Coming just five years after the compromised Spiderman 3, many naysayers saw The Amazing Spiderman as an unnecessary, unwanted reboot hastily realized to retain ownership of a profitable property poised to return to the hands of superhero supremoes Marvel.
Inevitably they were proved wrong. Marc Webb delivered a fresh, energetic take on a character that had stalled by the end of the Tobey Maguire-era, adding a wry humour and complex character relationships to Sam Raimi’s entertaining sci-fi eye-candy.
We begin Andrew Garfield’s second outing as everyone’s favourite spider-impersonator with Peter Parker loving being Spiderman, kicking things off with an exhilarating heist during which Spidey cracks-wise while in pursuit of Paul Giamatti’s deliriously hammy Rhino (pre-mech suit). Some of this can feel dated – especially the cheesy supervillain quips (“It’s my birthday – time to blow out the candles.”) – but otherwise the action here follows super-sequel protocol by ramping up the scale and the web-slinging action is far more immersive now the disorientating POV camera has been ditched.
Ever since his creation by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1962, Spiderman has always straddled the line between superhero antics and teen soap drama, and director Marc Webb once again puts Peter’s relationship with Gwen Stacy (Stone) front and centre. The couple repeatedly break-up and get back together during the film with their relationship complicated by Peter’s promise to stay away from her; though this sometimes strays too far into melodrama, for the most part Peter and Gwen are an incredibly engaging couple with a sparky chemistry (“I’m sorry I didn’t take us to the Bahamas of hiding places.”).
A lot of this is down to the strong performance of Emma Stone. Here Gwen is the genius, going straight from high school to a job at Oscorp and winning a scholarship to Oxford, and Stone has elevated her character to more than a mere damsel waiting to be saved by making her more determined to get involved in the action. With that in mind, it’s hard to think of a superhero film with a stronger female role – possibly Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique in the up-coming X-Men: Days of Future Past?
The rest of the main cast also turn in fantastic performances. If Jamie Foxx overplays the nerdy aspects of Oscorp-nobody Max Dillon, he more than makes up for it with a seething turn as Electro, who gains his powers in the obligatory Spiderman way: in an Oscorp lab accident involving electric eels. Foxx plays Electro as a reluctant villain who just wants to be recognized and who targets Spiderman for stealing his attention.
Likewise, Dane DeHaan makes a more compelling Harry Osborn than the charming-but-bland James Franco, blending the desperation of not wanting to end up like his father with just the right amount of privileged smarm to give scenes between Harry and Peter a more menacing edge.
In truth, all of this is a bit too much, with TASM2 always in danger of falling into the Spiderman 3-trap of over-egging the plot with too many baddies. Electro, The Green Goblin and Rhino are all given origin stories here as Song somewhat desperately gear-up for two upcoming sequels and a Sinister Six spinoff. But without a main antagonist to terrorize New York it’s hard to get a sense of Spiderman being under threat, something that threatens to derail the drama of his relationships.
That said, Webb and screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci just about get the pacing of these origin stories right, allowing them to build strongly towards a surprisingly powerful and moving end that points to Webb moving Spiderman in a darker direction.
If that is the case, Webb and co must be careful not to let a moodier tone eviscerate the humour because, along with the excellent attention to the relationships and character drama, this light-hearted wit is exactly what makes this version of Spiderman so enjoyable to watch.
Runtime: 142 Minutes Genre: Superhero/Action Released: 16 April 2014
Director: Marc Webb Writers: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Dane DeHaan, Jamie Foxx
Click here to watch the trailer for The Amazing Spiderman 2