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Gazette Premium Content MOVIE REVIEW: 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2' caught in its own web

by Stephen Whitty The Star-Ledger - Updated: May 1, 2014 at 9:38 am

Stars: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx
Director: Marc Webb
Running time: 142 minutes
Rated: PG-13 for for sequences of sci-fi action violence; 142 minutes
Grade: B-

Usually, superhero movies - the glossy, modern Marvel kind, not the darkly brooding, serious Chris Nolan kind - have a kind of adolescent impatience to them.

They know they have to have backstory, development, romance. But every time they dutifully include one of those scenes, you can sense the filmmakers squirming like little kids.

Aw, gee. When do we get to the good stuff?

In "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," though, that's turned on its head. You get the feeling that director Marc Webb thinks the emotional material is the good stuff. It's the action scenes that bore him.

It makes for a conflicted movie - and a slightly unsatisfying one.

The bumpy romance of Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey - played out, yes, by real-life loves Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone - is warm and immediate, and filmed with careful attention.

Peter's Aunt May (Sally Field) also gets a powerful scene where she talks about the sacrifices she made to raise him. Peter's old friend Harry Osborn shares some bitter feelings of disappointment, too.

Each actor finds some nice human moments, and Webb uses the 3-D imaginatively - not for tricks, but for visual depth, framing Gwen in ways that shows her separation from Peter. But every time someone gets into spandex, the movie gets in trouble. The action sequences that typically led other Marvel movies to soar drag this one down to earth.

First, our hero's vulnerability disappears. It's fine to make Spidey a little sarcastic - he is a teenager, after all - but his constant jokes in the midst of life-and-death pursuits are simply silly.

And the main villains are disappointing. Once he finally gets charged up, the villainous Electro looks cool (if, in his hoodie, initially reminiscent of Emperor Palpatine), but Jamie Foxx completely overdoes the insecure, nerdy act when the character's still a mere mortal.

Conversely, as Harry Osborn, Dane DeHaan is terrific during his early bad heir days. But once he becomes the Green Goblin, he becomes almost laughable, looking like a cross between Evil Ed from "Fright Night" and something from a "Leprechaun" movie.

These aren't modern comic-book bad guys, they're leftovers from "Daredevil" or - ugh - the awful "Batman Forever." And - really - a climax when Manhattan gets taken apart? Again? Can't Hollywood come up with anything else?

The roller-coaster swoops as Spider-Man flings himself around the steel canyons of New York are still truly, vertiginously thrilling (and even more so in IMAX 3-D). Gwen is also given a firmly feminist backbone, and the film takes at least one risk with its climax.

But you can't quite shake the feeling that Webb is already getting tired of the big set pieces, the extravagant villains, the crazy makeups. As huge as his "The Amazing Spider-Man" movies have been, he seems to long to be back doing "(500) Days of Summer" again. He's already announced he's coming back for the next sequel, though.

If so, here's hoping he redevelops an interest in both spectacle and sensitivity, finding a way (as Nolan and Burton did in their "Batman" films) to deliver special effects and human scale.

Now that would be really amazing.

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