The second chapter is always the most crucial one to nail in any blockbuster franchise. After all, the first tends to be so loaded down with obligatory backstory or, in the case of superhero movies, origin mythology that there's hardly any room to hint at the bigger picture, where the whole thing is headed. Part 2 is like a pivotal second date, where a director can stretch out and show his or her intentions. Sometimes this means revealing deeper, darker layers (The Empire Strikes Back); sometimes it exposes the muddled confusion at the heart of the endeavor (The Matrix Reloaded).
In other words, there's a lot riding on The Amazing Spider-Man 2, not just commercially (although there is that) but also as a signpost of what lies ahead. Thankfully, director Marc Webb's dizzy, slickly enjoyable sequel gets a ton right. It's a Marvel spectacle that manages to deftly balance razzle-dazzle, feel-it-in-your-gut slingshot moments of flight and believable human relationships. There's psychological weight to go with all of the gravity-defying, webslinging weightlessness.
After kicking off with an action-packed flashback that shows Peter Parker's late father (Campbell Scott) and mother (Embeth Davidtz) on the run from Oscorp heavies and meeting their fate, Webb picks up where he left off at the end of his hit-and-miss 2012 opener. Peter (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) are a couple as adorable as a box of kittens, Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) is dead, and Peter is moonlighting as a jokey, quippy crime fighter in red-and-blue arachnid spandex (some might say a bit too jokey and quippy). Following a face-off against a Russian thug who'll later be known as Rhino (Paul Giamatti), Peter grapples with a promise he made to Gwen's dad (Denis Leary) to protect her by leaving her alone. Of course, we know the chemistry between these two won't let any breakup stick, so they spend a lot of time in a flirty, will-they-or-won't-they dance straight out of a Cheers episode. Meanwhile, Spidey saves nerdy, mentally unhinged Oscorp engineer Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) from going splat under a taxi, and Max becomes obsessed with him. In the Marvel universe, this is what passes as ''foreshadowing.''
Soon enough, after a freak accident where Max falls into a tank of electric eels at Oscorp, he transforms into a cool, glowing blue villain named Electro, who's like a high-voltage cross between The King of Comedy's stalker Rupert Pupkin and Doctor Manhattan from Watchmen. He's a powerless man who now has more power than he knows what to do with. Because one or two baddies aren't enough, there's also Peter's boyhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan). The illness Harry inherited from his father (Chris Cooper) spurs him to inject himself with spider serum and become the Green Goblin, which sets the table for a third-act battle-royal climax. And this is where the overstuffed, sequel-setting film goes a bit pear-shaped. While it's always a blast seeing comic-book heroes and bad guys square off in an F/X smackdown, Spidey 2 doesn't know when to end. The busy finale or rather, finales keeps coming until you want to blow a whistle and call it a draw just to make it stop. It's a minor beef for an otherwise really fun movie, but hopefully Webb & Co. will learn that less is often more before swinging into action on Spidey 3. B