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Wednesday, August 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 75.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is too silly for its own good
Caricatures vs. characters
on
Cartoonish camp, not serious sci-fi.
Cartoonish camp, not serious sci-fi.

Two years after the first reboot of the Spider-Man story, an equally pointless sequel has arrived. By now we've had several years of smart, relevant Avengers dramas, so The Amazing Spider-Man 2 looks like a campy Saturday-morning cartoon left over from the 1970s.

There's nothing wrong with a movie for the little ones, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is fine for them, as long as they can tolerate a run time of nearly two and a half hours. But returning director Marc Webb would like this film to be taken as a serious drama, at least part of the time. As a result, he's given protagonist Peter Parker some angst having to do with the mystery of his parents' fate. There is one truly moving scene between Peter (Andrew Garfield) and his nurturing Aunt May (Sally Field) that nearly brought me to tears. Field is a cinematic goddess with a deeply sympathetic screen presence, and Garfield is the sort of actor who doesn't sublimate emotion. It's on his face, all the time.

But these dramatic moments feel imported from another film. The Peter in these scenes does not feel like the same guy who morphs into Spider-Man and engages in vaudevillian antics with cartoonish villains. This Spider-Man's coup de grace after defeating a bad guy is pulling down the criminal's trousers to reveal a pair of "funny" underpants. Groucho Marx might approve, but will modern-day viewers?

The screenwriters do no better with the part of Peter's girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone, shamefully misused). Her only job seems to be standing around in her gorgeous wardrobe looking amazing and acting adorable. Even after some extreme buffeting during the film's climactic battle -- in which she is put in jeopardy to torment Peter -- she doesn't have a run in her very expensive stockings. But it turns out she has some secret, impossible-to-come-by knowledge that can benefit Peter and move the plot along.

This is also the sort of movie in which a mad scientist (Marton Csokas) wears lipstick and eyeliner. It's the sort of movie in which the employees of world-class scientific operation Oscorp are so undedicated to their work that they knowingly endanger their Manhattan skyscraper. And it's the sort of movie in which both supervillains -- nerdy engineer Max Dillion, who becomes the electrifying Electro (Jamie Foxx), and Peter's friend Harry Osborn, who becomes the Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan) -- turn on a dime from loving Peter to hating him.

Simplistic tales of good and evil may satisfy kids, but those of us who've come to expect more of our mutants and caped crusaders may leave the theater more frustrated than fired up.

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