"The Occasionally Amazing Spider-Man 2" might be a better way to think of the not-always-spectacular but sometimes satisfying Spider-Man sequel as it sprawls, brawls and wall-crawls over New York City.
Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone remain the best things about the reimagined superhero franchise, even better in "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" than they were in the original 2012 reboot. As Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Gwen Stacy/budding beauty and biochemist, the actors bring much more than their considerable and much-teased offscreen chemistry.
Garfield gives Peter a touching sensitivity and Spidey the playful wryness the Marvel Comics creators first envisioned. Stone's Gwen is flinty, flirty and super-smart. Though she is forever being swept off her feet, quite literally, she never swoons. Together they give the film heart and a true romance-styled love that fits the fantasy of this make-believe world.
Marc Webb is back in the director's chair, and with the help of an extensive special effects force and the very talented cinematographer Dan Mindel, delivers a great many sticky stunts involving building-hopping, crime-stopping and the crashing and crushing of roughly a million cars. But as "Spider-Man 2" so emphatically proves, there are only so many ways to spin that web before it stops being cool.
As the film opens, Spider-Man is doing a little street cleaning in Manhattan, specifically a crime caper and a get-away driver named Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti), who must be stopped. Aleksei's a bit of a monster already, but will morph into a heavy-metal foe and one of "Spider-Man 2's" three major villains.
Then it's a sprint for Peter to make his high school graduation before Aunt May (Sally Field) gets antsy, or Gwen delivers her valedictorian address, or they call his name. One out of three isn't bad, considering.
Gwen's speech is a swell one about living your best life that somehow sounds very Oprah-esque, but then she's kind of a superhero too. It was actually penned by screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner, and will resonate through the film as Spider-Man is forced to make many save-the-world or kiss-the-girl choices. It's never easy, but now he's got the specter of Gwen's dearly departed dad, police Capt. Stacy (a silent, scowling Denis Leary), hovering in the background any time the couple consider their relationship status.
In "Spider-Man 2," all things evil exist in the towering skyscraper where Oscorp is headquartered. It's the company Peter's dad worked for before he disappeared — more about Peter's missing parents will be revealed in one of several plot detours this movie takes. The company's secret mission to save founder Norman Osborn from a terrible, and terribly ill-defined, disease has failed. Chris Cooper, all covered in crusty stuff, uses his final breaths to once again degrade his only son, Harry (Dane DeHaan). As will become abundantly clear, this is the proverbial nail in the coffin. But whose?
The screenplay heads in many directions and turns to multiple villains including the infamous Green Goblin (DeHaan) to answer that question. The most visible is Electro, a muscled-up and electrified Jamie Foxx, who's featured prominently in trailers going zap-crazy. The electrical currents Electro can shoot right outta his body not only turn his adversaries into crispy critters, they are one of the more amazing effects.
As is usually the case with comic-book bad guys, Electro wasn't born that way. Since "Spider-Man," at nearly two and a half hours, has so much time on its hands, we get the pre-Electro story, which involves stolen blueprints, forgotten birthdays and bad teeth. Foxx does what he can to make Electro interesting, but as characters go he's little more than a souped-up light show.
DeHaan fares a little better. His bad Harry, a bitter and entitled youth, is right in the actor's sweet spot, though it was better served in "Kill Your Darlings," where he played the Beat Generation's Lucien Carr.
What doesn't work as well in "2" is the human factor, the one beyond Peter and Gwen's complicated entanglements or the superhero showdowns.
The bond between Spidey and the fearful and fleeing masses, which should be emotional and strong, has lost its personal touch. Done well — as it was in the original "Amazing" when the saving of a boy led to a father helping a wounded Spider-Man in grand fashion — the interaction between the ordinary guy and the extraordinary one captures the heroic spirit we look for in these films.
There's a kid in harm's way in this movie too, but the scenes feel contrived, as if the writers realized that connection was missing. It is, but their fix doesn't fix it.
Spider-Man's real struggle is always between taking care of the people he loves and the world he's destined to save. That story arc is there in "Amazing Spider-Man 2" and provides some of the film's most moving moments. But frankly Electro has a better chance than love does of surviving all the pyrotechnics, and that is ultimately what brings this high-flying "Spider-Man" down.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence
Running time: 2 hours, 22 minutes
Playing: In general release