2011’s The Amazing Spider-Man may not have been as the title suggested, but it was certainly very good-a superhero movie with a heart. And now, less than two years later, Andrew Garfield is back as our friendly neighbourhood hero- only this time, he’s got a bit more on his plate. Russian street thugs, electric madmen, malicious best friends, absent fathers… all play-time compared to dealing with his love life.
Having a superhero film directed by the guy who gave us (500) Days of Summer was a bold tactic, but Marc Webb knows how to draw out the personal details- and the surprise here, as it was last time out, is that the real showstopper is Parker and Stacey’s relationship. Forget the special effects (we’ll come to them), what’s truly electric is Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone’s chemistry. The real-life couple bounce off each other like pinballs, and their interactions give the film its real gravitas- Peter, who promised her dying father he’d leave her alone, must struggle to overcome his feelings and do what is right. Garfield is a much better fit for Parker than Tobey Maguire was, sparkling with easy charisma and individualism, whilst never veering into oddball territory- unlike his predecessor. Meanwhile, Stone dazzles as the smart-cookie Stacey- putting Bryce Dallas Howard’s previous cardboard cut-out interpretation (in the lamentable Spiderman 3) to shame. The two of them grip like a vice, showing that , even in these effect-driven blockbusters, the real sellers can still be the stars.
Meanwhile, we’re given the complication of Dane DeHaan’s nefarious Harry Osborn- all rebellious chic on one hand, stroppy upstart on the other. DeHaan plays it to the hilt, and he’s scarily creepy even before he really gets to let go. And when that moment comes, he shows a really nuanced performance- callous yet desperate, rebellious yet immature. And his contribution to the film’s humdinger of a climax is massive, not just for the film but for the series as a whole.
The problems come with the bad guys (or some of them). Jamie Foxx’s Electro looks cool, but his transformation from mild-mannered nerd to maniacal super-villain is unlikely at best, utterly incredulous at worst. Meanwhile, Paul Giamatti (what tempted him?!) is completely wasted as hammy Russian Alexei Sytsevich, spending all of his time yelling in a ludicrous accent whilst laughing hysterically, and making zero contribution to the meat of the plot. In fact, the real problem is the length of the film. Coming in at over 140 minutes, there’s a lot of extraneous detail here- and whilst sometimes it whizzes by, sometimes it doesn’t. There’s also a dire ending misstep, with the true dramatic denouement followed by what (if it came in the middle) would be described as pointless filler. You also have to wonder about the cleverness of any film that introduces a new nemesis with about five minutes left to play.
Still, it’s a fun film- complete with (perhaps a little too much) trademark Spidey dialogue, and a real comic-book strip feel. There’s also some stunning visuals here, not just courtesy of the thunderous Electro, but also the thrill of watching our favourite vigilante swinging through New York City. It’s the simple things- and Webb knows this. Overall, it’s a success, mainly due to the central duo and the intriguing fact that it leaves some questions tantalisingly unanswered. We’ll be seeing Spidey again in 2016- hopefully next time, he will be Amazing.