Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Sally Field
Written by: James Vanderbilt, with rewrites by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci
Directed by: Marc Webb
In the months after Dr Curt Conners’ biological attack on New York, Spider-Man’s (Andrew Garfield) stock is rising ever higher with the public, and his relationship with Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) appears to be going from strength to strength. By contrast, Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) is desperate for any sort of human connection, forming an obsession with the wall-crawler in the absence of any other friends or family. When he gets involved in an industrial accident at the shady Oscorp, the obsession starts to spiral out of control, with shocking consequences…
The trouble with putting any sort of qualifying term in a film’s title is that it inevitably creates expectations that may be difficult for the final product to live up to. So the obvious question with The Amazing Spider-Man 2…is it amazing, or simply awful?
Before we get into the meat of the matter, a little context. Once upon a time, before Marvel had hit on the idea of creating an all-conquering film production line of their own, they sold the film rights to a lot of their more popular characters. The X-Men, for instance, are owned by Fox, while Spider-Man is owned by Sony. Sony proceeded to release three films featuring the character, to various degrees of success – climaxing with the infamous Spider-Man 3, widely regarded as being a franchise killer. There were various rumours about a possible Spider-Man 4, but in the end nothing came of it until the day a Sony executive realised that if they didn’t get a Spider-Man film out soon, the rights were going to revert to Marvel, resulting in a massive loss of potential income. A totally artistically justified and necessary reboot was planned post-haste. For all the cynicism in that statement, it was actually quite good, although there was still no real need for it to exist. Still, you could probably level that criticism at 90% of all popular culture, so never mind.
So, Amazing Spider-Man 2. A lot of the strengths of the first film are still in place. Garfield is spot-on as the more modern take on Peter Parker, awkward but endearing, highly intelligent and bitingly funny, and his chemistry with real-life girlfriend Stone is appropriately electrifying; the scenes with the two of them just being cute and couply are sweet, and some of the highlights of the film. More generally, Stone gives a fine performance even in isolation, developing some subtler shades to Gwen while increasing her plot involvement at the same time. The action scenes are thoroughly entertaining, showing as realistic an interpretation as possible of a spider like superhero’s fighting style, with a barrage of gymnastics and inventiveness that’s far more entertaining than the usual blockbuster staple of guns, explosions and kung-fu.
Elsewhere though…Foxx does his best with Dillon, but he’s a tediously stereotypical Hollywood Nerd, from the awful haircut and bad glasses, through social awkwardness and up to full on obsessive creepiness. This approach does lead to a couple of nice moments, in particular a touchingly pitiful surprise when another character declares that they need him, but overall it’s uninspired. It doesn’t help that even by the standard of comic book movies, the origin of his powers is silly. While his character is daft though, he does at least get something approaching characterisation; the best DeHaan can walk away with is a certificate of entry to the noble troupe of gifted actors tasked with evil glowering and cackling in one-dimensional roles (thrillingly, ASM2 manages to bag three such performances with DeHaan, Chris Cooper and Paul Giamatti, and depending on how charitable you’re feeling Foxx might qualify too).
On top of that, the plot is a little lacklustre. Actually, in fairness, that probably depends on how familiar you are with the comics. If you have more than a passing familiarity with them, there’s a decent chance you’ll spot the vast majority of twists and turns long before they arrive, especially the biggest one. If you’re a newcomer, then there may be more surprises. Regardless of that though, there are a lot of similar beats to the previous trilogy, which doesn’t help with the view that the reboot is redundant. Further, while no Spider-Man film is complete without a little emotional turmoil, it’s of a particularly lazy and well-trod variety here.
All in all, it’s not a complete success, and not a complete failure. The overall feeling is of a blandly competent film that exists more to set up further instalments in the franchise than anything else. Far from amazing, it’s mostly just rather dull.