Web of deceit 

Spider-Man needs more than hot dudes in Spandex

Before I dig into a shallow discussion of the attractiveness of certain actors, let me give you some background, because these endless sequels can get confusing. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is the second sequel in the second major movie reboot of the Spider-Man saga. The first ones, you'll recall, were directed by Sam Raimi, starred Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst and came out between 2002 and 2007. I grew up watching the "Spider-Man" cartoon that aired on Fox in the mid-'90s, and rewatching clips on YouTube reminded me how great that cartoon was—and that the plots of every single Spider-Man movie I've ever seen would be much better suited for a 20-minute-long cartoon.

The new Amazing Spider-Man franchise, directed by Marc Webb (ha!), follows the original comic series a little more closely, if that sort of thing matters to you. For my part, I've always seen Spider-Man as a pretty obvious metaphor for a teenage boy's confusion with adolescence (including, ahem, the sticky substances) and enjoyed the more sarcastic, witty personality that most versions of the story give Spider-Man, as opposed to the dead seriousness of Batman.

The Amazing Spider-Man series has a couple things going for it. One, that it does not star Maguire, whom I found to be simpering and whiny as a purported action star. Andrew Garfield works way better as a lithe, boyish hero who grins wide but is secretly sad; plus, his rendition of Peter Parker is supposed to be a high school kid, which works better for the character's level of emotional maturity. (I'd also like to point out that Garfield is actually 30, so I feel perfectly comfortable ogling him.)

It's hard to act all that much in a Spandex face mask, and wisely, Garfield spends a lot of his screen time as Peter. But The Amazing Spider-Man's biggest asset is Garfield's chemistry with Emma Stone, his real-life girlfriend. She brings her usual smart, cute charisma as love interest Gwen Stacy. Garfield and Stone have some moments of romantic interaction and physical comedy that are much more touching and fun to watch than 90 percent of the explosion-y, disappointingly obvious CGI action.

click to enlarge “Made you flinch!”
  • “Made you flinch!”

The pacing for Amazing Spider-Man 2 suffers from the mid-trilogy syndrome of just setting up the drama for the third sequel. There's actually more focus on character development during the first third of the movie than there is action, which is fine by me, but as a stand-alone film, the plot isn't all that substantial. Our main baddie for this installment is Jamie Foxx as Electro. Electro, the only black character in the movie, wants to use his power to lash out at people who've ignored or mistreated him his whole life—which has all kinds of interesting and ultimately troubling racial connotations. Electro's action scenes are coordinated with music, making them curiously like a music video—maybe that's director Webb's nod to his career creating videos for bands like AFI and Good Charlotte.

I had enjoyed watching 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man just fine, but after the movie all my buddies pointed out that the plot was complete garbage. So I went into The Amazing Spider-Man 2 with pretty low expectations and a lot of boxed wine, which is the approach I recommend you take. And in these days when even PG-13 films are grotesquely violent, I really want to applaud this movie for bucking that trend and sticking with bloodless fight scenes.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is entertaining as a mindless summer superhero movie, and for my money, having more likable stars makes a huge difference. I'm still pissed that Spider-Man and Batman reboots continue to get pumped out year after year when better, more diverse superheroes are yet to be given the title role treatment (cough cough, Wonder Woman.) Much as I like watching hot dudes run around in Spandex, I would much rather see a few more superhero movies where women and people of color don't just serve as plot points propelling a white dude's character development.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 continues at the Carmike 12, Entertainer and Pharaohplex.

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