Amazing Spider-Man spins a better yarn the second time around

If The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) felt like warmed-up leftovers from Sam Raimi’s Spider- Man trilogy, the inevitable sequel The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is vast improvement. The new film, again directed by the aptly named Marc Webb, gets the “official” summer movie season off in encouraging fashion – both for the season and the series.

In the dual role of Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man and his adolescent alter ego Peter Parker, Andrew Garfield makes the role his own with a personable, appealing gawkiness. He enjoys being a superhero, but also nurses considerable guilt over the emotional cost, especially in his relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), which will only become more acute as the story proceeds.

These personal matters could be mundane, but Garfield and Stone – an off-screen couple, as well – play them with sincerity and conviction.

Of course, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a comic-book movie, which requires action – and that requires supervillainy. It’s provided here by Jamie Foxx (surprisingly effective) as Max Dillon, a lowly techno-geek earlier rescued by Spider-Man. Unfortunately, due to an on-the-job accident – immediately hushed up by the sinister Oscorp – he emerges as the super-charged Electro.

There’s also Peter’s childhood chum, corporate scion Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), a prodigal son who returns in time to bid his father (an unbilled Chris Cooper) farewell on his deathbed and to start manifesting symptoms of the same malady which claimed the senior Osborn’s life. (Fans of Spider-Man are well aware that Norman will eventually evolve into something mean and green.)

Also on hand are Paul Giamatti, Colm Feore, Martin Csokas, Felicity Jones and Sally Field (as ever-faithful Aunt May), with brief appearances by Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Martin Sheen and Denis Leary in roles from the first film. Naturally, Marvel Comics founder Stan Lee puts in his requisite camp cameo.

Screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner and James Vanderbilt stay reasonably faithful to the Marvel mythos, and director Webb keeps the momentum solid and steady in a 142-minute running time – the highlight being Electro’s explosive “debut” in Times Square. As expected (given the pricetag), the special effects whether experienced in 2-D, 3-D, IMAX, or any combination thereof.

From top to bottom, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a superior sequel in every respect. It’s smoother, sharper, more spirited and more fun than the original. They’ve built a better mousetrap this time, one very satisfying in its own right.