Film review: The Amazing Spider-Man

Film review: Spider Man 2
Film review: Spider Man 2
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One of the curious things about Sony’s rights-retaining decision to reboot the Spider-Man franchise less than ten years after it began was the apparent desire to turn him into Batman.

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (12A)

Directed by: Marc Webb

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Paul Giamatti

* *

Regurgitating the origin story, The Amazing Spider-Man seemed like it was bandwagon-jumping the success of The Dark Knight trilogy by playing up Peter Parker’s orphan status and upping his angst. Coming at the exact moment Avengers Assemble perfected the poppy tone necessary to make Marvel characters really jump off the big screen, it succeeded only in making the character seem more insipid.

New franchise director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) certainly wasn’t up to delivering comedy, thrills or comic book melodrama with the virtuosic flair that had made Sam Raimi’s earlier, superior take on the character such a blast. Even with an actor as talented as Andrew Garfield in the Spandex, the laughable attempt to inject the series with Christopher Nolan-style grit just exposed how weedy it really was, something reflected in its box office takings, which were considerably less (by about $140 million) than the supposed failure that was Spider-Man 3.

It might seem odd, then, that with the origin story out of the way, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 should continue this misbegotten attempt to Batman-up the saga. Not only does the new film incorporate a famous episode from the Spider-Man comics in a clear attempt to emulate an emotionally transformational moment from The Dark Knight, it mimics the opening aerial sequence of The Dark Knight Rises for its own prologue and then compresses the rest of that film’s misery-fuelled opening act into its protracted finale.

And yet, what becomes increasingly clear throughout The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is that in paying lip-service to Nolan’s sensibility to court the approval of fanboys, what its makers are really doing is slyly turning the films into a young adult series, refracting any darkness through the dewy-eyed gaze of sagas like Twilight and Divergent (the star of which, Shailene Woodley, was supposed to feature here as one of Parker’s love interests, Mary Jane Watson, but ended up on the cutting room floor).

Like some mutant genetic experiment that’s gone horribly wrong in the basement of Oscorp, then, the resulting film is a soppy mix of competing impulses: its tween-friendly romanticism, generic action sequences and naff villains unable to bear the weight of a plot striving for operatic grandeur. Garfield certainly isn’t enough to save the day. He may be the kind of charming, bouffant-haired outsider who can attract Robert Pattinson fans to a comic book franchise, but he’s already older than Tobey Maguire was when he was given his superhero P45, and at 31 is surely getting on a bit to be playing someone just graduating high school.

High school graduation, though, is where we pick up the action. After the aforementioned opening prologue details the fate of Peter Parker’s parents (something hinted at in the previous film), we join Spidey mid action sequence en route to the ceremony: swooping through the streets of New York, foiling a heist by a Russian mercenary (an unrecognisable Paul Giamatti), and embroiled in a game of phone-tag with sweetheart Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone).

As a scene it’s supposed to detail how comfortably Peter is adapting to his new chaotic life, but the 3D CGI overload doesn’t inspire much confidence that Webb is similarly in control of a film that proves more interested in spinning multiple plot strands for future instalments than weaving them into a strong story for the film at hand. And that’s a problem because there’s just way too much going on here. Peter’s love for Gwen is complicated by a promise he made to her late father, which succeeds only in putting a damper on the one good thing the first film had going for it: the chemistry between Garfield and Stone. Peter’s simultaneous quest to find out the truth about his parents leads to some fairly mawkish scenes with his beloved Aunt May (Sally Field), who is retraining as a nurse to make ends meet. As Peter Parker’s best friend Harry Osborn makes a reappearance, the uneven script also rushes his transformation from genetically doomed rich kid to pixie-eared Green Goblin, fatally under-serving the otherwise well-cast Dane DeHaan.

Then there’s Jamie Foxx’s villain, Electro, who is worse than that lizard thing in the previous movie. A nerdy Spider-Man fanboy who turns against his hero after an industrial accident transforms him into a mass of energy, Electro is the sort of thinly conceived villain that used to turn up in the Joel Schumacher Batman films (so there is one legitimate Batman comparison to be made after all).

It’s woefully weak stuff, a series of soapy plot points that add up to very little. But at least we can stop with the Dark Knight references. The age of Twilight-influenced superheroes has arrived.