As the credits rolled on Wednesday night's pre-screening of "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," two young boys jumped and ran and somersaulted at the foot of the massive Imax screen. One wore a long, red Superman cape, and the other was dressed in an ill-fitting Spider-Man suit.
Watching those two play, it's easy to assume that "Spider-Man 2" is exactly what it was intended to be: a visually impressive superhero film that will capture imaginations, make money and lay the groundwork for future superhero films that will also entertain and make money.
But it's hard to walk away from "Spider-Man 2" without your Spidey Sense telling you you've seen it all before and will probably see it again. This is a film that offers plenty of entertainment and excitement, but aside from a late twist, it's also a film that sticks to a safe routine.
To be fair, the movie opens in a place none of the previous Spider-Man films have gone: the back story of Peter Parker's parents. After an opening flashback clues us in to their untimely demise, we find Peter (Andrew Garfield) on the cusp of high school graduation, happy in his relationship with girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and even happier in his new role as New York's favorite web-slinging crime fighter.
There's only one problem: Everywhere he goes, Peter sees the ghost of Captain Stacy (Denis Leary), Gwen's deceased father. It's not uncommon to have an awkward relationship with the father of one's significant other, but in this case, Peter promised the Captain on his deathbed to keep Gwen far away from harm.
Father-son narratives are critical to director Mark Webb's Spider-Man sequel. Conflicted by his relationship with Gwen, Peter turns his attention to an obsessive search for the truth behind his father's work, which strains his relationship with Aunt May (Sally Field). At the same time, Peter's childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) is back in town, and his father's death spurs the young Osborn into mining some infamous family ground.
Elsewhere, a tragic accident is about to give a face-in-the-crowd Oscorp employee named Max (Jamie Foxx) the notoriety he so desperately desires. Watching early trailers for this film suggested a villain-heavy mess that would evoke sore memories of 2007's "Spider-Man 3," but Webb manages to tell a streamlined story that holds its pieces together and features some first-rate visual effects that are especially impressive in the Imax format.
The trouble is we've seen most of it before. Spider-Man trying to reconcile his love for his leading lady with his concern for her safety. Harry Osborn's friendship with Peter becoming more dysfunctional as he gradually turns into the Green Goblin, a gifted outcast who discovers superpowers as the result of a tragic accident.
On one hand, they are the tropes that make Spider-Man and so many other superheroes the characters fans love. But isn't there something new we could bring to the table? We're still talking about a franchise that was rebooted for mostly financial reasons long before memories of Sam Raimi's films with Tobey Maguire had a chance to fade from audience memories. Garfield, Stone and Foxx are clearly having fun, and DeHaan's turn as Harry is compelling in a way James Franco never approached in the Raimi trilogy. But Webb's series still bears the scent of a rehash.
Admittedly, "Spider-Man 2" does deliver a few things we haven't seen before, and it deserves to be seen for the visuals alone, not to mention a third-act plot twist that will be fundamental to the overall series. But even the twist feels like it comes up short of its intended emotional weight, and it's hard to think fans will remember this installment as anything special 10 years from now.
Not that the filmmakers are concerned. "Spider-Man 2" closes with one of the boldest sequel tie-in sequences in recent memory.
Spoiler alert: The new boss may be the same as the old boss, and he's coming back whether you like it or not.
"The Amazing Spider-Man 2" is rated PG-13 for plenty of stylized action violence and some mild profanity.
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