This is not the angsty Spidey we know. Just like the old television series theme song said, Peter Parker is “your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.” We first see him exuberantly swinging through the skyscrapers, deliciously vertiginous in 3D. His disposition is so sunny that he cheerfully greets a crook driving a truck filled with highly volatile stolen cargo with a happy, “Hi, Criminal!” and, when his offer of a handshake gets no response, offers a hug.
But then it’s down to business, with a gloriously witty and dexterous action scene as Spidey (Andrew Garfield) has to use his web to scoop up every one of the explosive vials rattling out of the truck before they hit the ground. No more of the dreary re-cap of the origin story that weighed down chapter one. We’re in it right from the beginning.
All seems to be going well for Peter, though this little fracas is making him late for graduation (not important) and the valedictory speech delivered by his true love, Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone). The special effects and action scenes are just fine in this film, but what makes it qualify as “amazing” is the chemistry between real-life couple Garfield and Stone, so electrifying that even super-villain Electro (Jamie Foxx), master of all power sources, seems to fizzle by comparison. The warmth (and downright heat) between the two leads make this far and away the most romantic superhero movie ever. As performers, they understand and respond to each other so completely in synch that we are immediately engaged in whatever is going on between them. They never waste time with the usual movie couple worries about how they feel about one another or whether they can trust each other or whether she knows and understands who he really is. “You’re Spider-Man and I love that. But I love Peter Parker more,” she tells him.
They have a bigger problem.
Peter is literally haunted by visions of Gwen’s late father (Denis Leary), who made Peter promise he would not put Gwen at risk by letting her become involved with him. Gwen is understandably frustrated with his struggle, and especially with his insistence that the decision is up to him. And, while she completely supports all of his crime-fighting activities (another refreshing departure from the usual storyline — no “I’m worried about you” or “Be careful”), she is committed to her own dreams, which may take her to England to study at Oxford.
Oh, and there are a couple of super-villains coming after Spidey, too.
If that seems like an afterthought, the movie makes it feel that way, too. It raises our expectations by starting right in the middle of the action and getting the obligatory Stan Lee appearance out of the way early (though not foregoing a corny line of dialog). But then it turns out to be a bit over-long at two and a half hours, and the big confrontation scenes are oddly truncated at the end. Normally, the most important character in a superhero movie is the villain (hello, Tom Hiddleston as Loki). For mostly better but sometimes worse, the main character in “Amazing Spider-Man 2” is the Peter-Gwen romance. It is more than fine; it is great. But it is so powerful that it throws off the rest of the film.
As we often see in movies with young male heroes, there are plenty of daddy issues for everyone. Gwen and Peter have both lost their fathers (Peter has also lost his surrogate father, Uncle Ben), and Peter’s old friend Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan) loses his (Chris Cooper) early in the film. Peter finds out more about his late father (Campbell Scott), uncovering a cool secret hideaway, though it takes too long for him to figure it all out. Peter and Harry have a great moment of awkward reconnection before falling into a familiar pattern of bro-talk. But Harry is sick, and he is convinced that the only thing that can keep him alive is a transfusion of Spider-Man’s blood. Spider-Man visits him to explain why that can’t happen, but is unable to persuade the desperate Harry. “Your blood can’t make me die more.”
Meanwhile, the shy, nebbishy Max Dillon (Foxx), overlooked and mistreated, has (of course, this is Marvel) a lab accident that turns him into a blue glowy guy (reminiscent of “Watchman’s” Dr. Manhattan) who can channel and harness all power sources. The problem with this character is that both his powers and his motivations are underwritten and he just does not have enough to do until too late in the film. Dane DeHaan is well cast as the spoiled rich kid who is bitter and wounded by his father’s neglect, and thank goodness his supervillain make-up and super-space-skateboard-y thing is much better than Willem-Dafoe’s. But again, we wait a long time for him. Paul Giamatti is wasted in a small part, much of which takes place inside a big robot that could have come from the final confrontation in “The Incredibles.”
But those big, swoopy swings through the skyscrapers and terrific performances by Garfield and Stone make this a great way to start the summer movie season. (And you don’t have to sit through all the credits — no stinger scene at the end.)
Parents should know that this film has extended comic book/superhero violence with characters in peril, injured and killed, chases, explosions, bombs, and sad deaths of a parent and a major character.
Family discussion: Should Peter have kept his promise to Gwen’s father? How did learning the truth about his own father make a difference to Peter? Could Peter have changed Harry’s mind?
If you like this, try: “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “The Avengers”