Maybe Spider-Man is at his cinematic best when he’s swinging through the concrete canyons of New York City, but this movie is unmistakably set in a comic-book world. How do we know? Because every time some goofus gets a mind to balance on a ladder over a tank of electric eels while holding a power cable, he doesn’t end up on YouTube. Oh no. He, along with every other crank who ingests mutating formulas in this movie, gains astonishing power and twice the resolve to control the world after ridding it of do-good Spidey. This movie has more origin stories than the Bible.
But it works, and it holds our interest, because reality (read: death) is never far from the center of the interweaving plot lines. Throughout Spider-Man 2, Peter (Andrew Garfield) keeps seeing the ghost of his girlfriend’s father hovering over. (If you had Denis Leary as a bad conscience, you’d likely freak out, too.) Meanwhile, Peter’s quest to unravel the mystery of his parents’ disappearance is nearly overshadowed by the hideous demise of demonic Oscorp’s president (the uncredited Chris Cooper), a death that brings about a series of tragic outcomes and aids in the transformation of the aforementioned street cranks into superbad dudes.
The film floats on Gwen (Emma Stone) and Peter’s quirky on-and-off relationship. But it’s Spidey swinging through high-rises, juggling radioactive vials, and saving kids and other hapless creatures that are the real stars of the show. Despite Peter’s appropriately moody family drama, the revelations about his mysterious parents turn out to be the least interesting aspect of this movie (cool, abandoned subway lair notwithstanding). Still, there’s a lot of movie here. Most of it is dazzling; some of it is touching. The only thing missing is the appropriate warning, which we’ll now supply: Listen, kids, don’t play in eel tanks with open electric lines. Nobody really wants to be super-villainous when they grow up.