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The Amazing Spider-Man 2

TWO should be a magic number, webslinger-wise.

Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy peaked in the middle in Spider-Man 2 (2004) when Tobey Maguire's iteration of Peter Parker/Spider-Man faced off against Alfred Molina's Dr. Octopus.

It was a firing-on-all-cylinders superhero movie in which high-flying visual effects never superseded screenwriter Alvin Sargent's dramatically grounded screenplay, all enhanced by Raimi's stylish, comic-book-friendly torque.

The too-quickly rebooted franchise continues to be weak compared to Raimi's. This second instalment is especially awful, a miasma of empty superhero spectacle, sloppy writing and dramatic redundancy.

Continuing the plot thread begun in the first movie, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) remains haunted by the disappearance of his parents when he was a mere tot. The movie prefaces with how Parker's mom (Embeth Davidtz) and pop (Campbell Scott) met their sticky ends.

For his part, Peter works through the family tragedy by suiting up as Spider-Man and fighting crime for fun. But when the mask comes off, he must still face his romantic issues, vis-a-vis his love for the perky Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). In the last film, remember, he promised Gwen's dying dad, Captain Stacy (Denis Leary), to give her up to protect her from the vengeful costumed lunatics who tend to pop up in a superhero's life. But it's a hard promise to keep, and now dad keeps popping up, like Banquo's ghost, to silently remind Peter of his vow.

More life-threatening issues arise. Electrical engineer Max Dillon, a sad lonely nerd played by an extravagantly miscast Jamie Foxx, suffers a terrible accident at his uncaring workplace, the evil corporation Oscorp, and is transformed into a glowing, blue-white electrical generator capable of tossing bolts of electricity around like so many deadly spitballs.

Also in the mix: Oscorp scion Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), suffering a terminal illness, fixates on the notion that his life might be saved by a curative dose of Spider-Man's radioactive spider-infused blood. More pain for Peter: The indulged Harry was once his boyhood friend. What is he supposed to do when Harry asks him to set up a Spider-Man hook-up with the implicit understanding of a fluid exchange?

Once spurned, Harry is not above using Oscorp's mutation experimentation and exotic weaponry to get what he wants (by way of introduction to his costumed villain the Green Goblin).

For a movie in which crackling balls of energy are tossed around like dodgeballs, Amazing 2 is short on electricity. The character work ranges from mediocre to awful, especially with the Max Dillon/Electro character. Coming with his own nerdy-comic theme music, Max is uncomfortably reminiscent of Jim Carrey's closeted Riddler in Batman Forever.

If Garfield and Stone generate some sparks between them, their relationship rehashes are positively sleep-inducing. Gwen threatens to leave and move to England to study at Oxford, and after a while, you may find yourself thinking: Just go already.

Unlike Raimi, director Marc Webb has no discernible style. He directs with the inspiration of a traffic cop putting in overtime beside a busted stoplight. H 1/2 out of five


Only Lovers Left Alive

THE Twilight movies lost most of the adult demographic right at the start, when new kid Bella moves to an isolated town and discovers a family of vampires attending her high school.

These people are ancient, mind you. But because they look like teens, they have apparently consigned themselves to the hell of eternal secondary education, where they can continue indefinitely to engage in the realm of teen fashion, music, and the usual cycles of rivalry and attraction.

Writer-director Jim Jarmusch's movie Only Lovers Left Alive is about cool vampires. But it manages to extrapolate sensibly on the ramifications of centuries' worth of longevity.

Going to high school is definitely not part of the game plan.

In fact, as much as possible, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) keeps to himself in a desolate old house in the largely abandoned (and thus carefully chosen) city of Detroit. He composes electronic music. He listens to the classics (with the understanding that "classics" encompasses Paganini, Wanda Jackson and Charlie Feathers). He engages in furtive guitar/equipment purchases with a benign, properly intimidated dealer named Ian (Anton Yelchin). And for sustenance, he maintains a relationship of "mutual jeopardy" with a sketchy doctor (Jeffrey Wright) with access to pure, untainted blood.

Adam is solitary but not exactly alone. On the other side of the world, in Tangier, his longtime lover Eve (Tilda Swinton) lives in more tropical isolation with her books and occasional visits to her good friend and fellow vampire Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), yes, that Christopher Marlowe, who confirms that he did indeed write all the works attributed to that fraud William Shakespeare.

Haunted by Adam's feelings of impending doom ("I just feel like all the sand is at the bottom of the hourglass") Eve flies to Detroit via overnight flights to join Adam and luxuriate in a lush state of romantic ennui before the intrusion of Eve's younger, impulsive, self-indulgent sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska).

Prior to Ava's appearance, Jarmusch paints a picture of vampirism as a more evolved state of being. Adam and Eve -- the movie hints that they are not the first humans but they may be the last -- are cultured and sensitive souls. They can still experience ecstasy (when slugging back shots of blood) and they have been around long enough to be pessimistic about the future of humanity: Adam refers to mortals as "zombies," which should give you a clue.

It makes for an odd but gorgeously atmospheric movie in which Jarmusch breaks new gothic ground, whether on the desolate streetscapes of Detroit of in the labyrinthine passageways of Tangier.

The role of Eve is very much in Swinton's wheelhouse, exploiting her otherworldly beauty and fierce intelligence. If you only know Hiddleston from his Loki in the Avengers/Thor movies, it will be a pleasure to see him in the mode of a doomed Byronic romantic. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 21, 2014 C12

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