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Superhero sequel doesn't do whatever a spider can

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Andrew Garfield stars in 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2,' also staring Emma Stone.

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Andrew Garfield stars in 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2,' also staring Emma Stone.

"2" should be a magic number, webslinger-wise.

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It was a firing-on-all-cylinders superhero movie in which high-flying visual effects never superseded screenwriter Alvin Sargent’s dramatically grounded screenplay, all enhanced by Raimi’s stylish, comic book-friendly torque.

Obviously, it’s too early to tell how the new, too-quickly-rebooted Spider-Man franchise stacks up against Raimi’s. But it’s a bad sign the second instalment is so very 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 suiting up as Spider-Man and fighting crime for fun. But when the mask comes off, he must still face his romantic issues, vis-à-vis his love for the perky Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). In the last film, remember, he promised Gwen’s dying dad, police captain George 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. The attention-seeking dweeb 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. Much of the fault lays with screenwriters Jeff Pinkner, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. The latter two, the scripters responsible for the Transformers movies and the egregious Star Trek Into Darkness, seemingly put all their energy into the action beats. They go through the motions, but deliver character work that 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 traffic light.

It is an easy bet that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 will clean up at the box office this weekend, given its saturated presence in theatres. (It is extremely rare these days that a movie plays in every single first-run theatre in town, as TASM2 does in Winnipeg.)

The impending riches will be undeserved. So if this one is on your weekend agenda, take note, moviegoers.

You’re only going to encourage them.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

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About Randall King

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

His dad was Winnipeg musician Jimmy King, a one-time columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press. One of his brothers is a playwright. Another is a singer-songwriter.

Randall has been content to cover the entertainment beat in one capacity or another since 1990.

His beat is film, and the job has placed him in the same room as diverse talents, from Martin Scorsese to Martin Short, from Julie Christie to Julia Styles. He has met three James Bonds (four if you count Woody Allen), and director Russ Meyer once told him: "I like your style."

He really likes his job.

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