Hot on the heels of last month’s Marvel co-production, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, comes the latest offering from the continuing partnership with Sony Pictures.
Set not so long after the events of the first film, Spider-man is now a celebrated hero in his native New York and his alter ego Peter Parker has continued a relationship with Gwen Stacey, against the promise he made to her father. The pressure of the relationship, along with Peter’s need to find out what happened to his parents come alongside a bigger fight for the Webslinger not only against the hidden agenda of Oscorp Industries, but from put-upon Oscorp employee Max Dillon who is transformed into a supervillain dubbed Electro following an accident and from childhood friend Harry Osborn who has his own interest in the secrets of Peter’s past.
As a big Spidey fan, I was looking forward to seeing this film, especially after Marc Webb’s first entry into the revamped Spider-man universe.
The original writing team of James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves have moved on from this franchise and have been replaced by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, who people may know from the J.J. Abrams version of the “Star Trek” franchise, along with Jeff Pinkne. Fortunately, this change of scripting team doesn’t alter the direction taken from the previous “Spider-man” film and builds upon it using the “Ultimate Spider-Man” universe as the film’s main touchstone (as with the last film) alongside another BIG Spider-Man plotline which would go beyond “Spoiler” level to even hint about.
There are two themes within this film that ring through strongly. Whereas the first film is about the well known phrase “With great power comes great responsibility”, this film could have the tagline “With great responsibility comes great consequences”. This first theme hinges around the promise made by Peter to Captain Stacey (again portrayed in ghostly cameo by Dennis Leary) to stop his relationship with Gwen. As Peter’s notoriety increases, so does the pressure to keep that promise – especially when he delves into the mystery of his parents’ disappearance, which featured in the first film and tees up the second in a pre-opening credits scene.
Peter’s backstory drives the second main thread of this film as it looks at his relationship with his childhood friend Harry Osborn. Both are, through parental choice, apparently dumped and the audience is asked to question what would have happened if Peter didn’t have an Uncle Ben or Aunt May to provide his moral focus. Would he turn out like Harry does as the film progresses?
I have to admit that these storylines, along with the introduction of Electro and The Rhino along with the latest incarnation of the Green Goblin, gave me concerns that it was going to be a cluttered film – something that almost killed the “Batman” franchise and caused problems with the third Raimi “Spider-Man” film. Instead, what you get is very much a part two of an ongoing narrative with the Spidey universe expanding to incorporate aspects such as Peter’s employment with the Daily Bugle (albeit without an appearance by J. Jonah Jameson).
The direction by Marc Webb is beautiful to look at and he has learned from the previous film to use the 3D aspect more when it comes to Spidey’s web-slinging amongst the buildings of New York, even to the point of the audience having a “ride along” with Spider-man himself. That said, there are moments where the frenetic nature of Spider-man’s pace and the way he moves becomes cartoony alongside the live action plates, but considering the strides made since the first Raimi “Spider-Man” film in 2002 (especially the poor demonstration of bluescreen in the scene where Spidey rescues MJ from the parade gatecrashed by the Goblin) I’d say that’s a small hardship which could be overcome as technology develops.
One area where the film has really improved from the previous “Amazing” film is the use of soundtrack. I have to admit, I did like James Horner’s music at first, but after you’ve seen the film a few times, you do get the feeling that he was trying to replicate what had gone before with Danny Elfman. “Amazing 2” brings Hans Zimmer into scoring duties. Now for those who are afraid of a “Dark Knight” or “Man Of Steel” clone soundtrack, don’t worry. Although Zimmer takes the lead for this soundtrack, he is joined by his “Magnificent Six” – Pharrell Williams, Johnny Marr (formerly of “The Smiths”), Junkie XL, Mike Einziger(of “Incubus”), Andrew Kawaczynski and Steve Mazzaro – to create a soundtrack that screams out “superhero movie” but is modern, fresh and drives the film forward into making it a “Spider-man” rather than just another “superhero movie” score. In fact, I would say that it’s probably one of my favourites, if not my favourite, Hans Zimmer score and considering his back catalogue, that’s saying something.
Andrew Garfield still embodies what my thoughts of Spider-Man to be. On the outside, you get the wisecracking Webslinger, yet underneath you get a young man who is trying to take on the mantle of being a hero and being responsible for his actions and for the people around him, whilst having to get through his personal emotional minefield of being abandoned by his parents and learning the reasons for their actions.
Emma Stone is fantastic as Gwen. Her performance gives the right pitch of being the love interest for Peter whilst being independent enough to seize the initiative – especially when it comes to seizing the initiative in ending her relationship with Peter and checking out the shenanigans in Oscorp.
The pairing between Garfield and Stone works really well and develops the strands from the first film into bringing the first love aspect of Peter and Gwen alive from the page.
Sally Field reprises her role from the first “Amazing” film as Aunt May. As with the first film, this Aunt May comes very much from the “Ultimate” comic books in being a younger version of the character. This enables Field the opportunity to challenge Garfield where Rosemary Harris couldn’t as much to Tobey Maguire in the Raimi trilogy. Also, and this isn’t stated outright in the film, the script allows Field to portray Aunt May as being aware that Peter is Spider-man, which allows her not only to challenge Peter’s moral duty because of his gifts but for there to be a nice comedic to-ing and fro-ing where she doesn’t want to push Peter into revealing his secret whilst Peter wants to keep his Spider-man duties a secret from her.
As with Rhys Ifans’ portrayal of Curt Connors/The Lizard, the two main villains of this film do engender sympathy for their plight. Jamie Foxx is brilliant in the role of Max Dillon/Electro. The script, along with performance, gives the opportunity for him to come across initially as the bullied nerd who everyone walks over or doesn’t notice. So, it’s understandable that when his hero figure in Spider-man seemingly turns on him, it’s the catalyst to push him over the edge and become that which Spidey opposes.
Dane DeHaan gives a great performance in the role of Harry/Green Goblin whilst giving a new, and more tragic, dimension to the role. Whilst the James Franco version was driven by his father’s attitudes and a need for revenge but who was ultimately redeemed, this Harry is driven by desperation for reasons that become apparent throughout the plot. This desperation makes the change from friend to villain all the more tragic and the final outcome makes this Goblin seemingly irredeemable. It also tees up what may not only be the third film in this trilogy but the anticipated “Sinister Six” spin off that’s currently under development.
The only villain not to get such a well rounded characterisation is Paul Giamatti in the role of Aleksei Sytsevich/The Rhino. However, that said, he only gets a couple of scenes of being the “comic relief” villain in the opening action scene and as the first volunteer for Osborn’s “Sinister Six” program at the end of the film.
As previously mentioned there is a return for Denis Leary as the “vision” version of Captain Stacey, alongside returns for Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz in the roles of Peter’s parents and, of course, the obligatory cameo by Stan Lee. There are also new characters from the wider Spidey universe with Chris Cooper making a fleeting, but important, appearance as Norman Osborn, B. J. Novak in the role of Alistair Smythe and Felicity Jones in the role of Felicia who may or may not be Felicia Hardy a.k.a. “The Black Cat”.
Ultimately, “Amazing 2” builds on the foundations of what has gone before in this revived franchise and whilst it rewards the fans, it does have two drawbacks to it. Firstly, to understand some of the plots that are shown in this film, you have to have watched the first one. Like the comic books, this franchise is serial in nature.
The second drawback is that with the “Amazing” films now setting up a “Sinister Six” spin-off along with the rumoured 20th Century Fox “X-Men” and forthcoming “Fantastic Four” shared world and Paramount/Disney’s “Marvel Cinematic Universe”, this is three iterations of Marvel’s products and as a fan, I would love to get all of them into a room together to basically say, “Come on guys. Work together and you’ll get a stronger product.” Unfortunately, with different companies wanting your box office buck, that’ll be difficult if nigh on impossible. But if the preview scene for “X-Men: Days Of Future Past” shown at the end of this film offers a glimmer of hope for co-operation between the studios, then I’m all for it.
Rating: Wait A While