I would be the first to admit that I was one of those individuals who was groaning at every image and every piece of footage that was released to us during the marketing campaign of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the second installment in Marc Webb’s reboot of everybody’s favourite web-slinger. The action looked far too akin to a video-game aesthetic, only made worse by the fact that the Marketing Executives at Sony seemed to want to emphasise the presence of three villains within one Spider-Man movie. It begged the question as to whether or not the studio learned anything from the over-crowded, fan despised affair that was (and always shall be) Spider-Man 3. I didn’t want to be cynical about a Spider-Man movie, as the character was without a doubt my favourite superhero growing up, but Sony seemed committed to making me so. It is with a happy heart then, that I can declare that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is not a disaster by any means. It is a film worthy of its character that, while bearing glaring flaws, should not be quickly dismissed.
Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is enjoying life as Spider-Man, but is finding other aspects of his life hard to keep control of. Along with graduating from High School, Peter is tormented by the secrets left behind in the wake of his parent’s disappearance years ago. On atop of that he feels an insurmountable amount of guilt for the love that he has for his girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), after promising her dying father to leave her out of his life to ensure her safety. Ensuring her safety proves even more difficult with the arrival of Electro (Jamie Foxx), an electrified former employee of Oscorp whom, after an accident involving super-powered electric eels, gains the abilities to manipulate electrical energy. The arrival of this new threat arrives hand in hand with the re-appearance of Peter’s old childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), his own arrival prompting dark secrets involving their respective father’s to be revealed.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a crowded affair, make no mistake. There is a great deal happening at once that the film sometimes does stumble under the pressure of spinning too many plates. But Webb makes the right decision when it comes to deciding which plates are worth saving. Webb’s second outing builds upon the strengths of the first installment, namely the relationship between Peter and Gwen. The film devotes more time to focusing on their difficult and complicated relationship, a relationship that both of them cannot help but indulge in, despite the many risks it holds, simply because they love each other so damned much. The chemistry between Garfield and Stone is nothing short of wonderful, leading to touching moments of affection and care amongst the superhero hijinks (in fact, scenes between the two may even out-weigh the action set pieces). The pair lend a great deal of emotional weight to a script that perhaps doesn’t deserve it, marking Garfield and Stone as incredibly important assets to the success of the film and its pivotal emotional beats.
The problem with the film lies in its antagonists, namely that it chooses to devote more time to the weakest one. Jamie Foxx as Max Dillon/Electro is, in a word, disposable. His pre-transformation as the Spidey-obssessed loner Max doesn’t convince and brings about un-welcome comparisons to Jim Carrey’s Edward Nygma in Batman Forever. His eventual appearance as Electro is a strange CGI creation devoid of personality, coming across as the bastard love child of Dr. Manhatten and Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze. When your chief antagonist recalls memories of Joel Schumacher Batman villains (twice), then you know you have a problem. He throws the film off both tonally and narratively whenever he appears. Hans Zimmer’s theme attributed to him only emphasizes the tonal confusion of the character, mixing together numbing dub-step, bizarre chanting, and Disney-fied clarinet flurries, which implore some menace but also confound. All of this could have been somewhat forgivable if the character had a great stake in the narrative, but Electro proves to be so inconsequential that he is more damaging to the film than he is to its benefit. All he amounts to is as a piece of leverage to the Harry Osborn character, by no means enough to justify his dominance in the early half of the film (despite a visually impressive early showdown in Times Square). If only it was Harry’s show.
Dane DaHaan has proved that he is more than capable of supplying menace in 2011’s Chronicle and devotes much of that natural charisma to his performance of Harry Osborn. His transformation into the Green Goblin (wisely skipping out Norman’s tenure to avoid similarities with Raimi’s run) takes up much of his arc in this film, with his Harry facing death and desperately seeking a cure to a disease which has dominated his blood-line for generations. DeHaan convincingly tracks this movement from desperation to near-insanity with ease, and even manages to construct some pivotal chemistry with Garfield to allow the pair to convince as old friends, despite the little screen time the two actually have together. It is just a shame he couldn’t let loose more as the Goblin in the film’s final third, something which may have been allowed if the film had solely focused on him as the big bad. He proves more important to the dramatic beats of the film and is a much more intimidating threat come the highly emotional final act.
Webb was quite clearly chosen to lead this franchise on the basis of his indie background, namely his knack for allowing his actors to construct believable chemistry, demonstrating that he is an apt hand at character drama and relationships. He still doesn’t quite convince when it comes to the action set pieces. Webb over-relies on CGI wizardry and the slow-mo button to the point where it becomes monotonous and unimaginative. However, praise must be given to his use of 3-D, namely in the web-swinging sequences of the film, producing the most convincing moments of web-slinging we have so far seen in a Spider-Man movie. And his decision to focus more on character cannot be under-valued. His decision to focus on complicated relationships rather than explosions and destruction is a welcome and refreshing change to a superhero movie. The destruction here is what is at stake on an emotional level, propping The Amazing Spider-Man 2 above certain other recent superhero movies (*cough*Man of Steel*cough*).
The Amazing Spider-Man suffered from retreading old ground, while its sequel seems to suffer from a case of trying to do too much to differentiate itself from Spidey movies that have come before it (Sod’s Law it would seem). The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a flawed film, and is by no means as good as Marvel’s greatest successes. But it could have been a lot worse. What we have here is a Spider-Man movie that has perhaps the most faithful page to screen Spidey we’ve seen so far, hits important emotional beats with near-perfection, and contains three top-class performances. It is a shame Electro is as much as a problem as he is, because without him this could have given the first two Sam Raimi Spidey-movies a run for their money. As it stands, we have a film with glaring issues, but one that none the less proves to be a pleasant surprise.
3/5- A crowded affair, but one that is much more character driven than the marketing would lead you to believe; The Amazing Spider-Man 2 delivers a flawed but surprisingly emotional superhero tale that rides on the exceptional talents of Garfield, Stone, and DeHaan.