Two seems to be the magic number for Spider-Man films. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 is a sequel that outdoes the first film, and director Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man 2 is such a massive improvement over its predecessor that it may cause whiplash.
Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) has settled into life as Spider-Man, swinging around New York City stopping criminals while keeping up appearances as a teenager with his on-again, off-again girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). When an electrified villain aptly named, Electro (Jamie Foxx), starts attacking the city, Peter discovers that all evil deeds lead back to the tech-giant Oscorp and the new CEO Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan).
Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man was a complicated birth of a new series with the ‘too soon’ cloud overhead and a tedious retracing of the Spider-Man origin story. I wasn’t a fan. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 wastes a little time dwelling on what came before with a brief James Bond style prologue revisiting the disappearance of Parker’s parents (yawn). Jolting you to attention immediately after, Webb shows Spider-Man free-falling between skyscrapers and then snapping into an exhilarating web slinging sequence, switching to Spidey’s point-of-view, and showing the character bouncing around the urban environment like a graceful pinball. Oh boy, it’s fun to be Spider-Man, especially when Parker starts wise-cracking from behind the mask reminding you that you’re in the company of a teenage superhero. From the opening chase sequence alone it’s clear that the price of admission is worth it for the spectacle of Spider-Man zipping through New York, and it continues to astound with each action sequence. What’s apparent is that Webb has managed to make a comic book film that’s exciting as opposed to the dreary attempts that so many superhero outings take when trying, and I hate to say it, be ‘gritty’.
Peter Parker’s struggle to maintain the equilibrium between his superhero life and an adolescent existence has always been the most engaging part of the character throughout his 50 year occupancy of pop culture. Screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner (re-writing an early draft by James Vanderbilt) compress Parker’s juggling act into his relationship with Stacy. The chemistry between Garfield and Stone is weapons grade romance, yet they manage to exist as two strong personalities being drawn and propelled away from each other. Stone manages to break the bonds of the superhero love interest stereotype to make Stacy strong, witty and independent. Garfield fills the boots of Spidey with the infectious enjoyment of being the hero while showcasing the heavy burden his decisions have on his normal life. Parker feels guilt over the dangerous situation his union with Stacy creates and it’s the precipice that Kurztman, Orci and Pinkner hang all the major conflicts. Each tumultuous part of Parker and Stacy’s relationship is interrupted by villainous deeds as if to exemplify the rocky elements of their association, and the sign posts for tragedy appear. Webb handles one of the most crucial elements of Peter Parker’s evolution as hero brilliantly and Garfield is more than capable to give it the emotional punch needed.
When it comes to the other relationships in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, it gets complicated. The short changed character is Electro who is played by Foxx pre-powers like a combination between Jerry Lewis’ pre-formula Nutty Professor and Steve Urkel from Family Matters. Webb practically paints a giant ‘L’ on Foxx’s forehead and the screenwriters give him a Spider-Man stalker vibe. Once he becomes Electro he has zero motivation for his evil deeds besides Spider-Man forgetting his name and being a little too needy. Despite excellent special effects that give Electro life beyond looking like a human glow stick, Foxx is left on goon duties and is presented as a rogue who must be defeated because he suddenly wants to be a god, and he wants a friend, and he hates Spider-Man for the sake of needing a primary villain. DeHaan is the underutilised secondary scoundrel who has far more at stake in the plot than his sparkling counterpart, but not enough of the screen time. There’s a nice camaraderie between Osborn and Parker as they reconnect and reflect on their days as childhood friends. The souring of this friendship is treated like a subplot when it actually makes for an interesting contrast between Parker and Stacey’s bond. There’s a mad desperation with a hint of spoilt brat to DeHaan’s portrayal of Osborn that intensifies as he inches towards the hover glider of the Green Goblin. Once DeHaan is in Goblin mode it’s so miniscule compared with the scope of the story, but his actions resonate hard through the film and the franchise that his return will be hotly anticipated. The veteran actors help keep things sturdy with Sally Field as Aunt May who shows great love and frustration over life without Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and her responsibility to Parker as a parent. Chris Cooper fulfils terrible parent duties as Norman Osborn who has nothing but venom for his son.
If only Kurztman, Orci and Pinkner could completely trust the audience with their own intellect. As if unsure major plot points are clear, a majority of exposition is handled via characters reading off computer screens, talking to a camera or reading news stories directly from a Google search. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 also contains a lot of franchise world building with planning underway for film number three and four as well as a spinoff film about a team of bad guys called The Sinister Six and a movie based on the character Venom. There are characters and organisations name checked for the sake of a return later in the series that’s a fun bit of fan service. It seems Sony may have finally learnt something from Marvel Studios.
The Amazing Spider Man 2’s score by Hans Zimmer and co-composers Pharrell Williams, Johnny Marr, Michael Einziger and David A. Stewart soars in a heroic old school way that’s reminiscent of John Williams’ work on Superman: The Movie. Almost all of it works despite a strange ‘they hate you’ internal monologue rap song and dubstep beats that accompany Electro’s appearances.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 didn’t have to do much to beat The Amazing Spider-Man in quality but Webb has returned to the essence of Peter Parker’s struggles. In the midst of an expanding cinematic universe The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a comic book movie that explodes with equal amounts of spectacle and tenderness.
Cameron Williams – follow Cam on Twitter here: @MrCamW
Directed by: Marc Webb
Written by: Alex Kurtzman (screenplay/screen story) & Roberto Orci (screenplay/screen story) &Jeff Pinkner (screenplay/screen story) and James Vanderbilt (screen story)
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Paul Giamatti, Sally Field