The Amazing Spider-Man 2

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Every superhero movie faces a choice: the man or the mask? Sure, there’s interplay, but ultimately, one feeds the other, storywise. Judging by the either goofy or nonsensical nature of the (admittedly balletic) fight scenes in he Amazing Spider-Man 2, you might be tempted to say that this sequel to the reboot is mostly interested in the man: Peter Parker, a smart(-ass) New York City kid in search of both his past and his future. Dealing with the consequences of his choices. Reckoning the costs of love and duty. That sort of thing. (A certain sort of critic might even suggest that superhero movies are the new Westerns: violent men operating outside the boundaries of civilization, coming to grips with their own interior principles and acting accordingly.) Heck, Pete’s adorable girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) even lays it out: “You’re Spider-Man, and I love that. But I love Peter Parker more.”

And yet. Every personal crisis seems to serve the action, and the drama is bloated and blunted because of it. Moments of genuine triumph and tragedy get hammered up against hamhanded whacks on the heartstrings, then shoved aside by slo-mo and smash-ups. Over the course of two-and-a-quarter hours, Peter Parker deals with his absent parents, his frustrated aunt, his desperate friend (a reliably nervous-making Dane DeHaan), and his conflicted girlfriend. But first and last, our focus is on either the mask or the menace it must face: an electrified nerd who’s tired of being powerless.

Writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (plus a couple of others) occasionally find the energy to rise above the lazy and on-point and find a new way into an old story — why was that spider radioactive, anyway? But the feeling is more mercenary than inspired. It’s one thing to keep Spider-Man alive because people love Spider-Man. It’s another thing to do it because they’ll keep paying to watch him web-sling onscreen.

(2014) — Matthew Lickona

Rated PG-13 | 2 hours, 22 minutes
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