Heart of the Spider
Lacklustre villainy aside, this sequel shines with its gloriously realised depiction of the beloved superhero.
There is one thing you can’t deny about the Marc Webb-directed Spidey movies – they feature the most awesome web-slinging action of all the Wall-Crawler’s big-screen outings. Viewed in an immersive format like IMAX 3D, they’ll make you seriously giddy, both from vertigo and with fan-boy excitement.
And now, with The Amazing Spider-Man 2, these films also feature the most perfectly realised Peter Parker/Spider-Man dual identity: the conflicted, still somewhat gawky man-boy and the wisecracking, inspiring hero who never gives up no matter what the odds.
Granted, so many people – from the actor to the stunt performers – put their every effort into bringing the superhero to the big screen, but it’s Garfield as the man behind the mask who brings out all the heart and soul of the character. His emotive expressions and spot-on delivery make this Peter Parker far and away the more likeable of the two big-screen interpretations (too bad, Tobey Maguire).
That’s the thing, though. Having a great Spider-Man doesn’t necessarily translate into having a great Spider-Man movie. He needs a great bad guy to play off, whether it’s Willem Dafoe’s slightly campy Green Goblin, who tried to be a father to Peter Parker; or a misguided, tragic but ruthless figure like Alfred Molina’s Otto Octavius/Doc Ock.
Like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 proved, it’s also not enough just to put a great super-villain on the screen if it’s going to be a half-baked attempt (yes, Topher Grace Venom, I’m talking about you). So for a film that bears the secondary title Rise Of Electro, this one doesn’t seem to put nearly as much effort into making its main villain – there are at least three from the Spideyverse on show here – a particularly noteworthy one.
(Then again, I’ve never considered Electro to be one of the major players in the hero’s rogues gallery, just one who kept appearing “with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season”, to quote another underappreciated bad guy, Hugo Drax.)
With Jamie Foxx making the most of a character who borders on caricature, Electro starts out as Oscorp electrical engineer Max Dillon, a brilliant but socially awkward type who is invisible to almost everyone. After an accident involving a tank of electric eels – no, really – he gains the power to control electricity but also seems to need to suck up huge amounts of it to function.
Feeling betrayed by his former idol, Spider-Man, Dillon becomes easily swayed by Harry Osborn (Chronicle’s Dane DeHaan), who also has his reasons for feeling hugely let down by his one-time best friend Peter Parker.
It’s all about faith and betrayal in this one then, and also about the complicated romance between Peter and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Haunted by the “ghost” of her slain father (Denis Leary) – or rather, a mental manifestation of his own guilty conscience – and bound by his promise to the dying man (from the previous film), Peter can’t let her go, even though he feels he must.
With Movie Gwen being a rather more strong-willed gal than the one I remember from the comics, she isn’t about to settle for him blowing hot and cold where their love is concerned.
To Webb and his writing team’s credit, these interludes never feel like filler material. Peter and Gwen’s trials and joys as a couple are a natural fit into the story; so much so that when Gwen’s character arc takes her where all comic fans know it’s heading, the poignancy of the moment is tangible.
The studio has already stated that it wants to build Spider-Man’s very own cinematic universe. With films featuring Venom and the Sinister Six already announced, you can expect this film to play like a stepping-stone for these other films. As a result, it does get crowded, some key plot threads remain unresolved, tantalising glimpses of other Spider-Man villains’ paraphernalia is on show, you wonder if Harry’s assistant Felicia’s last name is “Hardy”, and we are left with high hopes for the next sequel.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 may not be the best Spider-Man film – the other Spider-Man 2 has that honour in my book – but it satisfyingly depicts the original hard-luck superhero taking a pounding emotionally as well as physically, and emerging not only triumphant, but as inspirational as ever.
Child endangerment issues aside, it’s a really cheer-worthy moment when a little boy in a Spidey costume stands up to a super-villain, and so is the real deal’s brief exchange with the courageous kid when he shows up to take it from here.
Special effects may have advanced to the point that almost anything in comics can be recreated convincingly on the big screen, but it is small heartfelt moments like this that are the real trick to make. And if they can keep capturing the heart of the Spider so well, then I’m confident the character is going to keep on swinging for a long time.