“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Don’t worry: it’s not “Spider-man 3.”

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is the standard of a superhero movie that everyone should aspire to. It’s exciting, action-packed, gut-bustlingly hilarious and emotionally involving to a point where I was surprised at how personal and genuine it really was. “Amazing,” in fact, is not a good enough word to describe this movie — “Superior” is more like it.

Taking place after Curt Connors, aka The Lizard, attacked New York City, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 shows Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) as he continues to adapt to his new life as the spectacular Spider-Man. He’s just about to graduate, he’s getting a job as a freelance photographer at the Daily Bugle and his relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) is going strong. Being Spider-Man has its perks and its downfalls, and this is a rare high point in Peter’s life.

Elsewhere, however, dark forces develop under Oscorp. Engineer Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) gets electrocuted by bio-electric eels, transforming him into the chaotic villain known as Electro. Russian mobster Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti) gets equipped with a fully armed mechanical suit, becoming the Rhino. And Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), an old friend of Peter’s, returns with a dark secret that he’s hiding from everyone.

That makes three villains in total for this sequel. Concerned? You should be. The last time we had three villains in a Spider-Man movie, that film was Spider-Man 3. I’m never going to get that image of Tobey Maguire doing the Elvis Presley-stride out of my head, ever. Does anyone have any hydrochloric acid I can pour into my eyes?

Well, you can rest easy, fellow web heads. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is not Spider-Man 3. Quite the contrary, actually. This is a significantly better Spider-Man than its predecessor, a film that bounces in between multiple tones and genres all at once and does all of them brilliantly.

An early fight scene in the film, for instance, is as wacky and funny as a Looney Tunes cartoon, with Spidey struggling to grab all these plutonium canisters off of a moving truck like he’s in the middle of a pinball table. In another scene, he’s in the middle of an action sequence so exhilarating and mind-blowing that it could have come straight from a video game cut scene. In another moment, him and Gwen are dealing with a real emotional struggle neither quite know how to handle, something that has haunted Peter since the first movie.

That’s what makes this Spider-Man better from the other one: It has many tones, story lines, characters and emotions that it’s juggling all at once. That’s a weighty order, and not one to handle easily. Yet director Marc Webb handles the challenge excellently, delivering just as relevant a character drama as he does an exciting action movie.

The cast members have expert chemistry with each other, but that should be expected because of their exceptional performances in the first film. We already expect Garfield and Stone to be perfect with each other because they were nearly inseparable in the first round of the series. It’s more efficient, then, to focus on the newer cast members: Jamie Foxx and Dane DeHaan. 

Foxx is electric as the high-voltage villain, pun intended. At first he’s just a socially silly and awkward scientist, similar to Jim Carrey’s version of the Riddler in Batman Forever. When he goes through his transformation into Electro, however, everything changes. He becomes an angry and malicious supervillain, a man who is mad and frustrated at everything and just wants to kill everyone, then jump start their heart just so he can kill them again. DeHaan, especially, was desperate and conniving as Harry Osborn, a menacing and starkly different Harry than the James Franco version we are used to in the original trilogy.

Both of these villains serve a pivotal role to Peter’s development. Electro is the physical conflict Peter has to face in the movie; Harry is the emotional one.

There’s another concern comic book fans will have about this movie, and that is the same concern they have with Captain America: The Winter Soldier: We’ve already read the comics. We already know the twists that are coming up, and as a result, our reaction is dulled when that moment comes in the movie.

Let me make a reassuring statement for my fellow comic book lovers: I could see the twist in this movie come from a mile away. Yet when I saw it, I reacted as if I was witnessing Peter’s tragic story for the first time.

There are apparent concerns to have with this movie. The multiple story strands are worrisome, the overload of villains can be an issue and Max Dillion’s character is far too silly to fully accept as being realistic.

Does that change The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s influence, or for that matter, its effect on the audience? The answer is no, it does not. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is still a great sequel, an excellent expansion to the Spider-Man universe and a more-than-welcome development to Peter’s never-ending growth as Spider-Man. I’m tempted to compare it to the legendary Spider-Man 2, although I’m not sure if it’s quite there yet. One thing is for sure, however: it’s head-over-heels over Spider-Man 3. If Webb keeps this up, he just might surpass Sam Raimi’s original trilogy.

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