By Preston Wilder
Let’s hear it for Andrew Garfield, with his shy smile and the hint of a quiver in his voice. Let’s hear it for Emma Stone, with her air of delight in everything tempered by those moments when her eyes flash, making clear that she’s no-one’s little princess. Let’s hear it, above all, for the writing team of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who’ve made exuberance their watchword in the rebooted Star Trek franchise and bring more of the same to this Spider-Man sequel (they didn’t write the more sedate first film) – right from the first few minutes, with Garfield as exuberant Spidey careening through the urban jungle like a semi-arachnid Tarzan. “What you got for me today, New York? … Hello, pedestrians!”
This stuff matters, to me, if we’re talking comic-book blockbusters. Others worry more about the plot. Fans have complained that Amazing Spider-Man 2 has too much plot, or too much irrelevant plot and not enough comic-book plot (Paul Giamatti as Rhino, a well-known Marvel supervillain, only appears in the last few minutes). It’s true the film is wildly overlong at 142 minutes, and the two-villain template doesn’t really work; the main villain is Electro, played by Jamie Foxx (Rhino is more of a cameo), but there’s also Peter Parker’s best friend Harry Osborn – played with serpent-like charisma by Dane DeHaan – who’ll eventually become the Green Goblin. The surfeit of villains makes for a bitty narrative. None of that really matters, though, when the film is so exuberant.
This is basically a teen romance with a lot of cute gags and a touch of Iron Man snark (plus a superhero plot attached). Garfield’s Spidey, unlike Tobey Maguire’s more soulful version, might be a younger, less jaded cousin of fast-talking Tony Stark: “Hi, Mr. Criminal, my name’s Spider-Man. You can call me Web-Man, you can call me Amazing…” A lot more is made of Spider-Man’s celebrity in this sequel; Electro is initially Max Dillon, a humble techie who’s the web-slinger’s No. 1 fan – and inevitably feels betrayed when he thinks his idol doesn’t appreciate him (amusingly, their big showdown turns into a popularity contest, with Electro getting upset when the crowd likes Spidey more). This, in other words, is a snappy, confident superhero – not the type to wallow in existential angst, like the Maguire equivalent in Spider-Man 2.
There has to be some angst, of course. Peter is haunted by not one but two figures from his past: Gwen Stacy’s dad (Gwen is the girlfriend, for the uninitiated), who keeps reminding him not to place her in peril, and his own dad, Richard Parker, long-gone and shrouded in secrets (“People will say I’m a monster…”). Dads are a big deal in this franchise; Harry is haunted by his own monstrous dad, and – like Peter – receives a vital gift from that dead parent. And of course there’s Aunt May (Sally Field) with her own hidden angst. Should she tell what she knows? With great knowledge comes great responsibility.
Then again, Aunt May also has a long conversation with Peter about doing the laundry, and whether he can be allowed to wash his own clothes; after all, “last time you did the laundry you turned everything blue and red!”. (I was washing the American flag, he improvises desperately.) The film is full of such cute little moments. Spider-Man’s ringtone is the theme from the old Amazing Spider-Man TV show. Our hero turns up as a fireman, fights crime while fighting a cold, and saves a nerdy little kid from bullies – and of course each time he and Gwen get together is an excuse for cute romantic banter. Quit looking at her with your “big brown doe eyes”, Spider-Man! Isn’t the way she rubs her little nose adorable?
This film is going to make loads of money and, frankly, it deserves to. Yes, it’s annoying that it keeps setting up inevitable sequels, but what can you do? At this point, the flagrant cynicism of studios ‘rebooting’ franchises so they can make more sequels – the Garfield Spider-Man appeared just five years after the curtain came down on Maguire’s Spider-Man – is so obvious it’s barely worth getting angry about. It makes more sense to get angry at the audience of sheep who swallow the Hollywood hype every year, or consumers who watch nothing but comic-book blockbusters and Game of Thrones.
But really, it’s hard to see anyone getting angry after Amazing Spider-Man 2. There’s an indie-pop soundtrack, a Teutonic doctor named Dr. Kafka and an unexpected (for me, anyway) sting in the tail. Gwen gets sexily indignant – “Nobody makes my decisions for me!” – and Peter is so enraptured that at one point, while walking off, he actually leaps up in the air and clicks his heels, like a semi-arachnid Fred Astaire. It’s exuberant.
DIRECTED BY Marc Webb
STARRING Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan
US 2014 142 mins