'Spider-Man 2' has strong emotional core, but weak villains

The Fresno BeeApril 30, 2014 

Overall, "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" is an entertaining, high-flying action film that reflects the events that have unfolded in the world of Marvel Comics as closely as any comic-book-inspired film. It finds strength in how much more comfortable Andrew Garfield is playing the web-spinner, but it loses energy with some with the villains.

The result is a good start to the summer movie season — not a great one.

"The Amazing Spider-Man 2" progresses the history of teenager Peter Parker (Garfield), who ended up with super powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider. He has as much angst about his love life with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) as he does dealing with super villains.

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What's most shocking about "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" is that the core strength doesn't come from all of the big action scenes — it comes from the young love relationship played out by Garfield and Stone. The fight scenes have loads of electrified power, but they don't match the sparks that fly when these two are share the screen.

A lot of this comes from the way Garfield plays Peter/Spider-Man. The tendency has been to portray him as a nerdish teen uncomfortable in social situations. Garfield's take on the character is less nerd and more vulnerable young soul. He carries heavy emotional weight from being abandoned by his parents when he was young, the guilt he feels over the loneliness his Aunt May (Sally Field) has as a widow and the conflict he feels about loving Gwen despite promising her father he would stay away.

Garfield delivers the emotional ebbs and flows with great clarity. To keep the film from being a complete tearjerker, writers Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner have pumped up the dry wit that is a trademark of Peter Parker. The writers show great loyalty to the Spider-Man mythology, a necessity when dealing with the legions of fans who know the complete histories of all these characters.

It's good that the Garfield-Stone portion packs such a punch because it helps make up for the weakness in the villains.

Once Jamie Foxx makes the transformation to play the energy-absorbing Electro, he finds the growling intensity to play the super bad guy. It's his pre-Electro work as the bumbling Max Dillon that is so troubling. There hasn't been such a socially inept loner who gets pulled into evil ways since Richard Pryor almost destroyed "Superman 3." Both actors were forced to play trite characters in such a slapstick manner it takes away from the villainy to come.

Equally troubling is the bland Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborn/Green Goblin. His performance is so wimpish, it's impossible to believe any amount of super serum or suit could turn him into a strong villain. DeHaan has no on-screen presence, a complete failing when you're talking big time bad guys.

Director Marc Webb, who also directed "The Amazing Spider-Man," does a solid job of staging both the big action and emotional scenes. He also gives the movie a kinetic flow, accented by sweeping scenes of Spider-Man sailing through the air that are so good they don't need 3-D to be exciting.

The film proves that strong action scenes and a couple with more chemistry than a meth convention can make up for a villain that looks more like the Green Gecko than the Green Goblin. This "Spider-Man" doesn't end up amazing, but it still weaves enough of an action film web to please rabid readers of the comics and those who aren't as mad about the books.

Movie review

"The Amazing Spider-Man 2," rated PG-13 for action scenes, violence. Stars Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Sally Field, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Paul Giamatti. Directed by Marc Webb. Running time: 142 minutes. Grade: B-

Theaters and times

Web of characters

Most moviegoers who see "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" will have knowledge of the characters. Just in case you aren't a member of the Mighty Marvel fan club, here's a cheat sheet on the characters in the movie.

Aleksei Sytsevich / Rhino
Who he is: Animalistic bad guy
Played by: Paul Giamatti
You know the actor from: Appeared in dramas like "12 Years a Slave" and comedies like "Big Fat Liar."
Character history: First appeared in "The Amazing Spider-Man" No. 41 (Oct. 1966). Got his super powers after volunteering for an Eastern Bloc country experiment that bonded a super polymer to his skin. That made him faster and stronger.

Electro / Max Dillon
Who he is: Electrifying villain for Spider-Man
Played by: Jamie Foxx
You know the actor from: Won an Oscar for "Ray."
Character history: Became a Spider-Man foe in "The Amazing Spider-Man" No. 9. His ability to control electricity makes him a shocking opponent.

Richard and Mary Parker
Who they are: Parents of Peter Parker
Played by: Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz
You know them from: He starred in "Royal Pains." She was in "Mad Men."
Characters' history: "The Amazing Spider-Man" Annual No. 5 (1968) explains why Peter Parker was raised by his aunt and uncle.

Aunt May
Who she is: May Reilly Parker is Peter's guardian
Played by: Sally Field
You know the actor from: Won an Oscar for "Norma Rae."
Character history: She's been with Spider-Man from the start, debuting in "Amazing Fantasy" No. 15. Became Peter Parker's lone guardian after death of her husband, Ben.

Gwen Stacy
Who she is: Love interest for Peter Parker
Played by: Emma Stone
You know the actor from: She's been in dramas like "The Help" and comedies like "Easy A."
Character history: She first appeared in "The Amazing Spider-Man" No. 31 (December 1965). Wins Peter Parker's heart until tragic events unfold during battle between Spidey and Green Goblin.

Harry Osborn/Green Goblin
Who he is: Son of Norman Osborn, the original Green Goblin
Played by: Dane DeHaan
You know the actor from: He played Timbo in "True Blood."
Character history: First appeared in "The Amazing Spider-Man" No. 31 (December 1965). Buddies with Peter Parker until Harry continues Goblin family tradition.

TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, rbentley@fresnobee.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at www.fresnobeehive.com.

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