Swollen as the liver of a foie-gras goose, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 devotes some 25 minutes to Peter Parker discovering the secret history behind the science-magic spider bite that made him Amazing. "His greatest battle begins" promise the posters for this installment, which illustrates the problem: five movies in 12 years, and he's still beginning.
The clever, inventive, ridiculous variations that comic-book writer Dan Slott pulls off in print each month seem impossible for Sony's big-screen take on the character. Here again Peter learns that those he loves most are in danger, and that with great power comes you-know-what, all while his rich-boy pal Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) struggles with the troubled inheritances — madness and Oscorp — that you may remember from just two movies ago. Couldn't we just get to that greatest battle now?
So, this Spider-Man does whatever a Spider-Man's done before, and during the cluttered, confusing, back-to-back climactic villain fights, he just does whatever. As he and its-complicated girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) manipulate New York City's power grid to somehow bring down Electro (Jamie Foxx), the movie leaves it to you to figure out what's going on.
Still, not all is lost in this latest Spider-Man rebuilding year. The movie improves in most ways on its predecessor. The teenage joy of life ahead offering nothing but possibility edges much more of the web-slinging, especially in the first third. Also strong: the crushed-out romantic scenes between Stone's Gwen and Andrew Garfield's Peter. But this sequel bloats up with mysteries and emotional crises, and in the long, sagging middle, there's no urgency connecting one sequence to the next.