Most comic-book movies are divisive – but arguably no CBM has cleaved opinion in two quite so much as 2012′s reboot The Amazing Spider-Man, which had its fair share of strengths and weaknesses – a fantastic cast and effective updating of the origin story, but a weak villain and a set of not-quite-great action scenes. The reboot did, however, earn enough money to guarantee not only two sequels, but with the success of The Avengers fresh in every studio’s minds, Spider-Man’s very own cinematic universe, with Sinister Six and Venom spin-offs heading to cinemas soon.
So with the unenviable task of setting up said cinematic universe while staying standalone enough not to alienate casual moviegoers, how does The Amazing Spider-Man 2 fare?
WARNING: While this review is spoiler-light, there’s some mild spoilers throughout – but nothing that wasn’t revealed in the trailers.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has a lot on its plate. There’s the continuation of the parents arc from movie one, Oscorp worker Max Dillon’s transformation into Electro, the return of Harry Osborn to New York, Gwen’s plans to move to England and criminal Aleksei Sytsevich – and as you’d expect, some get slightly short shrift, and the sheer amount of plot strands leave the movie feeling somewhat episodic and disjointed. Spider-Man’s missing parents, originally conceived of as the key hook of the rebooted franchise, are addressed once again, with an action-packed prologue showing just what happened to them, and a ‘shocking reveal’ around halfway through about Richard Parker’s research. It’s not dealt with particularly well – a lot of it intrudes on a potentially quite exciting portion of the movie, and feels like it’s been brought in to alleviate complaints about the first movie introducing the plot point and then burying it in Lizard-coloured dirt.
But as the marketing repeatedly told us, TASM2 is all about the bad guys. The Lizard was a low point of ASM - an uninteresting blank slate with generic ‘change the world’ motivations – and while Lizard is bettered here, neither of the three bad guys – Electro, Green Goblin and Rhino (though Rhino’s role is pretty brief) are particularly vintage villains. Jamie Foxx does a good job as Electro – his pre-Electro persona, Max Dillon, is a little too caricatured and laughable to be as sympathetic as the movie wants him to be – but once he’s charged up, Foxx is a menacing screen presence, and bounces off Dane deHaan’s Harry Osborn extremely well. It’s just a pity that Max Dillon is a generic nerd, and Foxx’s effective performance doesn’t make up for the nuance that Electro needs to stand out from the supervillain pack.
The other side of the villain coin, Dane deHaan’s Harry Osborn, is a rather more interesting character. Saddled with a job that he’s not quite suited for and told he’s a ticking time bomb, the reboot franchise’s Osborn is an edgy, desperate man, with deHaan’s portrayal of Osborn showing a man who’d do anything to stay alive. While Osborn is one of the most interesting characters in the movie, he does lose a little once he’s strapped into the Green Goblin suit – while Goblin certainly has potential, he’s not given enough screentime to reinvent Willem Dafoe’s cackling Goblin, and feels like something of a wasted opportunity, given deHaan’s talent.
If this review sounds a little negative to you, then it’s a reflection of just how flawed TASM2 is. It’s a good, if not great flick, but for every great moment there’s a wasted opportunity or crammed-in plot point. Still, there’s an awful lot that ASM2 does very well indeed. The action scenes are fantastic – Marc Webb seems far more confident with big setpieces this time around – and each sequence is a heart-pumping thrillride, with the stakes feeling far greater this time around. It’s even helped by better-than-average 3D, which feels ideally suited to the kinetic Spider-Man universe. For once, it’s actually organic, and contributes to the action rather than dragging it down.
Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone’s chemistry together as Peter and Gwen once again remains a highlight – even if their romance is a little cheesy and cliched, the two utterly sell the characters’ relationship. Stone’s Gwen doesn’t have masses of screentime, but she remains a far more interesting, independent love interest than Kirsten ‘Three out of Three Kidnaps’ Dunst – in a genre filled with cookie cutter love interest, Gwen remains one of the more compelling characters. The star himself, Andrew Garfield, also proves once again that he’s every inch a worthy successor to Tobey Maguire – Garfield’s nervy, sympathetic performance nails every aspect of the character – Spider-Man’s trademark quips included. If Garfield hangs up the mask after film three, as has been hinted, than Sony’s super-franchise will sorely miss him.
Kudos too, to Paul Giamatti as Aleksei Sytsevich – with two of the villains pretty sympathetic and understandable, Giamatti chews the scenery with aplomb in the small amount of screen-time he’s handed. While it’s a performance that’s hammy enough to feed a town with ham sandwiches, Giamatti’s clearly having a ball, and it’s refreshing to see a purely evil, entertaining bad guys after the intensity of Electro and Green Goblin. His possible return in The Amazing Spider-Man 3 will be warmly welcomed by this reviewer.
But of course, TASM2 has more on its plate than being a standalone movie – and it certainly delivers on the world building element, seeding in important comic characters as background characters, and adding in a bunch of Sinister Six teasing. It’s done in a perhaps clumsy manner, but it’s portentous and exciting enough to be an effective tease for the larger world Sony are building – once the movie is done, you’ll know for sure the identity of at least two of the Six’s members, and with Easter eggs all over the shop, there’s hints towards many more future villains.
Overall, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a somewhat clumsy (with the film’s themes told to us in an early speech, and featuring one of the most exposition-laden conversations in recent comic book movies) and flawed sequel – it’s not too close to the superlative Spider-Man 2 – but with excellent action, a great cast, effective world-building and the best ending the franchise has seen so far, it’s a strong addition to the Spider-Man canon and a s0lid base for Sony’s Spider-Man universe.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is out now in some international markets including the UK, and is out in the US on May 2. Sorry folks, but you can take consolation in the fact that The Amazing Spider-Man 3… will also be released two weeks early internationally.