebrate it with. Lost in self-delusion, Max imagines that he will be feted at a birthday party in his honor. He is assigned to stay after work and repair some defective cable wiring above a tank of electric eels. Max slips and falls into the tank, where he is repeatedly stung. The meek, mild-mannered geek is transmuted into the villainous madman, Electro. The character of Max Dillon, offers a potential study in alienation. However, the film abandons the pathos of this lonely social outcast.
Before penning the original Spidey reboot, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci had collaborated on “Transformers” and two “Star Trek” movies. Here, they form the nucleus of the team that delivers yet another clumsy screenplay. It crams far too many extraneous characters into a single film. The mawkish scenes with Aunt Mae (Sally Fields) do little to advance the narrative. Ditto for three other characters; Harry’s attractive secretary (Felicity Jones); a high-ranking executive, who jockeying to take over Oscorp (Donald Menken); and a cliché-ridden, amoral German scientist, conducting nefarious human experiments at Ravencroft Institute (Martin Csonkas). The narrative drive is bogged down with gratuitous subplots devoted to these tertiary characters. The over-bloated screenplay cries out for aggressive editing. Instead, it tacks on an epilogue scene. The addendum belatedly introduces another villain, Rhino (Paul Giamatti). This wild-eyed, escaped convict is encased inside a protective metallic shell.
Marc Webb returns to helm this wildly uneven vehicle. To his credit, he does deliver a handful of visually boffo vignettes. Alas, Webb is unsuccessful at integrating the disparate subplots into a satisfying whole. The film is further plagued with abrupt tonal shifts. It careens disconcertingly between scenes of romance, teen-age angst, and violent mayhem.
“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” successfully recaptures the vibe of 60s era Marvel Comics. Hardcore fan-boys will no doubt revel in it. However, for others, the film will prove a far less satisfying experience.
** ½ PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi action/violence) 142 minutes
Nathan Lerner welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.