[Image Caption: With generic movies come generic movie posters]



The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the inevitable, simply titled sequel to 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, is less snore-inducingly tedious than the first installment, but that’s a pretty low bar. ASM was terrible. ASM2 is good, but not great.

The problem with ASM2 is that the action scenes are excellent. Andrew Garfield is a better Spider-Man than he is a Peter Parker, and his delivery of the superhero’s trademark banter is pitch-perfect. Those scenes are exciting, they’re clear, and they’re well-directed. How is that a problem? They’re far too little of the movie, and it makes the rest of it even worse by comparison.

Peter’s relationship with Gwen Stacy (played by Emma Stone) is every bit as boring to watch in this movie as it was in the first. It takes up less of it, but it manages to suck the life out of every scene where Peter’s not in a mask. They spend the entire movie being on-again-off-again while Peter stalks Gwen creepily from the rooftops. It’s hard to tell if the problem is mediocre writing or mediocre chemistry between the actors, but there’s definitely a problem.

Of course—much like the identity of the Winter Soldier in last month’s much better Marvel movie Captain America: The Winter Soldier—anyone who’s read comics in the last few decades knows the ultimate fate of Gwen Stacy. When it finally comes, it falls flat, with every bit of the emotional mediocrity of everything else about their relationship. A shame, that. It’s well-known as one of the pivotal events in Spider-Man’s history, but here it just seems to happen because it has to.

We also get the sudden arrival of Harry Osborne, played by Dane DeHaan, who we are told was best friends with Peter as a child before his father Norman shipped him off to boarding school, but who again has only fair to middling chemistry with Peter. Maybe the problem is Andrew Garfield. Harry’s travel along his expected course is moderately more interesting than Gwen’s, but perhaps that’s because Garfield isn’t there for most of it.

The headline villain this time around is Electro, played capably by Jamie Foxx. He’s portrayed as an awkward savant who craves recognition on a basic level—he’s excited just to have people remember his first name. His first encounter with Spider-Man after becoming superpowered feels like a failed attempt at deescalating a police situation with a mentally ill person. The fight scenes with him are absolutely the highlight of the movie.

Fortunately for the movie’s need for a PG-13 rating, Electro’s powers include the ability to make himself pants. Unlike Doctor Manhattan, we don’t see his Blue Man Group.

While I appreciated the race-bending casting for Electro and Gwen’s overall self-determination, I was put off by one character: The Ravencroft Institute’s (think Spider-Man’s Arkham Asylum) Dr. Ashley Kafka. The character was originally female, and while I can get over them recasting her as a man, they decided he needed to be wearing women’s make-up. As the character also has an almost comically thick German accent and plays loud classical music while he works, one can only assume that they added that detail as an extra way to show that he’s weird. They seemed so determined to make this character funny-weird that I honestly couldn’t tell if he was intended to be a protagonist or antagonist. Did they think using gender-nonconformity to communicate weirdness was totally okay? It’s really, really not.

Whether the stellar action scenes are worth the rest depends on your tolerance for watching twenty-somethings play emotionally indecisive teenagers. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is half a great superhero movie spliced together with half an inane, tedious relationship drama. It’s certainly no Winter Soldier, but if you’ve seen that enough times already or you just really have a soft spot for Spider-Man, you could do worse. Like the first one.

But I’ll warn you: Despite the trailers, there is a sad dearth of Paul Giamatti.