Director: Marc Webb; Screenwriters: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinker; Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Dane DeHaan, Jamie Foxx, Felicity Jones, Paul Giamatti, Sally Field, B.J. Novak; Running time: 142 minutes; Certification: 12A
When news broke a few years ago of another Spider-Man reboot, it was greeted with a degree of animosity. While it’s true that Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 was a complete mess of a film and the character perhaps needed a kick up the behind, the thought of yet another new take with a new cast and director sounded rather exhausting. As it turned out, Marc Webb’s (whose only other feature credit at the time was the distinctly action-less quirky comedy (500) Days Of Summer) take on the web-slinger was a refreshing and impressive one. His (minor) background in romantic comedy ended up serving the Peter Parker portion of the story enormously well, making us care about him and his relationships a whole lot more than we ever did with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst (not to discredit Raimi’s first two films), and he strode confidently into his first jab at action with his head held high.
The Amazing Spider-Man didn’t entirely hold together, largely due to its weak and underwritten villain, but it provided enough evidence that Webb was the right man for the job. His sequel gave him the chance to prove that the first film wasn’t a fluke, that he was only getting started – how great it is, then, for that to be the case. Where before he was perhaps a little timid and afraid to take risks, Webb is absolutely swinging freely this time. It’s loud, it’s confident, it’s funny, it’s interesting; it’s his film. There’s an interesting parallel to Raimi in that respect, with his work with his first two Spidey films – the first was good, but only in the sequel did the true Raimi madness come out. It doesn’t always happen, but there’s perhaps an element of initially staying grounded to find your footing and appease the studio before letting rip with your own ideas. Webb bided his time well, and was rewarded with complete control over an altogether superior sequel.
Again what’s most impressive, as was the case with the first film, is how much time it dedicates to making us care about the characters – and that can’t be taken for granted. I mentioned how much we cared about Peter and Gwen’s relationship in The Amazing Spider-Man and how it was more than we ever really did with Peter and Mary-Jane in Raimi’s films, and that’s only heightened in this film. Through a combination of strong writing (Kurtzman, Orci and Pinker have mixed back catalogue, but this time they get it right) and really strong performances, we really yearn for them to make things work. Garfield and Stone’s chemistry is electric, and only goes to prove further that Webb has a knack for getting his lead couples to shine.
Furthermore, we really care about the villains of the piece. All the way through Electro’s transformation we retain sympathy for the man he was before that, and while his reasons for hating Spidey with every ounce of his electric gut are perhaps slightly neurotic, and there’s an argument that the character is ultimately given the short straw, he always remains interesting and understandable. The same is the case with Spidey’s infamous nemesis, the Green Goblin; we understand where he’s coming from, even if we don’t root for him. Both roles are helped by terrific performances from Jamie Foxx and particularly Dane DeHaan, who time and time again keeps being the best thing about any film he’s in. He’s a truly captivating screen presence, and hopefully taking such a high-profile role will attract him a wider audience.
With Spider-Man being an inherently jokey superhero who likes to take the mick out of his adversaries, the comedy takes a front row seat. Some of the jokes towards the start of the film don’t quite land, as was evident with a particularly expressionless audience, but the humour begins to find its place further into proceedings, and I found myself laughing quite often by the third act – sometimes out loud, even at the slapstick stuff. Peter trying to web his mobile but accidentally whipping a wrench into his face is much funnier than it ought to be.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a finely tuned amalgamation of almost everything a superhero movie needs. It’s been heavily criticized, and indeed it’s not a perfect film, but it’s an example of how to get it just about right. Andrew Garfield remains an excellent choice for Peter Parker, and Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborne is just a genius bit of casting. It’s funny, interesting and exciting, perfectly balancing action with character and romance with conflict. Hopefully The Amazing Spider-Man 3 can avoid making the same mistakes as Raimi’s third film. On the evidence of this, it ought to be brilliant.