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‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’: Unrivaled flying effects save an overstuffed sequel

Jamie Foxx Andrew Garfield star 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2.' | COLUMBIA PICTURES

Jamie Foxx and Andrew Garfield star in "The Amazing Spider-Man 2." | COLUMBIA PICTURES

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Peter Parker/Spider-Man Andrew Garfield

Gwen Stacy Emma Stone

Max Dillon/Electro Jamie Foxx

Harry Osborn/Green Goblin Dane DeHaan

Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by Marc Webb and written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner, based on the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Running time: 140 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi action/violence). Opens Friday at local theaters.

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Updated: June 3, 2014 6:15AM

I’ll never understand the mentality of the Cheering Bystander Behind the Barricades in comic book movies.

Let’s say you were on vacation in Times Square when all of a sudden a giant, glowing, growling, electrified creature began knocking out the power, toppling over the neon signs for “Mamma Mia!” and “Jersey Boys,” and oh yeah, sending police vehicles flying through the sky while fending off a hail of gunfire.

Would you:

A. Run for your life.

B. Gather behind the conveniently and instantly erected police barricades to heckle the villain and cheer the arrival of Spider-Man.

You can probably guess what happens in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.”

This is an overlong, energetic, sometimes thrilling and way too overcrowded sequel to the 2012 reboot of the franchise from way back in the 2000s. Director Marc Webb and his forces come up with some gorgeous special effects, and Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have terrific chemistry, but as is with the case with far too many superhero movies, the plot is a bit of an overstuffed mess, with at least one villain too many and a final act that could have been just about perfect if not for being overly occupied with setting up the next chapter in the series.

Garfield is a talented actor who makes Peter Parker one of the more interesting alter egos this side of Tony Stark. (The 30-year-old Garfield and the 25-year-old Stone are too old to play graduating high school seniors. Why not give us a Spidey story where the characters are playing closer to the actors’ ages?)

Though madly in love with Gwen — and who wouldn’t be, as she’s all big brains and crinkly smiles and kind heart — Peter is torn by his promise to Gwen’s late father, the NYPD Captain George Stacy (Denis Leary, who appears as a disapproving vision to Peter) that he would let go of Gwen so she wouldn’t be in constant jeopardy. They try to break up, but it’s tough to make that stick, what with Spidey keeping tabs on Gwen from high above the city, and Gwen doing some sort of super duper recent high school graduate summer work at Oscorp, where Peter’s childhood friend Harry (Dane DeHaan, doing an impersonation of a young Leonardo DiCaprio) has assumed control of the $200 billion company following his father’s gruesome demise.

And here we are neck-deep in complications and we haven’t even talked about the tragic and complicated backstory of Peter’s parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz), plus Aunt May (Sally Field) working double shifts to make ends meet, the usual media backlash against Spider-Man and his “vigilante” ways, a nearly unrecognizable Paul Giamatti as a Russian terrorist — and oh yeah, Jamie Foxx as the hovering, terrifying, glowing blue villain who calls himself Electro.

The webbed one’s aerial adventures are the most exciting we’ve seen in any of the five Spider-Man movies. Webb is clearly a fan of “Matrix”-style, “bullet time” special effects, with various characters and pieces of architectural shrapnel floating in beautiful slow motion. In one scene where the love interest is taking the obligatory plunge to near-certain death, the rescue effort is one of the most thrilling and intense sequences in any modern superhero movie.

Another plus: Foxx’s menacing line deliveries and eerie, chilling appearance. The score and soundtrack are more eclectic than you normally get in a comic book movie, and there are some genuinely dark moments.

One just wishes Spider-Man would take himself as seriously. Garfield’s Peter Parker is a thoughtful, brilliant, conflicted young man trying to balance his burning love for Gwen and his destiny as a crime-fighting superhero. But all too often, Spider-Man’s kind of a smarmy jerk. In the middle of epic battles in which civilians are in clear danger of getting maimed or killed, Spidey still takes time to make jokes or engage in Three Stooges-level slapstickery. When he whistles the old cartoon theme to “Spider-Man” while in costume, the film has a jokey self-awareness more befitting “Batman and Robin” than the ambitious main storyline of this story. I’m not saying “Spider-Man” should try to emulate “The Dark Knight,” but it why not give the drama the respect it deserves and leave the jokes behind.

In between the pyrotechnics — and once again, New York City really gets pummeled in a superhero movie — there are a number of authentic dramatic moments. Still in mourning for her beloved Ben, and after all those years of doing the laundry and making the lunches and working herself numb, Aunt May finally unleashes her emotions in a scene in which she declares her fiercely protective love for Peter and her resentment toward his parents for leaving him. It’s great acting by Field.

Garfield and Stone also succeed in creating a touching and real romance. You believe they’re meant for each other, even when they have their doubts.

There’s enough good stuff in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” to warrant cautious optimism about the next chapter.

You know what might be really cool? A running time of 100 minutes or less, and a badass, lean, streamlined plot. Just to see if it could be done.


Twitter: @richardroeper

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