The Amazing Spider-Man 2

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The new “Spider-Man 2” is here! They added the word “Amazing” to it, but that’s really just a marketing tool, like “New & Improved.” And yes, the old “Spider-Man 2” is only 9.8 years old and still functions perfectly well. Nonetheless, you’ll need to trade it in for the upgrade, as Sony is no longer offering support for the older models.

This one, again directed by Marc Webb (no pun intended), has a scattershot tone, solid action, real chemistry between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, and three useless villains. (Two and a half, really: the estimable Paul Giamatti has all of 90 seconds of screen time as the Rhino.) The screenplay, credited to Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner, relies heavily on TV news, pre-recorded computer announcements, and other lazy gimmicks to relay information.

Of which there is a lot. Information, I mean. While certain moments and scenes stand out, overall the film is a listless exercise whose primary purpose seems to be setting up characters and situations for future “Spider-Man” movies. The whole thing is starting to feel like a Ponzi scheme. “Come see the latest adventure! Don’t worry if it’s not great — the next one’ll dazzle you!” But that’s what you said last time!

As usual, angst-ridden teenager Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is worried that his Spider-Man escapades will endanger his girlfriend (Emma Stone), and the Daily Bugle is debating whether Spider-Man is a HERO or a MENACE. In keeping with that theme of “familiar plot points already covered in four previous movies,” an insane man named Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) accidentally obtains superpowers (electric eels are involved), then uses them to seek the destruction of Spider-Man, for whom he has a petty, disproportionate hatred.

Meanwhile, Peter’s best friend, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) — whom he hasn’t seen or spoken to in eight years, but who is still his best friend — comes home from boarding school to watch his billionaire industrialist father (Chris Cooper) die from an illness both gross and hereditary. Mysterious research that Peter’s late father (Campbell Scott) did for Oscorp may hold the key to its cure, and Spider-Man’s blood is also involved, and eventually Harry Osborn joins Max Dillon in having an irrational, poorly explained motive for hating the web-slinger.

As with the previous entry, the film’s greatest strength is the cutely romantic interaction between Garfield and Stone (no doubt aided by their real-life couplehood, though they’re good actors too). Peter and Gwen ground the movie in real emotions — an important element in an effects-driven fantasy spectacle. But Peter changes when he puts the mask on, becoming a cocky braggart who delivers a constant patter of jokey wise-cracks even when no one’s around to hear them. It makes sense that he’d be freer and less inhibited when he’s in character, but the personality differences between Spider-Man and Peter are so stark they might as well be two entirely separate people.

Dane DeHaan is ludicrously over-the-top as the sniveling Harry, making him interesting to watch if nothing else. But Max, who becomes Electro, is an embarrassing dud, performed by a version of Jamie Foxx who seems completely lost and unsure of himself. Max is a comical doofus at first, complete with a bumbling musical theme; then, somehow, he’s supposed to be a fearsome menace. His story isn’t tragic, funny, or compelling, and his powers are vague. Sometimes he’s corporeal and you can capture him; other times he’s pure electricity and can travel through the power lines.

Webb handles the action and fight sequences better this time around. Scenes of Spidey flying, swinging, and falling through New York City are exhilarating, maybe the best of the series so far. It’s only in those moments and the quiet Peter-and-Gwen interludes that the film has any sense of joy or wonderment. The rest is shiny, busy, and boisterous, more perfunctory than fun.

GeekNation

C (2 hrs., 22 min.; PG-13, comic book violence and action.)