UK Release: April 18th 2014 (previews April 16thand 17th)
Marking the beginning of the summer blockbuster season of 2014 (if yet early in the UK as it’s the World Cup this summer) comes Sony’s ‘AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2’ (with added ‘Rise of Electro’ in Australia). I remember when I walked into seeing this rebooted (‘hipster’- skateboarding cool) Spider-Man back in the summer of 2012. Directed by Marc Webb of ‘500 Days of Summer’ fame, I was excited to see how he would employ his incredibly pulp sense of direction which he did to that romantic comedy, and how it would come across in regards to telling a new ‘’Untold’’ story of the well known Marvel comic property. Instead I came out disappointed with the lack of this ‘Pow!’ ‘Whack!’ pulp energy I was expecting from a director who can do this (and more so what Sam Ramini did in ‘Spider-Man’ back in 2002). I was also disappointed, more because of this and also how it wasn’t the ‘’Untold story’’ which the marketing led you to believe. So walking into this and having Disney/Marvel Studios doing their own cinematic universe, as well as Fox’s ‘X-Men’ franchise, and Warner Bros working on their DC Universe, I saw this more as added homework to see if anything.
I can happy report thought that ‘Amazing Spider-Man 2’ doesn’t have these issues. From the opening scene it is clear to try and deliver on the promise of finding out about Peter Parker’s (Andrew Garfield) ‘’Untold’’ parents origin. There is also a fundamental improvement to Webb’s direction, who seems more at ease with a direction of a big budgeted film like this and employs the pulp styling’s of ‘500 Days of Summer’ for this comic book film but mostly to the character of ‘Spider-Man’, which is very much the character’s reputation. The film address’ issues the first ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ provided and worked on them. There is a very self aware sense of humour with comments about ‘’Mad scientist creating giant lizards to invade New York’’ and also a wink to the Spider-Man characters past as well – which his classic theme tune acts as his phone’s ringtone.
The real joy to all this is the central performances between Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker and Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy. Full of young energy the talented performances have a strange click and magic on screen which makes you think that they are a couple in real life, let alone a believable one on the screen. The charm is the fact that both of them talk over one and other and have great timing to one and others acting styles. Talking about styling though Andrew Garfield does seem very relaxed into the role of Spider-Man . He is able to convey incredible charisma with the mask on (lots of the characters trademark one liners – often very funny) and also teaches and gives younger audiences an idea of the inner turmoil his character is going through throughout the films running time. I was particularly impressed by this as the amount of children in the screening I saw was talking about some of the issues he had to undergo. Saying that thought Spider-Man does interact with a lot of children in the film (the children here being a vessel for that particular audience to connect with). This fun energy also brings a more family feel to the film without sacrificing any sense of darkness. The darkness could be seen with that fact that the teenagers in this film are all tortured. Peter parents and Uncle, Gwen’s father (Denis Leary – returning here just standing as a part of Spidey’s imagination) and Harry Osborn (Dana DeHaan) father all have died and the ‘‘connecting tissue’’ between these three is this idea of them being orphans. This darkness element is also played up to the fact that a lot of what happens in this film is Spider-Man’s fault, which for a idea in a film of this genre isn’t played up too much – and it is something which happens regularly in the original comics.
To combat the whole big universe idea of the Marvel Studios Cinematic Universe (they don’t have the film rights to Spider-Man), this film does come off very ‘’world-building’’. You are introduced to a lot of new characters including Jamie Foxx’s Electro (stunning VFX – like the rest of the film- but does look more a cross between Dr. Manhattan and Mr. Freeze, and is more an enforcer in this film than the primary villain the marketing suggests), Dana DeHaan’s Harry Osborn (who when on screen steals the thunder from Jamie Foxx), Paul Giamatti’s bookended Rhino and Felicity Jones’ Felicia Hardy (fans of the comic book will know what that character becomes and is set up for later film instalments). Certainly this could be the same as what ‘Iron Man 2’ did in building that film universe, however unlike ‘Iron Man 2’ you don’t need to have comic book knowledge to know who these characters are. With all this though these is certain elements which could be attributed to ‘Spider-Man 3’ – the Raimi (however admittedly was from studio interference) franchise ender. There is at times too many villains and in the middle of the film there is a real sense of a juggling act with how to make these elements and plot lines play out, however I think the idea of the villains origins playing out at the same time as one and other, certainly makes the transition smoother than that of ‘Spider-Man 3’. Also it gets to the point where when Peter and Gwen (not just some damsel in distress) are off screen the film at times does feel like it is losing its main life source a little, and there is some tonally awkward elements of Marton Csokes mad German scientist heading up this universes version of Arkham Asylum of the Ravencroft Institute which (however brilliant he is) comes off a little panto like. There is also this idea throughout the film that characters can hear from afar. An example of this is when Spider-Man shouts up to Gwen who is on top of a 30 foot high tower to press a button, only for her to hear him from that distance. There is also, since it is a big Sony Pictures release, a lot Sony product placement. One of which is when Peter is doing research on a note he found which said ‘Roosevelt’’, only to enter that in on Google and get the former US President – and this guy is a intelligent nerd you say?
Generally speaking ‘Amazing Spider-Man 2’ is an enjoyable ride. Its main advantages are this embracement of this pulp comic book energy which is missing today in film. The idea as well that the film has several ’’vessels’’ for all audiences’ members to be drawn into by, and how children can identify and talk after about the issues Spider-Man faces in this film. Thanks to the fine central performances of Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, this is a Superhero franchise which feels like it has found its legs again and should leave with (as these superhero films seem to be doing) profound effects on the world they inhabit for future instalments.*
*Yes, this is my version of a post credit sting, regarding the ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ clip in ‘Amazing Spider-Man 2’. Personally I understand why Fox told Sony they need to have it in there, not because ‘Spider-Man’ director Marc Webb was signed to do another Fox Searchlight project before asking to leave for Sony’s ‘Spider-Man’, but more so they need as much marketing (and yes Jennifer Lawrence is the main star of the edited clip) as ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ is Fox’s second highest budgeted film behind ‘Avatar’, so they are going to need their marketing. The only issue though is that audiences might be thinking Spider-Man and the X-Men will be teaming together in the future, which isn’t the case.