How much you enjoy “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” might depend on how much you care about the backstory of Richard and Mary Parker, Peter’s parents, and their connection to Oscorp, because it devotes a considerable amount of its running time to picking up the loose threads left by the hatchet job editing done to the first film. You’ll also need to be quite invested in the on-again/ off-again relationship between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey but thanks to the great rapport between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, that’s easy.
Picking up not long after the end of the first film, Peter is enjoying dating Gwen and revelling in his role as Spider-Man but is also increasingly plagued by visions of her late father. While chasing down Russian criminal Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti), Spider-Man saves introverted Oscorp electrical engineer Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) but when Dillon suffers a terrible accident, his hero worship turns to bitter obsession and he restyles himself as Spider-Man’s newest nemesis: Electro. Meanwhile, Peter’s childhood friend Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan) has returned to New York to visit his dying father only to find that he too will suffer the same fate unless he can find a cure – a cure he believes a the blood of Spider-Man will provide.
Andrew Garfield continues to knock it out of the park as both Peter and a much sassier, wisecracking Spider-Man who, for the first time, feels like he’s just leapt from the pages of the comics thanks to subtle but important costume design changes. The fighting style of Spider-Man in these films is superb: simultaneously acrobatic and arachnid, showing him using his abilities both tactically and strategically to overcome his opponents. Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacey is the perfect counterpart to Spider-Man: plucky, resourceful and immensely tolerant of Peter’s frequent bouts of angst, she has phenomenal chemistry with her co-star, which is the reason the many scenes of Gwen and Peter don’t slow the film down or drain it of energy the way Kirsten Dunst’s selfish, needy Mary Jane Watson did previously. Foxx is good fun as the bumbling Max Dillon but comes into his own more as the embittered Electro however he’s outshone by Dane DeHaan’s creepy, increasingly maniacal turn as Harry Osborn/ The Green Goblin. Paul Giamatti’s appearance as the Rhino is little more than a tease for future instalments but he has a hell of a lot of fun hamming it up as Russian gangster Aleksei Sytsevich.
Director Marc Webb does a sterling job juggling so many competing storylines and while it makes a better fist of handling several villains and competing storylines than the much maligned “Spider-Man 3”, I still felt that DeHaan’s malevolent turn as the Green Goblin wasn’t given sufficient screen time to really develop into the menacing figure he needs to be. Instead, he ends up being more of an afterthought to Foxx’s Electro, even though the Goblin is responsible for the most profoundly game changing incident of the whole film. Although the first film was criticised for omitting Uncle Ben’s crucial line of dialogue (with great power comes great responsibility), Webb opts to use visions of Denis Leary’s deceased Captain George Stacey, making him the personification of the motto. It’s still not vocalised on screen, but the principle is felt much more clearly throughout this film than its predecessor. Unfortunately, there’s also an element of not knowing when to end the movie and the last sequence feels like it would have been better as the opening to “The Amazing Spider-Man 3” than tacked on to provide a more upbeat ending.
My continuing feeling with Marc Webb’s take on our friendly neighbourhood webslinger is one of frustration at the unrealised potential. In virtually every aspect, this second iteration of Spider-Man is superior to the Raimi trilogy (although I’d give the Aunt May prize to Rosemary Harris over Sally Field) but for some reason the improved individual ingredients don’t quite gel into the awesome Spidey movie they could so easily be. It may be down to some of the storytelling choices and increasingly interference by the studio itself. The decision to put Oscorp at the heart of everything and make it the source of Spider-Man and every villain (so far) shrinks the scope of Spider-Man’s on-screen world and diminishes Spidey’s uniqueness. I’m all for ret-conning and modernising origins where it adds to the story but simply cutting and pasting ‘Oscorp developed it while trying to cure Norman Osborn’ as everyone’s origin (including, it would appear, Venom) seems like lazy writing to me. There are a lot of Easter eggs and laying foundations for the future crammed into “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” and it suffers from “Iron Man 2” syndrome at times: it’s got its eye so firmly on the future of the franchise, it sometimes loses focus on the present. Much of this is down to Sony’s desire to grab some of that sweet, sweet “Avengers” cash by creating a cohesive cinematic universe. Sony’s only problem is that they only have one hero (maybe two) and although they have possibly Marvel’s best rogue’s gallery, they’ve already established they come from exactly the same place. Sony’s sudden ambitions for the franchise clearly had an impact on the production of this film, adding in hints and hooks for the future and once again requiring some judicious re-cutting of the picture (notably Shaileine Woodley’s axed scenes as Mary Jane Watson). Although I don’t often comment on film scores, I have to say Hans Zimmer’s work here is distinctly sub-par, coming off as intrusive and awkward rather than enhancing the action on screen. It seems we’re further away from an iconic Spider-Man movie theme than ever.
You might want to stay in your seat once the credits roll because there’s an audience baffling mid-credits teaser for Fox’s forthcoming “X-Men: Days Of Future Past”, the result of an agreement by Fox to release Webb to direct this film and unfortunately not a teaser of an X-Men/ Spider-Man crossover.
Grumbles and frustrations aside, I can’t let them overshadow all the things that do work well in this second outing. Spider-Man has never looked better on screen, the two leads are superb in their roles and when the movie remembers it’s a Spider-Man movie, it’s fantastic. The action set pieces are sensational – exciting and kinetic without becoming a muddled blur, even in 3D. Falling short of Spectacular, this follow up to “The Amazing Spider-Man” is nevertheless Superior entertainment but I’m still waiting for this terrific creative team to deliver the Ultimate Spider-Man film.