Superhero movies these days have all too often felt the need to be dark or serious. The trend could be attributed to the Nolan Batman trilogy but Batman is disturbing in his own right, as the quirky Burton films can attest to. In reality, what Nolan did was to create a series of films that were less niche and more readily available to the general populous. Singer’s X-Men and Raimi’s Spider-Man contributed to the realisation that super hero films were not just for kids but Nolan’s Dark Knight Series certified it. It was the kind of film that you could talk to your friends about without feeling silly or unfamiliar with the source material.
Since then there has been reluctance in the super hero genre to stray too close to the theme and style of comic books. That well had been poisoned. So we end up with a Superman who lives in a very bleak world where his father thinks it is better to let people die than reveal his powers and the military shoot him on sight despite the very clear fact that he is punching the guy destroying everything. Even the almighty Marvel isn’t immune. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, while it does have plenty of laughs and light-hearted moments, is at its core a strict political thriller.
This is what makes The Amazing Spider-Man 2 refreshing; it is a movie that isn’t afraid to have fun. It is enjoyable to see Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone be cute and sass each other. Even during the action scenes, Spider-Man’s quips are perfectly placed. In some films, such as Thor: The Dark World, the comedy undercuts the tension but here the humour is well timed and isn’t over used leading to little moments of welcome levity without ever undermining the threat. Moments like those are true to the comics too, as Spidey will often cut his opponents with wit before he wraps them up.
Amidst the humour, there are serious moments. Throughout the film, Peter and his Aunt May have some deep and touching conversations which reflect just how important she is in his life. Also Peter Parker’s on and off relationship with Gwen Stacy draws upon the dying words of her father from the end of the first film leading Peter to feel conflicted about their romance. But Gwen makes a point that no one speaks on her behalf, not her father and not Spider-Man and she winds up being an integral part of defeating Electro.
Speaking of Electro, Jaime Foxx does not deliver his best performance here. The character is interesting; a strange blend between Cole MacGrath and Doctor Manhattan, but Foxx is rather melodramatic in his portrayal of the character. The closest comparison I can really make is to Catwoman in Burton’s Batman Returns; both are captivating in their roles but both have done better acting in their careers. Despite this, Electro is constantly a credible threat, even being restrained by Oscorp because they can’t control him, and his battles with Spider-Man are both intense and enjoyable.
Electro is the main villain here. Paul Giamatti’s Rhino only appears in a couple of scenes to establish where the show is and where it is going. Dane Dehaan’s Harry Osborne is more mischievous than truly villainous and can actually be somewhat sympathetic at times. Norman Osborne dies early in the film from a disease which taints his skin green and stiffens his fingers, making him look like a literal goblin. Desperate to escape the same fate, Dehaan concludes that Spider-Man’s blood can cure him. Following Doctor Kurt Connor’s Lizard transformation and ensuing rampage from the first film, Peter is obviously reluctant to relinquish his blood. It is an interesting position for the villain; he feels that the hero is actively denying him his opportunity to live. Betrayed, Harry finds an alternative source of genetically altered spider-venom and that goes as well as expected.
A lot of reviews have criticised the use of the three villains but personally I never felt that the movie was overcrowded. They each had their individual stories but they never crossed over until the third act of the film so each character got their own time to be built up as a viable threat. One could argue that taking out a character or two might have allowed for even more fleshing out and a shorter film in total but the film wasn’t overly harmed by their inclusion. What kept the film from being bloated are the individual story strands that don’t intertwine but do affect each other. Harry never gets involved in Peter’s investigation into his parents, yet Peter’s findings inform the situation, explaining exactly why the modified venom only works with on Peter and won’t help Harry. It is those kinds of little details that tie the film together without overloading it.
The climax of the Green Goblin fight is especially powerful. Fans of the comic books will know to what I am referring to even if they haven’t seen the film. Just look at what Gwen Stacy is wearing. And this is one of those rare moments were I think being in the know helps. Sure, the unsuspecting viewer will get a shock but when I watched it, knowing what was to come, my heart was in my mouth for every minute of that sequence. Loss of a loved one is a constant theme throughout the movie, from the death of Norman Osborne and the haunting presence of three dead parents and an uncle to Gwen’s graduation speech where she states ‘we are not immortal’. Had the chemistry between Andrew and Emma not been fantastic, I don’t know if that scene would have had the same emotional resonance but as it is, that scene played out beautifully.
It is not all perfect. As mentioned, visually it doesn’t look real sometimes, Foxx can act better than shown here and furthermore, Giamatti lacks any sense of menace as Rhino. But for all the little things wrong, it is still a likable movie. Emotional, exhilarating and downright entertaining, Amazing Spider-Man 2 is an optimistic superhero film that confidently and boldly marks its place among the best in the super hero genre.