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The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Image: Niko Tavernise / Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.
Andrew Garfield in 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2'
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
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Andrew Garfield and Dane DeHaan in 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2'
Niko Tavernise / Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.

Andrew Garfield and Dane DeHaan in 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2'

It's tough to be a good superhero movie. (Perhaps: "good" superhero movie.)

On the surface, it seems like 2014's movie audiences don't expect much—these movies aren't expected to compete with The Master or The Act of Killing or whatever. There's no expectation of high-brow quality here. It's an open secret that superhero movies, like their comic book cousins, are first and foremost a commodity—an industry worth billions of dollars per year. David Poland over at Movie City News lays it out clearly: "There are other franchises on other landmarks along the way ... but these big-brand comic books have been box office leaders for 25 years now."

This isn't a bad thing at all—historically, I've loved this mess—but it means modern superhero movies have a strictly defined template. This model is maybe best exemplified by The Avengers: witty characters, unquestionably evil opposition, snappy dialogue, casualty-free action, and most of all: never get too serious. There's a charming shallowness to all of Marvel's recent films.

We want realism only up to a point—and that point is when it makes the fun stop.

This is a problem for the coincidentally-named Marc Webb, director of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, because Webb doesn't seem interested in playing by the rules. While there's virtually no difference between a fighty scene and a talky scene in The Avengers—both are fast, sharp, clean, and hyper-stylized—The Amazing Spider-Man 2 feels grafted together out of two different movies. One is a (500) Days of Summer-like charming dramedy and the other is a completely obligatory superhero movie. It ends up like a muted version of that rhyme, about the girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead: When The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is good, it's very, very good—and when it's bad, it's perfunctory.

I'm trying to work on seeing the good in everything, as sort of a life-project for 2014, so to start with what works in this movie: Andrew Garfield (as the titular arachnohominid) and Emma Stone (his love interest Gwen Stacy) do an excellent job of bringing a sense of lightheartedness to the proceedings, especially considering the film-based-Spider-Men's propensities towards drama and angst, Garfield and Maguire alike. There's a lot of blushing, flirting, and other general chemistry that goes on there, and it is nice—good, charming, likable, whatever—but it's also (more importantly) believable. (Which makes sense, given Garfield and Stone's real-life-couple status.) They seem like high-school kids: dumb, flirty, flighty, kind of indecisive, passionate, passionately aimless. Webb's directed this kind of thing well before in (500) Days of Summer, and he does a good job distinguishing Peter Parker from the list of on-screen superheroes (expanding daily), reminding the audience that Spider-Man is young—really young.

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2