The dual-review film criticism site: first a spoiler-free review, then an in-depth Alternate Take.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Reviewed by James Taylor.

Director Marc Webb
Length 142 mins
Certificate 12A / PG-13
Rating *******---
Filmmaking: 3  Personal enjoyment: 4

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Being able to swing through the streets of New York should be liberating, yet ever since his 1962 comic book debut Peter Parker’s role as Spider-Man has exacerbated and multiplied his life’s complications. In The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Parker’s (Andrew Garfield) problems include investigating his parents’ past, struggling with forbidden love for Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), providing support for troubled childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), thwarting new supervillain Electro (Jamie Foxx) and trying to wash his Spider-Man outfit without his aunt seeing. Marc Webb returns to direct after 2012’s underwhelming reboot to offer a much more exciting, if less focused, sequel.

Although the film lacks a central narrative thrust, the web its various narrative threads weave reflects Parker’s lack of direction post-high school. Some of the new paths and obstacles that reveal themselves to him are compellingly explored, but others are lost in the whirl. Notably, attempts to pursue a professional life, or at least secure a job that pays enough to survive - a key aspect of other incarnations of Spider-Man from 1960s comics to Sam Raimi’s film trilogy - are largely absent.

However, the film isn’t just about Parker. Many of the narrative strands thematically converge on the topic of how Parker/Spider-Man affects the lives of others. Despite his power and heroic deeds, which are rallying and inspiring the people of New York, his limitations are shown in those he fails. While everybody makes enemies, a superhero makes supervillains, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 excels in its construction of multifaceted foes.

Max Dillon is a socially inept loner who is enthused by a chance encounter with Spider-Man but then, once infused with electrical powers, suffers humiliation that he blames on Spidey, spurring him to become Electro. Dillon’s characterisation is cartoonish and heavy handed, but this works as an economic way to outline parallels with Parker’s nerdy origins. These similarities continue when introverted scientist is once again given superpowers by a freak accident. The red currents that pulse through Electro’s blue form when his power surges accentuate his presentation as a twisted inversion of Spider-Man through contorting the hero’s red and blue iconography.

After his transformation Dillon/Electro’s function shifts primarily to visual spectacle, the vivid and kinetic realisation of his powers makes for intense action set-pieces. With Electro providing the film’s quota of high-octane thrills, Harry Osborn is given space to develop into a more nuanced and sinister threat. DeHaan relishes the role, stealing the show not just from Foxx but also Garfield (who, in my book, is too cool and sexy for Parker, but pulls off both the comedic and tender scenes well). DeHaan’s performance blends the emotional and physical fragility of a youth stolen by paternal rejection and disease, warmth as Parker’s friendship reawakens this lost childhood and poisonous wrath at those by whom he’s betrayed.

The somewhat fractured narration and emphasis on establishing villains are symptomatic of The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s project of setting up plots and characters for subsequent instalments in the franchise. Nevertheless, once swept up in the film’s careening pace, bombardments of lively spectacle and engaging character arcs it’s easy to be blinded to its more scattershot elements of construction, while the threads left hanging sufficiently fuel anticipation for Spider-Man’s future adventures.

This review was published on April 23, 2014.