D: Marc Webb / 142m
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Sally Field, Colm Feore, Felicity Jones, Paul Giamatti, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Marton Csokas, Chris Cooper
With this instalment – number two of four – the Spider-Man reboot continues to enervate and aggravate at the same time, and in many ways that are similar to the first movie. The movie opens with a flashback to Peter Parker (Garfield) as a young child being left with his Uncle Ben (a non-returning Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Field) while his parents, Richard (Scott) and Mary (Davidtz) head off for parts unknown. So far, so retread of the opening of the first movie, but this time we discover what happened to Peter’s parents, and are given a brief glimpse into its importance in the series’ overall plot. From there we pick up with Peter and Gwen Stacy (Stone) in the aftermath of The Lizard’s rampage and the resultant death of her father. Peter’s promise to keep Gwen away from danger prompts him to end their relationship, despite Gwen’s protests.
At Oscorp, prodigal son Harry (DeHaan) returns from abroad at the request of his dying father, Norman (Cooper). Given control of the company, and its secrets, Harry also discovers that the illness that is killing his father will also kill him. When Norman dies, Peter hears about it and goes to see Harry to offer his condolences. They pick up their old friendship, while back at Oscorp, loner employee Max Dillon (Foxx) – whose life Spider-Man saved in the opening chase sequence involving future-Rhino Aleksei Sytsevich (Giamatti) – ends up electrocuted in a tank full of electric eels. When he awakens some time afterward he discovers he can control electricity. Still adjusting to his new-found power, Max and Spider-Man have a showdown where Max is captured and sent to the Ravencroft Institute, a facility for the criminally insane that is run by Oscorp. Under the instruction of Oscorp lawyer and bigwig Donald Menken (Feore), Max is “studied” by Dr Kafka (Csokas).
Harry learns that the research conducted by his father and Richard Parker may be the key to stopping his illness. He asks Peter to contact Spider-Man with the intention of securing some of the web-slinger’s blood. When Peter (as Spider-Man) refuses to help him, Harry is enraged, and vows to put an end to Spider-Man. Meanwhile, Peter and Gwen try to be friends (but without much success), and Aunt May gives Peter a clue that might help him discover the truth about his parents’ disappearance. This leads to an abandoned underground station, and a revelation that reinforces Peter’s decision not to help Harry.
When Harry tries to access certain Special Projects files, he’s unceremoniously dumped from Oscorp by Menken, but not before he finds out about Max and his incarceration at Ravencroft. He frees Max – who now calls himself Electro – and they take back control of Oscorp. Harry forces Menken to inject him with the spider serum but it has the predictable adverse effect. He makes it to an exo-skeleton that has restorative and battle-focused properties and he survives, just as Electro and Spider-Man face off against each other again.
There’s a lot more to the story, but surprisingly, the movie copes well with it all, even if at times it does throw off the pacing (some of the quieter scenes seem to drag in comparison with the more kinetic moments). The tagline “No More Secrets” is only partly apt, as while we do get to know what Richard Parker was working on, its importance to Peter and his alter-ego, and the effect it’s had on Aunt May (not quite as important in the grand scheme of things but thanks to Field’s performance, effectively realised), we don’t get to know the full extent of Oscorp’s Special Projects (look out though for glimpses of Dr Octopus’s tentacles and the Vulture’s outfit), and any wider plan they’re being prepared for. (In many ways, parts three and four look to be about developing these projects further, and while the prospect of Spider-Man versus the Sinister Six looks to be on the cards, it’s going to have to be very well thought out in order to work as well as it needs to.)
Where the movie works best is in its widening of the Spider-Man universe, and adding an extra layer of depth to the main characters that doesn’t always happen in sequels. Peter’s ambivalence towards his relationship with Gwen is well-played, and Aunt May gets perhaps the best scene in the movie, while newcomers Harry and Max are painted with broad but effective brush strokes, although Max’s temerity and innate humility are jettisoned half way through to enable a more threatening second encounter with Spider-Man. As the main villains, Foxx is on impressive form, particularly in his pre-Ravencroft scenes (including a suitably awkward elevator encounter with Gwen), while DeHaan does more than enough to prove that he’s not just replicating his performance as Andrew in Chronicle (2012), despite the similarities in the two characters. Sadly though, the dreadful faux-Nazi/Dr Strangelove caricature that is Dr Kafka is the one character that will have everyone asking themselves, Really? and is the movie’s biggest misstep.
Tonally the movie flits between standard romantic drama, broad comedy (witness Sytsevich’s humiliating capture), overly stylised and over the top action sequences (with the by-now dramatically redundant but seemingly unavoidable mass destruction of property), cautious morality piece, and less than low-key father/son entanglements. Some aspects don’t work as well as others – Spider-Man’s saving of a small child from bullies that leads to a very unlikely moment later on; Harry’s mastery of the exo-skeleton and its systems in about five minutes flat – while Webb’s direction, slightly off in the first movie, doesn’t improve here, leading to the movie having a surprisingly listless quality, where the highs don’t have the impact they should have, and the lows all operate at the same level. There’s a lot going on but for a Spider-Man movie there really isn’t any “wow” factor; even Spider-Man’s aerial acrobatics, though better filmed than ever before, still have that “seen it too many times before” feel to them.
As the movie progresses into its final third there are some narrative lapses that undermine a lot of what’s gone before, especially considering the care that’s gone into the movie’s structure up til then, and one character’s emotional crisis is resolved in pretty much the blink of an eye, but it’s not enough to completely ruin things. There’s one climax too many – and particularly as the last one is a bit of a throwaway – and too much is left unexplained in terms where certain characters end up (and how). It makes for a disappointing ending and seems more about prepping audiences for part three than rounding off part two.
Rating: 7/10 – a solid sequel that builds on its predecessor by consolidating that movie’s strengths, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 still isn’t as invigorating or rewarding as it would like to be but is certainly more confident; not the best Spider-Man sequel but considering its collision of villains, not the worst either.