By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
Just when we more sophisticated filmgoers thought thatwe couldn’t possibly sit through one more overlong, summer blockbuster, director Marc Webb and his estimable cast prove us wrong with “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Granted, while it’s still a tad lengthy, a solid mixture of mesmerizing spectacle and smart script kept me from worrying that I’d never again eat non-movie food or see daylight.
The secret to this success, at the risk of sounding schmaltzy and righteously traditional, is the attention to good, basic storytelling. Specifically, like “The Wizard of Oz’s” Tin Woodman, this super extravaganza sees the importance of having a heart. While we are cogently updated, back-storied and flourishingly apprised of all the latest Spidey lore, the romantic angle supplementing the action stuff dreamily appeals to anyone who was ever a teenager in love. I see a lot of raised hands.
Andrew Garfield, who reprises his title role and secret identity of Peter Parker, a sometimes awkward teen on the precipice of young manhood, adds just enough credibility to humanize the wonderfully incredible concept. He questions, agonizes and feels bad that his Aunt May, sympathetically played by Sally Field, must strive to make ends meet, all along trying to discern where his joyful and useful niche in life resides. Y’know, J.D., this coming-of-age world saver has a little Holden Caulfield in him.
Figuring big time in all these ruminations, pretty Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, Peter’s winsome and brainy inamorata, is just the sort of feminine complement it takes to keep a superhero at the top of his game. Is their love convincing? Well, let’s just say I’ve begun to save for the wedding present. You have to put at least $250 in the envelope, no?
Such is the achieved fantasy…an accessibility that makes the powerful protagonist all the more enamoring. Big as the presentation is, good comic book fiction requires a very personal connection, especially if you’re attaching a nostalgic component to it.
You remember taking that shiny dime and confidently sauntering to Krupman’s candy store on the corner where, you have it on good authority, the newest issue is on the rack. You touch its slick cover, run your fingers against the newness, the unfaded bright colors, and the promise of wondrous adventure inside. Maybe kindly Mrs. Krupman, an important piece of this magical transaction, makes a penny.
You don’t read it right then and there, though you do immediately unwrap and bite into the Hershey bar with almonds (why wouldn’t you get the one with almonds?) you bought with the nickel you found on the way…a whole other story.
Rather, you savor it, and save it for later. Sure, you could have read it after dinner instead of watching “Lassie.” But nope, it is only under covers at bedtime with trusty camp flashlight (your name taped on it) when you can imbibe, and pay proper reverence to, your pen-and-ink hero, surely drawn as beautifully as anything hanging in the Louvre, wherever that is.
None of this is to suggest that Mr. Webb’s Spider-Man is the filmic equivalent of that genuine comic-book ritual, but it sure had me harking back to it.
Indeed, there’s plenty derring-do, as well as the required inventory of dazzling special effects, all delivered with the cutting edge techniques expected of a $200,000,000 reel of celluloid. Pay a few bucks more and you get to have it pop out at you in good but not outrageous 3-D.
And oh, rest assured there are villains. The most threatening of our hero’s adversaries, portrayed with notable, off-the-hook ferocity by Jamie Foxx, embodies a tragic subplot that adds fitfully nervous energy to the doings. He is Electro, a.k.a. Max Dillon, a nerdy fan of Spider Man who, through the usual series of ironic comic book happenstances, gains some rather highly charged powers of his own.
Making him all the more dangerous, the newly minted monster has no idea how best to handle his accidentally acquired omnipotence, nor any desire to do so. Peter, on the other hand, when he’s not worrying about his aunt, trying to reconcile Gwen’s possible career move to London or feeling guilty about breaking a promise to her now deceased dad, is questioning the proper utilization of his special gift. Aren’t we all?
Among the engaging metaphors, we identify with his vigilant search for purpose, and allow ourselves to vicariously indulge in the sheer joy of what it’s like when one does actualize his full potential. But more importantly, not forgetting that this whole business of Superherodom was born of a need to calm and buoy young hearts in the dark days of W.W. II, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” weaves a winning soul into its inviting web.
“The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” rated PG-13, is a Columbia Pictures release directed by Marc Webb and stars Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and Jamie Foxx. Running time: 142 minutes