Well, this is an improvement. 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man proved itself to be a reboot of limited ambition, unable to convincingly answer – outside of the obvious straight commercial reasons – the question as to why a retread of Spider-Man’s origins was required. Fortunately, some lessons have now been heeded, and whilst The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has a collection of fresh problems of its own, at least this time there’s less of an inclination to play things safe.
For this is a film that bites off a lot more than the one before it. More than it can comfortably handle, certainly, but it does have a go at righting some wrongs. For instance, it has a second, more successful attempt at delivering on the tagline to the first film. It continues the relationship between Gwen Stacy and Peter Parker. It deals with other matters left behind from the last film. And it squeezes in room for the introduction of Jamie Foxx’s Electro.
It also springs into life very quickly. We go from a flashback (with, er, a modern-looking Sony laptop slap bang in the middle of it), to Spider-Man taking to the skies of New York. Returning director Marc Webb has as much fun sending the webslinger around the city as we have watching Spidey zip about too, with the film initially finding our hero in a rather chipper mood as he merrily fights crime. That mood doesn’t last too long, of course.
Meanwhile an early action sequence suggests that Webb has a better handle on such moments this time around, and that’s proved when we finally get the unleashing of Jamie Foxx’s Electro later in the film. Bristling with electricity, and with at times an uncanny resemblance to Mr Freeze, Electro might be a thankless role for Foxx, but his inclusion does add spectacle. Electro doesn’t really deepen the film too much, but he’s nonetheless entertaining to watch, and a cinematic foe.
Still, whilst Electro is billed as the antagonist, you don’t get as much time with him as you may be expecting. In fact, you don’t get as much time with Spider-Man as you may be expecting. Instead, there are numerous new story threads to add to the old ones carried over from last time. Of those new ones, we do get the transformation of Max Dillon into Electro, and we do get his motivation for his disliking of Spider-Man as well. It doesn’t feel like it has too much weight to it, but it is clearly in place. That said, Electro does take second place to Harry Osborn, boardroom politics and even a moment of dirty laundry at one point. The balance feels just a little muddled.
Whilst Foxx though spends most of his screen time buried under CG, Dane DeHaan gets a far better crack of the proverbial whip though, and as a consequence comes across stronger. His take on Harry Osborn is one area where the film feels more distinct from the previous trilogy (even when it veers towards similar story beats), and maybe that’s why the final cut feels a bit more weighted towards him. Sally Field, as Aunt May, has a slightly beefed up role too, and doesn’t waste it. She’s required to add to the film’s (generally successful) comedy moments, and also give some grounding to Peter. Both jobs are done.
Yet there’s no getting away from the fact that there’s too much here. In the build up to the film’s release, there were fears that there were too many villains, and they wouldn’t fit into the film. Those fears generally prove unfounded though: the antagonists aren’t perfect, but they’re clear and unfussy.
Where the film creaks is in its middling attempts to juggle everything else, with some parts of the narrative getting more shrift than others. A debate about whether Spider-Man is a good or bad thing is quickly dispensed with before it’s begun, for instance, yet Gwen and Peter spend what seems like a lot of time mainly going over similar ground to before (it’s to the genuine credit of Garfield and Stone, whose chemistry remains strong, that these moments still engage). J Jonah Jameson, meanwhile, is relegated to an email.
Also, there are still moments where it feels as if the audience isn’t being treated that intelligently, albeit fewer of them than last time. Foretelling speeches have a habit of ramming points home, you’re expected to buy that highly dangerous materials would be freely transported around the streets of New York, and you can’t help but wonder why a foe at one stage isn’t incapacitated properly when opportunity arises. Then a mad European doctor/scientist person turns up, and you wonder if they’ve ambled in from the wrong film.
On the plus side, the action is a lot more coherent and interesting, with sequences that let you see and enjoy what’s happening. Garfield and Stone are excellent, leading the generally very good performances, and the film also has a few hearty guffaws in there. Furthermore, without going into detail, a good chunk of the final act is excellent. In fact, that’s where the film is really very strong indeed.
Helpfully, there are no CG monstrosities this time either. And where The Amazing Spider-Man 2 makes its mistakes, it feels like they’re less as a result of a poisoned chalice handed down from the boardroom, and more down to a genuine attempt to make a movie with a bit more identity to it.
We should note this though. It was with no shortage of irony that at the screening we attended, the assembled throng was specifically asked to stay spoiler-light on their reviews, as we have done here. Unfortunately, such instructions come off the back of one of the most revealing marketing campaigns for a blockbuster movie in recent times, and if you’ve been exposed to it, it does feel like it impacts the watching of the film. It arguably even hurts it just a little.
Not every one of The Amazing Spider-Man 2‘s secrets has been sacrificed on the altar of the promotional work, but as we sat watching, we couldn’t help but feel there were one or two moments we’d have preferred to discover in the movie for the first time, rather than as another clip or image released to the internet beforehand. That holding back the surprises in question would have added some extra punch.
That said, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is still a step forward, and both a welcome and necessary one for the franchise. It might still leave a good deal of room for improvement, it might ultimately be less confident and successful than Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and we’re still some way away from the peak of Sam Raimi’s trilogy here. But it does feel as though Marc Webb has taken on an overladen screenplay, and put a more successful stamp on it this time around. It might not be amazing still, and it remains frustrating, but at least this time the new Spider-Man movie is quite good as well.
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