On Bank Holiday Monday we took a trip to see the new Amazing Spider-Man 2 – a follow up to Andrew Garfield’s first (and very successful) outing in the Spidey suit in 2012. Watching Spider-Man movies is starting to make me feel old as I went and saw Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man at the cinema back in 2002. Yikes. I’m on my fifth Spider-Man movie in 12 years, which feels excessive, but there ya go. The cinema was packed, despite the film having been out for a few days, demonstrating to me at least that superhero movie fatigue has yet to strike. I went with fairly high expectations as I really enjoyed the previous film and am a fan of all the principle cast (Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan and Sally Field).
We pick up a few months from when The Amazing Spider-Man left off. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) have re-united but it seems to be an on/off sort of relationship, as Peter is still plagued with guilt over the death of Gwen’s father. Spider-Man is all over New York, saving the day one quip at a time (seriously, the one liners were great in this movie and delivered with relish by Garfield). He is exhausted but seemingly happy, still living with Aunt May (Sally Field) in Queens. The mystery of what happened to his parents still lingers but he’s trying not to drive himself too crazy over it. Meanwhile, Gwen gets a job over at Oscorp and meets Max, an electrical engineer (Jamie Foxx), who is ignored and ridiculed by his colleagues and is a scary Spider-Man super-fan. Peter’s childhood friend, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) comes back to the city following the protracted death of his father, Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper), former boss to Richard Parker, Peter’s dad. Several threads of story start to intertwine as the film progresses: Peter learns more about what his father was doing and where he went, Harry is driven mad with obsession over Spider-Man and a possible cure for a family illness, Gwen proves her value while also putting herself at risk and most importantly, Max has a terrible accident and becomes Electro. Peter must struggle with personal and actual demons and decide what it really means to be Spider-Man…
Like The Amazing Spider-Man, its sequel didn’t pull any punches. There is much humour within the film and fun to be had watching it, but Marc Webb doesn’t shy away from the darker aspects of what it means to be a super-hero. ‘Dark’ is not really a word you associate with the Spider-Man films, but that’s my lingering impression. Both films 1 and 2 hold a lot of sadness and the harsh reality that trying to be hero entails. Yet they’re also full of great hope and faith in people and the wonderful things true courage can bring us. As this is the direction they clearly want to take the films in, you can see why they hired an actor like Andrew Garfield. Delivering a natural, sensitive and charismatic performance, he successfully embodies both the joking, fun-loving public Spider-Man and the more conflicted, serious Peter Parker in his portrayal. It’s no secret that Garfield is a huge Spider-Man fan himself and you can feel the energy, commitment and love he brings to the role beaming out of the screen. As much as I like Tobey Maguire, I may have to concede that I think I prefer Garfield in the role.
Emma Stone is pretty much always great, and she too brings her naturalistic acting style and easy going charm to great effect as Gwen Stacy. She fills her role with solidity and confidence, bringing a strength to Peter when he needs it most. It’s also great to see that Gwen’s intelligence is brought to the fore, making her more than just a damsel in distress. I’m an admirer of Dane DeHaan, who is proving to be an enigma as an actor – you never quite know what he’s going to do or how he’s going to play something. He uses this quality to make his Harry Osborn wonderfully unpredictable (and therefore very dangerous) for much of the film. I thought he was a great choice as Harry, though I have to say I didn’t enjoy watching him as ‘the other guy’ so much, as The Hulk would say.
Jamie Foxx is so charismatic it was interesting to see him cast as persistently overlooked Max Dillon, but he did a great job of playing the underdog and he filled his Electro with a growing, incandescent rage. What was great about Foxx’s portrayal was you could see a clear through-line from our first sighting of Max to Electro at his final showdown. Max’s growing irritation at constantly being mocked and passed over leads directly to his thirst for revenge and power as Electro.
Something I appreciated and enjoyed about the movie was that there was plenty of action and fighting but it didn’t dominate the film (unlike say, The Dark Knight Rises or Man of Steel. Or even The Avengers). There were a couple of extended fight sequences, but they were just long enough and well paced. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think those long set pieces where some city gets totally destroyed are really boring to watch. I didn’t feel bored or fatigued by the action at any point during The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which makes it stand out for me. I also liked its emphasis on Peter’s internal life and his relationships. That has always been a feature of the Spider-Man adaptations and I for one hope they continue in that vein.
I really enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and while I’m still a bit confused as to why we needed a re-boot quite so soon, I’ve liked the way the later films have been interpreted and look forward to the next instalment. Go see!