Reviews

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

3

Webb’s reboot flounders. Spin doctor required?

When Peter Parker was delayed at the start of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, Joe’s Pizza’s 29-minute guarantee suffered. When Sony recently announced a two-year delay for the third film in Marc Webb’s run, a sense of heightened stakes took hold. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 leaves no doubt why, even before you factor in disappointing reviews and box-office returns. Webb’s second take on Spidey lore is better than cold pizza but it struggles to put a fresh stamp on old material.

And with Captain America, the X-Men and a raccoon sucker-punching well above their weight in a rammed summer genre market, this is no time for a superhero heavyweight to drop the ball.

Suspicions already simmered around its predecessor’s failure to tell the poster-promised “untold story”. Webb picks up that plot here, but with unhappy consequences: the Parker-family flashbacks don’t half slow the story down. With a lot of forward-flashing also required for the Sinister Six set-ups, it’s a wonder the present-day storylines get a look in.

But get a look-in they do, sometimes with winning levity. Rhino (Paul Giamatti) amuses, the web-swinging thrills and Spidey’s way with kids get us on side, much aided by a cast on their A-game. Andrew Garfield’s expressive Pete, Emma Stone’s savvy Gwen Stacy and Sally Field’s warm, wise Aunt May charm. Dane DeHaan, meanwhile, nails his Spidey-verse debut as Harry Osborn, oozing the same DiCaprio-turned-sickly charisma that electrified Kill Your Darlings and Chronicle.

And yet... DeHaan’s Harry is a trust-fund take on a more emotionally wrought character he played in a sharper (and cheaper) superhero movie, where his turn to villainy packed more punch than his mutation into a Beavis-from-Oz-alike Green Goblin.

That wouldn’t matter so much if the other villains worked, but Jamie Foxx’s Spidey-obsessed Max Dillon is a jittery bag of Nutty Professorisms and Jim Carrey-version Riddler-isms. Which might matter less again, if the motives behind Max’s mutation into walking power-sulk Electro weren’t so under-baked. Spider-Man 3 was much criticised, but at least Sandman’s emotional substance compensated for his elusive biological constitution.

S-M 3 spawned a million ‘broken web’ metaphors for its villain count, which makes the decision to up the character haul here seem brave or reckless. But huge head-counts needn’t be crippling: Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days Of Future Past showed how to multi-task. Choppy tonal lurches are Webb’s bigger problem as he swings between pants-down farce, romance, FX power surges, laundry issues and camp German scientists. Seriously: did anyone even direct Marton Csokas’ cameo?

The script has as much trouble focusing the plot. Some Dark Knight-style jitters about Spidey’s bad influence emerge, then disappear while Gwen and Peter chase their on-off relationship around in circles. Harry and Peter’s friendship is detailed in one big info-dump. The tense final bout offers some pay-off, but even then a key character’s emotive, comics-based but slightly cynical, clumsily foreshadowed and arguably misogynist fate makes a mixed impression. A similar tragedy in The Dark Knight worked because Nolan rigorously crafted a world of cause and consequence.

Webb’s tenuous tonal grip doesn’t earn its darker turn as it pings about like a sequel hell-bent on delivering what fans want, or at least what fan feedback deemed lacking last time. You’re left with a tale of many pleasures but insufficient personality, like a pizza with everything piled on. You don’t go hungry, but you may want more finesse next time.

Don’t watch the extras before the main feature: the mammoth, multi-part Making Of drops a huge spoiler straight out of the gate. The deleted scenes nod to it too, by way of an emotional reunion that would’ve been one twist too far. Plus: bonus Felicity Jones. And Electro’s mum.

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