AmazingSpiderman2coverGrade: B+
Entire family: Maybe; use your discretion
2014, 141 min., Color
Sony Pictures
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Bonus features: B

If the previous Spider-Man trilogy and the new Amazing Spider-Man trilogy-in-progress (yes, a third installment has been announced for 2018 release) were tucked inside a time capsule with instructions for researchers to divide a test audience into two groups and show the trilogies one after the other, would their favorite depend on which one they see first? Maybe. Both trilogies are comparable blockbusters with slick special effects, charismatic casts, and airtight screenplays that follow the Marvel handbook pretty closely.

But there are some differences. In Sam Raimi’s 2002, 2004, and 2007 films, Tobey Maguire was a bit of a nerd as Peter Parker, and his superhero adventure played like a coming-of-age story. The series was campy, too, deliberately going for a playful tone to bring it in line with the comic book world.

That world has grown darker, though, and in the 2012 reboot from director Marc Webb, Andrew Garfield was a little edgier than the doe-eyed Maguire, more skate punk with attitude than an innocent teen, and in this new series Gwen’s father’s objections to him are more intense (and justifiably so). It’s the same in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

AmazingSpiderman2screen2But darker or edgier doesn’t mean more less family-friendly. Both series are rated PG-13 and are similar in terms of appropriate content, and in this film there’s no nudity or sexual situations, very little in the way of language, and violence that’s mostly tied to spectacular effects or to the fantastic.  

While special effects keep getting more and more special, there’s only so much you can do when the concept calls for webslinging and webswinging. There’s a little more self-conscious who-cares-how-real-it-looks CGI to this Spider-Man’s aerial acrobatics, because who are we fooling? The audience knows it’s not real, so let’s have some fun with it—which is why some of the stunts in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 make Garfield look like a snowboarder pushing the envelope at the Olympics.

AmazingSpiderman2screenBut the basic story is already so familiar to audiences that there’s very little surprise here, and for a superhero movie that’s like making him work with both hands tied behind his back. In The Amazing Spider-Man, Spidey went up against a scientist who mutated into a powerful lizard. This outing, his biggest fan (Jamie Foxx)—a guy Spider-Man saved—has a “shocking” experience with high voltage and transforms into Electro. What’s more, Peter’s frenemy Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) enters the picture again, and it’s then that Spider-Man realizes that Harry’s father’s research corporation, Oscorp, seems to be at the center of the maelstrom.

The film didn’t do as well at the box office as the first, but I would attribute that more to sequel or reboot fatigue than anything else. As I said, the action scenes and special effects are comparable to the first film of this series and the previous trilogy, but it does start to become overly familiar.

That said, if you’re 13 it’s all new, because you would have been six years old when Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 3” played in theaters, and there’s enough here for the rest of the family to enjoy even if they’re not all fans of the Marvel Universe. My teenage son liked the tone of the first trilogy but appreciates the second series just as much. He would have given it an A-. For me, though, and for my wife, that’s a bit generous, given that there’s so little here that breaks genuinely new ground. But it still makes for a rousing night of family home theater.