But when the “Spider-Man” films were launched in 2002, star Tobey Maguire and director Sam Raimi gave us a truly human, decent and sympathetic teenage hero in Peter Parker. Learning such life lessons as “With great power comes great responsibility” over the course of three hit films, Parker was one movie hero you’d actually want your kids to emulate.
After the third film drew mixed critical response in 2007 and Maguire decided to quit and save his back from further damage along with spending more time with his kids, Sony decided to reboot the series. The resulting “The Amazing Spider-Man” made good money upon its 2012 release, but it was a creative disaster.
British actor Andrew Garfield came in to play Parker as a grating, sarcastic boor who insulted criminals and cops alike while engaged in his web-slinging adventures, and director Marc Webb (“(500) Days of Summer”) was inexplicably brought in from the world of romantic comedies. The result was a dispiriting mess that nonetheless raked in enough money to spark a sequel, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” which comes out today.
Surprisingly, Webb and Garfield are back at the helm of the movie’s sequel. And even more surprisingly, this time around his film has earned the right to call itself amazing.
The new film is a vast improvement in every possible over its predecessor, which also suffered from poor effects and lackluster villain casting. The only people who survived with their dignity intact were Emma Stone as his girlfriend Gwen Stacy and Denis Leary as her police commissioner father.
That father-daughter pairing were a key part of the predecessor’s end scenes, as the dying commissioner made Peter swear he would avoid putting Gwen’s life at risk by staying away from her. At the start of the new film, Peter is still dating her but attempting to keep his superhero shenanigans a secret.
But Gwen knows deep down that Peter hasn’t stopped at all, and is growing tired of it. She breaks up with him just as a new villain arrives on the scene. A nerdy technician named Max (Jamie Foxx) from Oscorp Industries, the ethically questionable company owned by the father of Peter’s friend Harry (Dane DeHaan), has been zapped by a mega-dose of electricity in a freak accident and is now a power-spewing, electrified monster named Electro.
As Oscorp’s founder Norman Osborn lays dying, he tells Harry that the same disease killing him is destined to kill Harry as well. Harry tells Peter he needs Spider-Man’s blood to save himself, but doesn’t realize that Peter is Spider-Man.
When Peter says he can’t help, Harry turns to Electro to help him steal some spider-related serum. But when the serum turns Harry into the psychopathic Green Goblin, Spidey and Gwen are left in more danger than ever.
The prior Webb-Garfield “Spider-Man” film was a disaster of shifting tones, with far too many scenes marred by stupid wisecracks issued by Peter. Here, Peter attempts a few jokes in his opening moments, but then they abruptly stop as Garfield is allowed to just calm down and act like a normal high school senior rather than looking like he’s trying to audition for the lead in a bad sitcom.
In this go-round, Peter is also able to show a new sensitivity as Spider-Man. He is truly haunted by the deathbed promise he gave Gwen’s father, and lives with the sobering terror that the dead cop might be right about how dangerous his life as a superhero can be. Garfield also invests some beautifully played emotional moments at key points in this film, a skill that seemed to be nonexistent just two years ago in the first film.
The relationship between Peter and Gwen is also refreshing in showing teens (and us all) an example of a fun, attractive young couple who truly love each other and don’t engage on a sexual level. Add in Parker’s kinder tone spilling over to offering encouraging words to several down-on-their-luck people, and Garfield is suddenly a winner in the role.
As Electro, Foxx brings a cool menace to the streets of New York as he tries to seek justice from those who have mocked and wronged his wimpy alter ego, Max. As he wreaks more and more havoc, Foxx has great fun growing into a cocky, dangerous persona, and his attacks on the city are also fun to watch.
When the prior “Amazing Spider-Man” film hit theatres two years ago, it seemed to be a pointless cash-grab attempt to keep the character going. But this time around, everything about the movie works and Webb and his team have plenty to be proud of. It’s one reboot that has taken me from a doubter to a believer.
Carl Kozlowski has been a professional film critic and essayist for the past five years at Pasadena Weekly, in addition to the Christian movie site Movieguide.org, the conservative pop culture site Breitbart.coms Big Hollywood, the Christian pop culture magazine Relevant and New City newspaper in Chicago. He also writes in-depth celebrity interviews for Esquire.com and The Progressive. He is owner of the podcasting site www.radiotitans.com, which was named one of the Frontier Fifty in 2013 as one of the 50 best talk-radio outlets in the nation by www.talkers.com and will be relaunching it in January 2014 after a five-month sabbatical. He lives in Los Angeles.