See This/Skip That: From Amazing Spider-Man 2 to Belle

Amazing Spider-Man 2, Belle: Movie Reviews from PEOPLE
Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

updated 05/01/2014 at 07:00 PM EDT

originally published 05/02/2014 05:15PM

Is Spider-Man 2 as amazing as it claims, and how does it stack up against its predecessor?

Plus, Belle takes on race relations in 18th-century England.

PEOPLE's movie critic weighs in on what to see and what to skip in theaters this weekend.

See This – If You're a Die-Hard Fan

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
With villains popping out of every third lab at Oscorp, Spidey 2 feels more like a lavishly produced game of whack-a-mole than a sequel to the streamlined (and wildly romantic) 2012 series reboot.



But thank the Marvel gods that Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are back as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, because without their natural chemistry, I'd be more inclined to squash this arachnid.

Garfield and Stone are wonderful actors, no question, but their real-life connection certainly helps fuel the film's emotional narrative. As Spider-Man 2 opens, the kids are graduating from high school and, when they're not sucking face, trying to figure out the next phase of their lives.

Only then, Peter has to go and get all conflicted about the promise he made Gwen's dad, the late Capt. Stacy (Denis Leary), to leave her alone. Tough conversations happen, tears are shed, there's a break-up. Or, they're on a break – something like that. In short, you'll hear the words "it's complicated" enough to consider unfriending them for their whiny teenaged drama. But don't – you'll be grateful for the battle breaks as the film soldiers on.

The villainy mostly centers on Electro (Jamie Foxx), the Oscorp grunt formerly known as Max Dillon. Even with scraggly bits of thinning hair plastered to his head, Foxx won't convince anybody that he's truly a dweeby, obsessed Spider-Man fan. He's better as the blue-hued bundle of kinetic energy Electro, flexing new muscles and sucking up juice, but the script neglects to give him a live-wire personality to match his new powers. When Electro gets into a scuffle with the web slinger in Times Square, it's Peter who throws the snarkier (snottier?) lines.

The dynamic is precisely the opposite with secondary villain, Harry Osborn/Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan). Long-lost friends who haven't seen in each other in half their lives, Oscorp heir Harry and Peter re-establish their childhood bond so quickly and intensely that it feels forced. Still, the wildly talented DeHaan makes it work, convincingly turning affection into resentment that gives rise to the Green Goblin. Sadly, the Goblin isn't nearly as interesting as Harry is and gets far fewer scenes.

But if you want to feel sorry for someone nefarious, then save it for, yes, third villain Paul Giamatti as the Rhino. He plows onto the screen a few times, then right back off.

The glut of villains clearly is intended to set up more bad-guy centric Spidey sequels, but it robs this movie of a narrative through line, and doesn't give the actors time to resonate. Instead, we're hit with a fair number of showstopper action scenes that fill in where storytelling leaves off. (They are pretty fantastic, so I'd splurge for IMAX where available.)

The one lackluster exception is the big finale. Ostensibly the movie's emotional payoff, the climax should send fans into garment-rending lament, instead of landing as, well, just kind of unfortunate. Again, though, it does leave a Spidey fan looking forward, wondering how the next episode will deal with the fallout. Let's meet back here June 10, 2016 and see.

See This, Too

Belle
Human bondage was still legal in England when Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the mixed-race daughter of a West Indian slave and a British aristocrat, twirled about her family's Hampstead estate in enviable luxury. Her extraordinary story finally gets told in this lavish costume drama aimed at armchair historians and Jane Austen fans alike.

Taken in by her uncle and aunt, the Earl and Lady Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson), Dido is received with shock, but eventually treated with nearly all familial courtesy. Ah, but it's the nearly that stings, isn't it?

She isn't allowed to dine with company, isn't allowed to be presented in society like her pretty cousin/best friend, Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon), and never feels entirely at ease with herself. She certainly isn't permitted to look twice at dashing young lawyer John Davinier (Sam Reid), apprenticed to her uncle. Mbatha-Raw plays Dido with requisite grace, but you'll appreciate the character more for her spiritedness, particularly as her uncle presides over a case that could effectively end slavery in England.

Applaud Belle for its ambition, as the film steps out of the drawing rooms and ballrooms of costume drama to mix it up in debates about the case, in which a slave ship captain throws much of his "cargo" overboard. The movie does take it a touch too far, though, giving Dido a cloak-and-dagger role in her uncle's adjudication of the matter that's more than a bit far-fetched. Better are the film's edgy romantic subplots, as men come in and out of Dido and Elizabeth's orbits, including Davinier, who gets some competition.

But this isn't all about beating hearts and racing hormones – these ladies are terrified that they'll both end up either penniless or alone, a very real prospect. Dido makes for a fascinating take on a little-known episode in British race relations, but it's just as interesting for its commentary on the financial constraints of young women.

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