DIR: Marc Webb • WRI: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci , Jeff Pinkner • PRO: Avi Arad, Matthew Tolmach • DOP: Daniel Mindel • ED: Pietro Scalia • MUS: Johnny Marr, Pharrell Williams, Hans Zimmer • DES: Mark Friedberg • CAST: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx
Comic-book movies invite a deal more cynicism than most others, plainly because, on a certain level, they are blatantly cynical themselves. At their worst they are arduous cash-ins on materials with a guaranteed enough fan-base that massive grosses are imminent, whereas at their finest they can be faithful additions to an already adored canon. Marc Webb’s rebooted Spiderman franchise, which kicked off with 2012’s relatively safe The Amazing Spiderman, has the potential for an even thicker dollop of scepticism to be dealt its way, from fans and cinema-going-public alike, due mostly to the fact that it appeared in multiplexes a mere four years after Sam Raimi’s much derided but gargantuan grossing (800 million) Spiderman 3 left our screens for a lucrative retirement on DVD. The question on the tip of everyone’s tongue was simple enough “Do we really need this?”
The popularity of Spiderman is an easy one to fathom. Much like that of The X-Men, his is an underdog’s story that invites one to cheer on his behalf as though he’s an FAI club playing Champions League. His strife as a teenage outcast and struggle as a low-level press photographer invite our empathies to the point that we can taste his triumph if the balance is right between his societal grounding in our world and the heightened reality that held back any means to adapt the stories until almost a decade after Pixar pixelated life into a cowboy ragdoll. Sam Raimi’s films never quite hit the mark, lending themselves too much to cartoon sensibilities to be taken seriously with the suit off and Marc Webb’s first film played it far too safe for two acts only to spend too much money at ILM for the third act to facilitate a slightly bonkers plot featuring a lizard scientist (aptly titled “The Lizard” in Stan Lee’s original books) who wished for everyone else to be lizards with him. Truth be told, no cinematic outing has come as close to nailing the required balance as the mid-90’s cartoon by Fox’s Cartoon Network. That is, until now.
The Amazing Spiderman 2 picks up very closely after its 2012 predecessor. The villains: Jamie Foxx’s Electro; Dan DeHaan’s Green Goblin; Paul Giametti’s The Rhino. The everyday struggles: life after high-school; what happened to my parents; do I keep my girlfriend? Suffice to say, if one is familiar with superhero narratives not a great deal occurs in the film’s set-up to surprise one bar the fact that it is still necessary to include a montage of cops stating they feel Spiderman is “a menace” and that he should “leave cops to do their jobs”. Viewing these elements unassembled it wouldn’t be unfair to expect a business-as-usual affair harkening back to the Raimi films but having seen them arranged and garnished it is now no mystery why Marc Webb, whose only experience previous to Spidey 2012 was the dazzlingly original rom-com 500 Days of Summer, was assigned the task of making Spidey stand out. As he breathed refreshing individuality into 500 Days here too he uses all the tricks in his director’s book to make a potentially dull affair shine, thrill, and move and even after these facts it is often laugh-out-loud funny.
If it wasn’t clear from the patently addictive on-screen chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone in Webb’s first Spidey-outing that Webb could direct actors this film leaves no doubt. Not only are villains Foxx and DeHaan believable and often sympathetic but they have depth to the point that each could conceivably form the centre of their own story. Having seen Amazing Spiderman 2, the previously outlandish concept of the stand-alone films each of the Spiderman villains will be getting next year somehow makes sense. Each antagonist forms their own emotional core to compete with Spiderman’s, with the film’s true evil being made up by shady Oscorp suits who in turn make pawns of each of the story’s big bads. Having mentioned acting at all it would be a discredit to the profession to not mention the performance of the always excellent Sally Field, who halfway through brings the film to its (nearly) emotional peek.
The last film’s big let-down was its action sequences, something which Webb tried to enhance with a mixture of 3D and first-person perspective but which fell rather flat. In this outing I bought every one with glee. This is one of the rare occasions on which 3D enhances the experience to the point that it might suffer without it. Not only that, but the use of volume-shooting, (here utilised to convey “Spidey-sense”) which has grated on me ever since Zack Snyder ruined it for everyone in the first 300 film, is graceful to the point of justifying itself to the plot.
So enjoyable is this superhero outing that I find it difficult to pick the holes I’m sent to look for. There is a plane sequence (the second plane sequence) which takes the viewer out of the action in order to punctuate a large-scale fight sequence (à la the two ferries in The Dark Knight) which really doesn’t work and seems to fumble the film’s momentum. There are montages here and there that seem to be merely ticking studio boxes, which unfortunately can’t be helped. Controversially, every character, good or bad, possesses motivation and depth unless they’re both European and bad in which case they’re just out-and-out sadistic, violent assholes. Pah! Minor flaws.
Here, Webb has not only made the franchise his own but made the film world excited for where he’ll turn after Amazing Spiderman 3, for which he is already signed on. He has constructed a major story from minor details where every frame is thought out down to the Dogtown and the Z-Boys that adorns Peter Parker’s bedroom wall or the Daniel Johnston tee-shirt he wears to his graduation. If you read any reviews that suggest this is anything close to the norm of the genre don’t believe them.
12A (See IFCO for details)
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is released on 16th April 2014