My last review for a Marvel comic adaptation (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) drew some fire from those upset that I had given too much of the story away. Looking back, such criticisms are probably justified, but the problem I find with films such as these is that there isn’t really that much to discuss. As an audience we know what to expect and, as such, there are very few surprises or points of difference on which to centre a review. We know the special effects will be first class, we know our hero will prevail and we know that each release will be out to upstage all those that went before it in terms of spectacle. There is no change to this formula with The Amazing Spiderman 2, the second in the rebooted Spiderman franchise with Marc Webb in the director’s chair. If nothing else, Webb is certainly the most appropriately named director to helm such a film and, to his credit, his approach is much lighter in tone.
Devoid of the angst and uncertainty that plagues a character such as Captain America, Spiderman enjoys his place in the spotlight, aping for the cameras that capture his every rescue and ushering witty one-liners as he despatches bad guys to save the day. In his second appearance as Peter Parker and his web slinging alter ego, Andrew Garfield brings a real sense of fun to the role, courtesy of a screenplay from Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner that never takes the character too seriously. The Spiderman theme music as Parker’s ringtone is one of many recurring jokes that keep the mood light and embed the character with a sense of self-awareness that makes him much more real, if such a term can ever be used to describe a character of this type.
On this occasion, there are two bad guys baying for Spiderman’s blood, quite literally in one case. Whilst the emergence of the Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan) follows the very traditional Spiderman narrative arc of a former friend turned against our orphan hero, the other villain of this piece is Electro (Jamie Foxx), a bumbling, mumbling electrical engineer and self-described nobody who suddenly becomes ‘somebody’ when he suffers a workplace accident that leaves him charged with electricity and capable of manipulating the power grids of New York and potentially electrocuting the entire population. Of course Peter’s dead father Richard Parker (Campbell Scott) is always front and centre of proceedings, having developed the science that is the catalyst for much of the maleficence that leads to the creation of our various villains. Sally Field returns as Peter’s long suffering aunt May, who somehow remains oblivious to his arachnidan attributes and, of course, there is the requisite love interest in high school sweetheart Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone).
There is a strong dynamic between Garfield and Stone – well Parker and Stacy at least – that plays like the typical on-again-off-again nature of teenage romances, particularly as they compete with the pressures and expectations that necessarily impinge upon their lives now that they have finished school. In fact, despite being 30 years of age, Garfield effectively assays Peter as a somewhat typical teenage boy, a slacker for the most part, his superhero shenanigans aside. Gwen, on the other hand, is driven and determined to achieve her objective of securing a place at Oxford University, prepared to leave Peter behind if necessary. Whilst this doomed romance is ripped straight from the pages of Romeo and Juliet (as they always are), we never lose sight of the fact that this is, first and foremost, an action film very much targeted at a teenage male audience.
The CGI is, as we have come to expect, excellent, although the deliberate flourishes aimed at maximising the 3D experience are somewhat distracting for those of us who watched it in 2D mode. The shots of Spiderman swinging through the streets of New York are always impressive and the neon jungle that is Times Square proves the ideal locale for the showdown between Spiderman and Electro. However, Spiderman is actually much more enjoyable, as a character and a movie experience, when our hero is taking on more ‘traditional’ villains, such as thugs and thieves. With Chris Cooper, Felicity Jones and an almost unrecognisable Paul Giamatti also featuring, The Amazing Spiderman 2 is another satisfactory, if decidedly unexceptional, addition to the ever growing litany of comic book characters on cinema screens.