In theaters Friday, May 2
3 1/2 stars (out of 4 stars)
When it comes to creating chemistry on screen, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone don't need any help from those whizzes in CGI department. A real-life couple for almost three years now, their affection for each other is blissfully, impressively evident in this sequel. And they electrify amid a flurry of wily, spine-tingling thrills and swooping action taking place over the heart of New York City.
Yep, this is a rare big-budget superhero movie that should please both old-school comic books aficionados—and anyone simply craving a sweet, fizzy love story. (Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, also an off-screen couple for a spell, couldn't pull this trick off entirely in their Spider-Man trilogy.)
Garfield's angst-ridden teen, Peter Parker, is still moonlighting as a costumed vigilante and living with his dear aunt (Sally Field). When he's not rescuing a geeky kid from school bullies or stopping a heist in Times Square, he's ga-ga over Stone's irrepressible Gwen Stacy. But even their relationship causes agita: Because of a promise made to Gwen's police chief dad before he died, Peter tries oh so hard to keep her out of harm's way.
It's a futile endeavor. Which is a shame for Peter and Gwen, yet delicious for moviegoers who like their candy-colored villains devious and interesting. In one evil corner is a sad-sack engineer (Jamie Foxx) at Gwen’s OsCorp lab—also a fanatical Spider-Man groupie—who has an accident and falls into a tank full of eels. He morphs into a monster that radiates anger and can manipulate NYC's electricity. A scene in which the former outcast stealthily trolls an empty street, setting off ringers and car alarms is visually stirring.
The other bad guy has an OsCorp link too; a much stronger one. Peter's long-lost childhood friend, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) is a millionaire scion ailing from a genetic disease —and seeking Spider-Man's special blood, at any cost, to cure him. After Peter and the web slinger rebuff him, he turns dark. Actually, he turns green. Though Harry is sidelined for long stretches, the mesmerizing DeHaan leaves an impression. (And it must be said that with his steely eyes and floppy hair, he eerily resembles a Basketball Diaries-era Leonardo DiCaprio).
Even with these lively forces, Garfield and Stone spark with the most power. As flirty Gwen needles Peter about his "big brown doe eyes" and Peter teases her about her hearty laugh, the banter is reminiscent of a charming rom-com. Garfield can talk in interviews all he wants about his creative process for delving into Spidey's neurotic psyche—the joy is written all over his face when Peter sees Gwen waiting for him on a sidewalk and he jaywalks through heavy traffic just to get to her.
Their closeness is woven throughout a film that infuses high-flying moments from the get-go. (Talking in the literal sense: A terror-in-the-friendly-skies prologue is a white-knuckler of a sequence.) The relationship also stands up during the installment's overly tangled and weighty third act, which features no less than five potential final scenes. The connection is just that special.
No wonder he'd jump off a tall building for her.
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