2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man was close to being a cinematic exercise in futility. Re-telling the very familiar origin story of New York’s favourite web-slinging superhero in manner almost tonally identical to that Sam Raimi’s eponymous film had sufficiently accomplished a decade earlier. It’s few plot deviations were a mixed bag too, Emma Stone; pretty good as his new love interest, villain ‘The Lizard’ not so much. This sequel was actually put into production before The Amazing Spider-Man was even released, suggesting that the studio was reassuring us that they just needed to get the origin over and done with and then they might actually do something new with the character. No, they didn’t need to waste everyone’s time rehashing 2002’s Spider-Man, they could have easily just given us a more original piece about the character. Without the burden of being a reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has a lot more potential than its immediate predecessor, but still has a lot to prove, not to mention that the film it will be held up against, 2004’s Spider-Man 2 remains remembered as one of the better superhero films of the last couple of decades.
After a brief scene continuing the convoluted linking of Spider-Man’s father into proceedings, we’re back where we left off. Peter Parker’s (Andrew Garfield) still in high school (just), but he appears to be enjoying his superhero status for the time being. It is however, causing trouble in his relationship with Gwen, after all, he promised her dying father he’s stay away from her, and is now having ghostly visions of him. The romantic sub-plot is fairly standard rom-com fare, but Garfield and Stone undoubtedly have chemistry together, and these kinds of scenes aren’t so familiar in a superhero movie setting. Garfield is clearly having a great time playing Spider-Man, but there’s still nothing particular to set him apart, plus Spidey’s need to constantly crack corny one-liners when fighting is rather irritating.
It might not be saddled by a superhero origin story, but gives us two super-villain ones. First up is Electro (Jamie Foxx) who begins as an overly nerdy employee at OsCorp whom everyone ignores. His introverted nature appears overdone at times (he expresses surprise that someone remembers his name at one point), but he’s also seen frantically talking to himself in a manner hinting at mental instability. He ends up being accidently dropped into a vat of giant mutated electric eels, as you do, and emerges as ‘Electro’. His glowing blue appearance bears more than a passing resemblance to Watchmen’s Doctor Manhattan (though he thankfully has some control over his wardrobe), as do his nonsensical powers, he can apparently disintegrate and reassemble himself at will. His true mental state never feels fully explored though, as after his reveal he goes from pleading that he can’t control his abilities to wanting to destroy everyone alarmingly quickly. Electro is, like the previous film’s Lizard, certainly not a comic book villain for the ages.
Somewhat better is the new take on Harry Osborne, played by the very promising, DiCaprio resembling Dane DeHaan. His dynamic with Peter has been wisely re-jigged so that now they were childhood friends who haven’t seen each other in years. While their personalities are largely the same as in Spider-Man 2, DeHaan does well with the material, and is given an interesting motivation; he’s terminally ill, and thinks Spider-Man’s blood could cure him.
Sadly a lot of this good work is scuppered once he sets off down the path to become the Green Goblin, a fact unnecessarily revealed in promo material and trailers long ago, when he becomes a grotesque, cackling madman (the recent trailers have given away practically the whole film).
As for the action scenes, they’re as per the standard for superhero films now, absolutely huge, clearly expensive, destruction and effects filled juggernauts that quickly become quite mind-numbing, a fact not helped by the random introduction of awful dubstep music into them.
To give returning director Marc Webb some credit though, he stages several moments of inventive slo-mo camera trickery in the middle of huge set-pieces and general web-slinging, that are clearly only possibly due to recent technological advances but demonstrate a director trying to liven up these now common slugfests.
Where the film is going soon becomes quite apparent, Electro is going to have to be dealt with before mutated Harry can come along, but the film piles these fights together without pausing for breath. There are a couple of surprises, with Spider-Man’s plan to deal with Electro being one of them. The key event that occurs though is one that comic fans will likely see coming a mile off (I certainly did). Having said that, Webb translates it very well onto the big screen, it’s just a shame it had to follow on from such a bombastic action sequence.
But of course, the film never really ends, instead focusing its final moments on setting up the (already announced) next sequel and spin-off.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a serviceable sequel, a mild improvement on the first, but suffers from a weak villain and even in its better moments it still feels unoriginal. It struggles to find its own identity and like its predecessor, the risk-free film’s primary purpose seems simply to be so Sony can retain the rights to Marvel’s lucrative character. Third time lucky? It seems unlikely.
One last thing, there’s still one aspect where they don’t go up against the Raimi films; J. Jonah Jameson, who’s spoken of and corresponded with but never seen, because they can’t beat J.K. Simmons.