The reboot of the Spider-Man franchise has been mostly an exercise in redundancy, as the redundant second movie of the new series, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” has redundantly shown. It’s a less compelling run-through than its immediate predecessor, for several reasons. For one, it’s weird to watch Andrew Garfield (b. 1983) as Peter Parker and Emma Stone (b. 1988) as Gwen Stacy graduating from high school, when they’re old enough, nearly, to have high-school-aged kids of their own. Jamie Foxx plays the doomed nebbish Max Dillon with a heaping dose of friendly pathos, which all implodes as he’s forced, through no fault of his own, to assume deadly freaky electric powers. Poor guy is constantly picked on, and seemingly schizophrenic, and for that he assumes the mantle of villain, when what he really needs is some dedicated therapy.
This will be a favorite superhero flick for many a smaller kid, despite what can only be described as a convoluted plot — we get copious digital sequences of Spidey slinging webs and Tarzaning his way through New York, cracking wise as he goes. Spider-Man is a child favorite in part because that’s how kids roll through the world themselves: small, fast, caroming from wall to wall. But he also holds sway for teens, being a young adult himself. For as effortless as he looks to the world, Spider-Man still sweats his dating life. Haunted by the recurring sight of her dead father, Peter tells Gwen that he can’t keep seeing her — he gave the old man his word that he’d keep her safely out of his crimefighting life. Peter’s emotional moment is that of a bunch of high school grads: the first time you actually give up something good voluntarily. We call those “adult choices,” kids, and they’re the pits.
This leads Peter and Gwen through one of these are-we-or-aren’t-we breakups that have earned comparison to some of director Marc Webb’s earlier work (“500 Days of Summer,” to be specific). And it’s cute enough for what it is, even if Peter can’t help but act a bit stalky. Meanwhile his prep school buddy Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan, convincingly) has taken the reins at the omnipresent OsCorp, but isn’t feeling well, and may in fact be leaning a wee bit criminally insane. Also, Peter’s haunted by the memory of his own father and mother running out on him: We know from a harrowing opening sequence that their lot ended nobly; Peter knows only that he felt abandoned. But, let’s be serious, all of this would seem paltry if he could just figure out whether he and Gwen are, like, still dating? Or just hanging out?
At least this new incarnation feels truer, in a way. We’ve gotten past the burden of Great Responsibility that comes with Great Power. For this Spider-Man, doing good comes so easily it borders on the glib. Harder is that he also has to maintain a love life without getting his girlfriend killed. For a change, Peter Parker doesn’t have a problem being Spider-Man. Rather, Spider-Man has a problem being Peter Parker. For as much other silliness pervades this movie, that much, at least, feels like a new take on an old (and ever-aging) story.