April 17, 2014 Leave a comment
Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is loving life as Spider-man — or, at least, he’s trying to. When he’s not showing up the Russian mob he’s either investigating his parents’ disappearance, helping to support his aunt (Sally Field) by selling photos of his alter-ego to the Daily Bugle, or trying to come to terms with the death of Captain Stacy (Dennis Leary), and the promise he made to leave his daughter Gwen (Emma Stone) alone. Across town, OsCorp is in crisis; much of its research into cross-species genetics has been destroyed to appease uneasy shareholders in the wake of Dr Curt Connors’ transformation into The Lizard, leaving Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper) without any means of treating his illness. To complicate matters, estranged heir apparent Harry (Dane DeHaan) has returned to the boardroom and an employee has seemingly died on the premises. When electrical engineer Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) is reborn as Electro, and after he is apparently defeated by Spider-man, he is taken to the Ravencroft Institute for study, a secret research facility that may have ties to Peter’s father.
When Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-man was released back in 2012, the general consensus was that it did not distinguish itself enough from Sam Raimi’s original trilogy to justify Sony’s decision to reboot the franchise. This is of course ridiculous; Raimi’s films concerned a mature, earnest, somewhat hapless Peter Parker who was haunted by the part he unwittingly played in the death of his uncle, while Webb’s dealt with a cocky character preoccupied by the mystery of his parents’ abandonment. There were of course other differences — The Amazing Spider-man boasted a more believable love interest and followed the Marvel model of paving the way for future instalments — but the key distinguishing factor was that Parker was essentially a different person. Inevitably, the feeling now seems to be that it’s too different. Given that there are so many iterations of the character in the comics, this too is nonsense.
The Amazing Spider-man 2 feels almost as different from its predecessor as it does from the original trilogy (in fact, the film it most closely resembles is probably Kick-Ass). Just as The Dark Knight dropped Katie Holmes and the mystic ninjas after Batman Begins, Webb’s sequel does away with the darker suit and skateboarding scenes in pursuit of an aesthetic better suiting his intentions. Unlike The Dark Knight, Webb’s sequel goes brighter and more bombastic. This is the most primary-coloured superhero film since Fantastic Four, and not at all in a bad way (this is a children’s movie after all). Opening with a plane crash that may or may not involve Richard and Mary Parker, the film cuts to Spider-man swinging through the streets of New York, combining slow-motion and 3D to astonishing effect. It’s kinetic and fun and confident, beautifully capturing the appeal of the character and proving once and for all that Webb knows his way around an action set-piece. The following sequence is one of the most exhilarating of the year so far, as Spider-man tries to prevent Aleksei Sytsevich (a scenery-chewing Paul Giamatti) from escaping the scene with stolen OsCorp technology (and the vials from escaping his speeding van) while on the phone to Gwen, who is waiting for him at graduation. Webb certainly isn’t holding back.
What’s remarkable about The Amazing Spider-man 2 is just how much personality it has — the film is wonderfully goofy and at times incredibly childish. Garfield is once again on fire, dishing out one-liners and serving up charm with an ease and effortlessness that is incredibly endearing. He’s one of the best physical comedians working today, and his manic mannerisms lend the scenes in the suit as much character and energy as those outside of it. Webb is only too happy to showcase his star’s talents at the expense of pace, and three scenes in particular — one set in a pharmacy and involving a sick Spider-man, another between Peter and Gwen as they list adorable affectations the other must stop if they are to be ‘just friends’, and a montage showing Parker returning home after various crime-fighting escapades — come as a welcome break from the plot, and give a real sense of the character’s everyday life. Peter Parker has more dimensions than ever before: he’s a high school graduate, an orphan, a devoted boyfriend to Gwen Stacy, an estranged friend to Harry Osborne and the pride and joy of his Aunt May. Not to mention New York’s friendly neighbourhood Spider-man.
Parker isn’t the only interesting character, however, and each person in his life has interests and issues of their own. Gwen, tired of Peter’s reluctance to commit (and thereby betray the promise he made to her father), decides that she wants to be the one to end their relationship, and decides to start afresh at the University of Oxford in England. It is revealed that Harry, meanwhile, is headed for an early grave due to an apparently incurable hereditary disease he has inherited from his father. Harry’s arc is particularly juicy, as he becomes convinced that Spider-man’s blood is the only answer to his problems, leading him to ask for Peter’s help in tracking the web-slinger down. There is a desperation to the new Green Goblin that makes him incredibly compelling, and Dane DeHaan’s volatile performance lends him a real menace and threat. Sally Field is also on top form, as her Aunt May takes on a second job to help pay for Peter’s higher education and is finally forced to come clean about what she knows about Richard and Mary’s research. There are a number of heart-rendering moments in The Amazing Spider-man 2, and that’s one of them.
And then there’s Jamie Foxx’s primary antagonist, Electro. While bumbling electrician Max Dillon may fail to live up to Spider-man 2‘s Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus is widely considered to be one of the great comic book movie villains) he is generally more successful than Lizard from the previous film. Dillon is clearly disturbed, displaying compulsive tendencies and delusions of grandeur. He just wants to be noticed, and when Spider-man saves him during the earlier skirmish with Sytsevich he misinterprets it as an act of friendship. Electro is created when Dillon falls into a vat of genetically engineered electric eels, and though preposterous it is a very cinematic rebirth. As OsCorp races to cover-up the incident lest Wall Street catch wind of it, Dillon sparks back to life in what appears to be an in-house morgue. Spider-man reaches out to him in Time Square, but as his image is replaced on the surrounding screens by that of the wall-crawler Dillon accuses his one-time idol of stealing the limelight. It’s not water-tight motivation, but it’s substantially different to anything we’ve seen in the series to date. Thanks to the texture of Webb’s world Dillon is not an isolated threat, and his working at OsCorp naturally leads to encounters with both Harry and Gwen.
Raimi’s movies were getting nowhere fast. At the rate of one villain apiece (at least until Spider-man 3) we were still a long way from seeing a world as vibrant and textured as that of the comic book realised onscreen. Since Webb took over the series, he has seeded his movies with subplots and supporting characters galore, each offering a new and exciting direction in which to take the narrative in future instalments. The Amazing Spider-man 2 isn’t all set-up, however, and thanks to a set of outstanding performances (Garfield and Stone once again have chemistry to spare), distinct arcs for both Peter Parker and Max Dillon (not to mention Gwen Stacy), and a truly unique score from Hans Zimmer and Pharrell Williams (which at one point beautifully emulates Electro’s inner monologue) it is also a thrilling, engaging and emotionally satisfying story in its own right.