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A Mangled Web

Niko Tavernise/Columbia Pictures

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

Some superhero stories can shoulder excess baggage with ease, but by rights a Spider-Man film should drill down to their simplest essences: the transformed human body; the exhilaration of flight; urban strife; youthful revolt; hubris. "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" isn't really into simple essences, obliged instead to do that modern thing of providing $200-million-worth of mild legal highs, via scripts in which all relevant bullet points are actioned. The only properly new element is an air of collective panic about Disney, judging by the fractured clip from the next "X-Men" film shoehorned into the end credits of this one to try and bolster a mutual defense. Would-be wild and crazy cinema with all strings attached, "ASM2" is an average superhero film in every way, and so has to shoulder its share of the blame for the fact that the average is now decaying with a pretty rapid half-life.

In the midst of the hubbub, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone still make an appealing Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, although the actors have more or less given up any attempt to camouflage their real ages. Weighed down by a bad case of the backstories, Parker spends the film still trying to sort out exactly what his parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) were up to when they offloaded him onto his aunt as a child — although Ms. Davidtz's screen time is once more measured in seconds. But this mystery is squashed flat by many tons of mayhem, mostly from Jamie Foxx as a translucent Electro blowing up everything in sight.

Much more interesting is Dane DeHaan as the latest iteration of Harry Osborn, whose truculence toward the bloodless Parker has some bite. For a neutral observer, the way all Spider-Man movies want to use the Green Goblin but can't figure out how to process the character's outré flamboyance into anything they can really deal with is a model for the bigger problems in handling this material in the first place. Having thrown Mr. DeHaan into the relevant dishwasher, "ASM2" makes its Goblin a pasty shock-haired look-alike for Stephen Geoffreys in the original "Fright Night," which may break the concentration of anyone aware of Mr. Geoffreys's work since.

Director Marc Webb is back for the sequel, this time hiring Dan Mindel as cinematographer, a man who understands light and color as well as anyone alive. The film also replaces composer James Horner with Hans Zimmer, a switch with a raft of implications all its own. Whatever his faults, Mr. Horner's music at least provides characters with something of an inner life; Mr. Zimmer is all about exterior life and drops the usual hammer, giving Spider-Man a fanfare with a hint of Copland, and Electro a bizarre rumbling jive-talk concerto that could bring on the giggles. The bigger point is that there are no more safe, conservative, orthodox choices at this point than hiring Mr. Mindel and Mr. Zimmer in the first place. Having nailed its colors to the mast, the film holds up its end of the deal.


Opens on April 16 in Britain and on May 2 in the United States.

Directed by Marc Webb; written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner, based on a screen story by Mr. Kurtzman, Mr. Orci, Mr. Pinkner and James Vanderbilt, and the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; director of photography, Dan Mindel; edited by Pietro Scalia; music by Hans Zimmer and the Magnificent Six, featuring Pharrell Williams and Johnny Marr; production design by Mark Friedberg; costumes by Deborah L. Scott; visual effects supervisor, Jerome Chen; produced by Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach; released by Columbia Pictures. Running time: 2 hours 22 minutes. This film is rated 12A by B.B.F.C. and PG-13 by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Andrew Garfield (Spider-Man/Peter Parker), Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy), Jamie Foxx (Electro/Max Dillon), Dane DeHaan (Green Goblin/Harry Osborn), Colm Feore (Donald Menken), Felicity Jones (Felicia), Paul Giamatti (Aleksei Sytsevich) and Sally Field (Aunt May).


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