‘Spider-Man’ not ‘Amazing’ but working on it

By Karsten Burgstahler

When Sony Pictures announced it would reboot the “Spider-Man” franchise just a few years after “Spider-Man 3,” the move reeked of desperation.

And desperate it was. Sony wanted to hold on to the rights lest they revert to Marvel.

Thus the muddled, messy “The Amazing Spider-Man” was born. Its first sequel, the aptly titled “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (Rated PG-13; 142 Min.) is still quite flawed but doesn’t have the same ripoff feel the first movie had.

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The focus is on franchise-building this time around as Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) tries to keep his distance from Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) after he promised her father he’d leave her out of his superhero business. That gets tricky as Spidey deals with a cavalcade of new villains including the poorly-motivated Electro (Jamie Foxx) and the not-so-menacing Green Goblin, a persona taken on by Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) instead of his father Norman, who, in the comics canon, becomes the Goblin first.

“Spider 2” takes some pretty big liberties with the source material in pursuit of an “Avengers”-style franchise. Because the studio has already announced four (!!) more movies in the franchise, director Marc Webb sets up as many subplots as possible before he runs as fast as he can from this bubble waiting to burst.

Sometimes the movie works, other times it doesn’t, representative of the film’s flippant emotional issues and not a good sign of confidence for a wannabe franchise.

The film’s first scene sets this tone. The producers have the gall to slap Sony product placement all over a sequence where a couple of important characters meet their ends.

These tonal inconsistences were a hallmark of the reboot, and coming from rom-coms like “500 Days of Summer” Webb hasn’t mastered how to move from romance to action. A sequence of Gwen and Peter making up is intercut with Jamie Foxx discovering his powers as Electro. Suffice to say “Spider 2” won’t be in the running for Best Editing next year.

But because Webb isn’t burdened with a hero origin story the movie makes a notable departure from Sam Raimi’s trilogy, and that’s why the new mythology works. Even when the backstory gets sketchy — which, with so many villains and scientific explanations meant to decipher critical plot points, it inevitably does — there’s more of an effort to serialize the proceedings than there was in Raimi’s films. In a culture where Disney’s Marvel movies are all connected, Sony has to do something to keep Spider-Man relevant.

So rather than reheating leftovers and calling them dinner, Sony allows the audience to have a few genuine revelations. Garfield and Stone in particular don’t feel as restricted this time around, allowing their relationship and chemistry to flourish.

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The first film’s muddy visuals and brooding “Dark Knight” aspirations have mostly vacated the premises — it’s a lighter spin, at least until the overdramatic climax and awkward run-on ending. One good thing about the operatic final half-hour, though: DeHaan’s performance between going nuts and becoming the Green Goblin.  DeHaan has some fun with the character before he’s shoehorned into a battle, reminiscent of how Raimi underused Venom in “Spider-Man 3.”

Serious franchise fans may not take kindly to Webb’s changes, but they’re interesting to say the least. There’s a spark of inspiration here that wasn’t present in the first film, a desire to be a fun superhero movie rather than a hip superhero movie.

When “Spider 2” takes itself a bit less seriously it works as summer bombast. But its constant tug to be more than just a movie, to carry the burden of a series scheduled all the way through 2018, holds it back in all the wrong places.

3 Stars

Karsten Burgstahler can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter @kburgstahler_DE or by phone at 536-3311 ext. 254.

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