The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ★★★

Before getting to the film under consideration, I want to mention two things. One: Spider-Man is my favorite superhero; the one I care most about, the one I sympathize with the most, and the one I identify myself with the most. Two: I liked "The Amazing Spider-Man" (2012) a lot, in spite of its flaws, among which are some odd editing choices, too murky cinematography, and almost pointless 3D effects (I didn’t see it in 3D theatrically but have since watched it in that format at home).

"The Amazing Spider-Man 2" fully embraces its titular character’s comic-book origins. Unfortunately, that turns out to be a step in the wrong direction for the current cinematic Spider-Man franchise. Instead of continuing the fresh, relatively grounded take on the character that the preceding film offered, the second installment is more cartoonish superhero fare. Subtleties and character development are dialed down in favor of less refined, tonally uneven but still worthwhile entertainment.

Furthermore, despite its 142-minute running time, the movie feels rushed in places. On more than one occasion, a character’s personality and motivations change with little build-up, which reduces those transitions to inelegant plot devices. Certain plot points are dropped without proper resolution. Screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner engage in lazy storytelling.

The film also suffers from a lack of strong narrative flow. At times, one sequence follows another without a real sense of wholeness. The handling of the multiple plot threads and the desire to expand the Spider-Man cinematic universe are to blame.

On the positive side, "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" gets a lot of things right. Spider-Man’s suit looks better here, with its big white eyes, than it did in the first movie. The action sequences are exciting and energetic. The visual effects are top-notch, although some scenes have a distinct video-game look.

Most importantly, though, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are simply amazing as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Gwen Stacy, respectively. Their on-screen chemistry is fantastic and provides the proceedings with a solid emotional core. Garfield and Stone almost single-handedly make up for most of the flaws of the movie and are the glue that holds everything together.

Jamie Foxx’s acting changes from being rather hammy when he plays Max Dillon to being a force to be reckoned with after Max’s transformation into Electro, but the character remains a two-dimensional villain. As Harry Osborn/Green Goblin, Dane DeHaan brings vulnerability, pathos, and, later, deranged wickedness to the screen. Sally Field is a gem in the role of Aunt May. Paul Giamatti makes two brief appearances as Aleksei Sytsevich/Rhino and delivers an over-the-top performance; I somewhat dread his supposed return in the third film.

While this movie focuses more on spectacle than on substance, director Marc Webb ensures that there is still room for the small, wonderful character moments that he does so well and that were one of the strengths of "The Amazing Spider-Man". The stand-out scenes are a beautifully emotional meeting between Peter and Gwen set to the tune of Phosphorescent’s "Song for Zula"—brilliant!—a humorous discussion between Peter and Aunt May regarding who does the laundry, and a moving exchange of words and actions that begins with Peter demanding that his aunt tell him the truth about his parents. It is in moments like these that "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" soars.

During the extended climax, there are scenes that show two airplanes on a collision course and Aunt May at work. Initially, I didn’t see the point of including those scenes. It was only later I realized that they serve a purpose similar to that of the construction-cranes scene in the previous movie: to highlight everyday heroes.

A pivotal scene involving Gwen toward the end of the film is almost unendurably suspenseful and definitely gets the pulse racing, even for viewers who are familiar with the comics. The filmmakers take a calculated risk with the final scene, which will leave some audience members feeling unsatisfied, but I think it works pretty well.

This time around, with Dan Mindel serving as director of photography, the images are brighter and more colorful. As a result of the movie being shot on 35-millimeter film, the 3D effects are necessarily of the post-converted kind. The 3D is great, however, especially in the scenes in which Spidey swings from one skyscraper to another, so my recommendation is to see "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" in 3D.

Hans Zimmer’s musical score contains several very good pieces, most notably the cool music associated with Electro, but on the whole I prefer the excellent score that James Horner composed for "The Amazing Spider-Man". And I’m not sold on the new Spider-Man theme, which actually gives off more of a Superman vibe.

Surprisingly, there isn’t any end-credits scene worth waiting for. Not long after the end credits actually begin to scroll comes a scene from an upcoming film, but that’s it. Alas, nothing directly related to the Spider-Man movies.