Comic-book superhero movies come in two general varieties. There are those just for the fans, the ones who know all the origin stories and miscellaneous characters as if they were their own names. Then there are others that appeal to both diehards and neophytes, those who wouldn’t know the Green Lantern from the Silver Surfer if their lunch depended on it.
If Iron Man, X-Men: First Class and Captain America: The Winter Soldier are examples of the latter, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 — the continuation of director Marc Webb’s reboot of the franchise kickstarted by Sam Raimi more than a decade ago — falls squarely with the former. While the maturation of Peter Parker/Spider-Man and his fights with three nemeses — Green Goblin, Electro and Rhino — will delight the faithful, it makes for a long, loud slog for everyone else.
Andrew Garfield is back as Parker, who’s now finally graduating high school (a relief since the actor turns 31 this year). He’s head-over-web in love with Gwen Stacy (an ebullient Emma Stone), but their relationship is clouded by her possible move to England (she’s applying to Oxford) and the wishes of her dead father (Denis Leary) that Parker stay away from his daughter.
Parker has other problems, too, like trying to find out how his dad, a scientist experimenting with spiders at the all-powerful Oscorp, mysteriously died. Then there’s the childhood friend and heir to the giant Oscorp fortune, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), who is dying from a strange condition and thinks some of Spider-Man’s blood will cure him.
Since Osborn knows Parker is always photographing Spider-Man for the newspaper, he asks him to intercede on his behalf. When Parker says no, Osborn can’t understand why he won’t help a brother out and he ultimately devolves into the Green Goblin, a creature bent on revenge.
Meanwhile, in other Oscorp shenanigans, Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) is a put-upon electrical engineer whose genius is overlooked by his superiors like the unctuous Alistair Smythe (B.J. Novak). But then a workplace accident — watch out for those electric eels! — turns Dillon into a raging mass of high-voltage anger named Electro. He, too, has his reasons for wanting to squash Spider-Man.
Finally, a low-life criminal, Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti), gets mixed up in all this Oscorp mess and ends up inside a metal rhinoceros contraption. And, yep, he doesn’t like Spider-Man either.
The best parts of Spider-Man 2 have nothing to do with spiders, rhinos or goblins. The relationship between Garfield and Stone has a welcome, sassy cheekiness (they’re a couple off-screen), and Sally Field, as Parker’s aunt, brings depth to the role of a woman wrestling with the drama of her “son” — she has been his mother figure since he was a boy — growing up.
Yet all of that is overwhelmed by as much CGI and special effects as $200 million can buy. Spider-Man 2 is an endless parade of crashes and explosions (all in 3-D, of course) that are numbing by the end of its 142 minutes.
Working from a script by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner, Webb displays little of the quirky charm that made his breakthrough indie movie (500) Days of Summer so appealing . No matter: He’s already working on The Amazing Spider-Man 3 for summer 2016.