Amazing? Hardly. The second film in Sony Pictures’ second Spider-Man series is OK-ish. I guess the adjective specialist at the ad agency thought “The Adequate Spider-Man 2” didn’t pack the wallop they were looking for.
Neither does the film, which is grandiose without being exciting. It’s just what audiences expect from a blockbuster noise machine. That’s what’s wrong with it.
Beyond hard-core fanboys, nobody thrills at a movie tailored to the standard rhythms and conventions of the comic-book superhero genre. The best, most successful of these movies refresh or subvert franchise expectations, and this isn’t that.
As superheroes do once their origin stories have been told, Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker embraces his destiny as a crime fighter. In his Spidey suit he swings around Manhattan like a webbed-up Tarzan, interrupting robberies, averting accidents, even rescuing kids from grade-school bullies.
There’s a juvenile, slap-happy humor to these early scenes, but it soon topples over into camp. It’s not enough for Spider-Man to web up Russian plutonium thief Rhino (snorting, spittle-flecked Paul Giamatti), he pantses the crook just for giggles.
In the course of his daily heroics, Spidey meets his No. 1 fan, Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx). Foxx’s portrayal of this nerdish electrical engineer makes one yearn for the subtle characterization of Jerry Lewis’ Nutty Professor. Foxx’s oversized eyeglasses, ghastly comb-over, keyhole-sized front-tooth gap or the chattering ADHD speech patterns — any one of these would have said geek loud and clear. All together, it’s juuuuust a bit much.
While making a repair at mysterious conglomerate Oscorp, Max falls into a vat of electric eels. Yes, really. He emerges dazed, confused, phosphorescent blue and full of lightning bolts: Sparky Smurf.
Spider-Man amiably tries to talk him down when Max sucks the volts out of Times Square’s power grid. Max is tipped over into supervillainy because — I am not making this up — his hero, Spidey, fails to recognize him from their momentary earlier encounter. You know, before he had turned blue.
In a parallel development, ailing Oscorp heir Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan) turns against his bosom chum Peter as well. He’s furious that Peter won’t intercede with Spider-Man to get some of the super blood that Harry believes will cure his degenerative illness.
This double dose of bromance gone wrong triggers more than hurt feelings. Soon we’re in a demolition derby, with Foxx sparking death-bolts, DeHaan throwing bombs from a flying surfboard and his henchman, Giamatti, stomping around in a locomotive-sized metal suit. Individually the villains aren’t much. Together they become even less than the sum of their negligible parts.
Director Marc Webb lacks the grasp of geometry, physics and causality that makes the brawls in Peter Jackson’s movies such breathless thrill rides. Webb, who directed the sublime romance “500 Days of Summer,” is better at giving detail to a relationship than to an action scene.
He’s comfortably in his element with the love story between Garfield’s charming Parker and Emma Stone’s adorable Gwen Stacy. Their scenes together light up the screen with a movie-star wattage no other sequences possess. Webb gets great emotional moments from Sally Field as saintly Aunt May, too. Though she’s present to dispense benevolent nuggets of wisdom like a gumball machine, Field nails every scene.
The screenplay includes a flashback that perverts Spider-Man’s beginnings. In the Marvel comic, Peter acquires his powers from a radioactive spider bite, a random accident that transforms him into an emotionally burdened tragic hero. In Webb’s movie, Spider-Man’s powers are the result of a toxic childhood: Peter was selected by his scientist father to be the only subject who could experience that venom-fueled transformation.
Spider-Man’s nemesis isn’t some criminal mastermind. It’s his own father, the man who sowed the seeds of Peter’s mutation. The proper scene of Spidey’s next battle shouldn’t be the top of the Empire State Building but a psychologist’s couch.