ImageThe summer movie season is upon us and this year, the film responsible for kicking things off is The Amazing Spider-Man 2. A sequel to 2012’s bland and boring The Amazing Spider-Man, this film is an improvement over its predecessor, but it still fails to match the heights set by the original Sam Raimi films. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are great and the visual effects are top-notch, but a poor handling of the film’s villains and a weak narrative prevent this incarnation of the Spidey saga from truly soaring.

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is continuing to dress up as Spider-Man and fight crime on a regular basis. Having just graduated from high school, Peter remembers the promise that he made to Captain George Stacy to stay away from his daughter Gwen (Emma Stone). Despite still being in love with her, Peter ends their relationship in order to protect Gwen from the criminals that he faces.

Meanwhile, a Spider-man obsessed employee at OsCorp named Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) falls into a tank of electric eels and is presumed dead. His charred body begins writhing at the morgue and he wakes up to discover that he is completely electrified. The executives at OsCorp try to keep this a secret from the general public because investors are already worried when young Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) takes over the company after the death of his father. Realizing that he is succumbing to the same disease that killed his father, Harry comes to the conclusion that the only way to save himself is by taking some of Spider-Man’s blood.

Marc Webb returns to the director’s chair after having directed the previous installment and it’s clear that he is much more confident with the material this time around. Whereas The Amazing Spider-Man felt like it was assembled in a production factory, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has a clear vision and much more style. Thanks to cinematographer Daniel Mindel, the colors absolutely pop off the screen making every action sequence enjoyable. Also aiding in the action sequences is the visual effects work. Never before have images of Spidey swinging looked so real. An early scene that follows him as he swings through the city is truly thrilling.

A large portion of the film’s runtime is devoted to the relationship between Peter and Gwen. This relationship felt forced and lacked chemistry in the previous installment; here it feels far more genuine. Garfield and Stone are terrific together, likely due in large part to their off-screen romance. While the film excels in this area, it stumbles in a subplot involving Peter’s parents. The film spends so much time on Peter’s investigation into their past that the revelation regarding them feels underwhelming. Cutting this out of the film entirely would have sped up the pace of the film’s second act that too often drags. The only good thing that comes out of this storyline is an incredibly affecting scene involving Peter and his Aunt May, played by Sally Field who knocks it out of the park.

But the real problem of the film is its handling of its villains, specifically Electro and The Green Goblin. With his unique powers, Electro could have been a great villain, but his motives are simply uninteresting. The only reason that he becomes evil is because of his hatred toward Spider-Man and this grows unbelievable and tiresome far too quickly. The best villains are the ones that the audience can relate to in some way and once Electro’s motives are clear, audience members will find very little to connect with. The Green Goblin’s arc is set up quite nicely and it’s even possible for the audience to sympathize with him. Unfortunately, this set up is wasted on Dane DeHaan’s ridiculously over the top performance. DeHaan plays Harry Osborn as unstable, creepy and downright villainous right from the beginning, making it impossible to truly appreciate his downfall. DeHaan turns this well written character into a caricature. Even more disappointing is the brief amount of screen time given to the Goblin. He doesn’t appear until the film’s final act and his battle scene is much too short.

With The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Marc Webb proves that he wasn’t given this job simply because of his name. This is a fun, albeit messy, summer blockbuster with some satisfying action sequences. An opening sequence involving Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti) expertly showcases Spider-Man’s sense of humor and a battle featuring Electro in Times Square is one of the film’s highlights. Unlike its predecessor which felt like it took place in an uninteresting and banal dark city, this film clearly takes place in New York City, another necessity for any Spider-Man film. Aspects like this allow the film to overcome its corny dialogue and flimsy narrative. It may not be amazing, but it’s a step in the right direction.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 receives 2.5/4