I am not Max Dillon, but I have always loved Spider-Man.
While most kids were reading superhero comic books, I was even more of a nerd and reading about the tales of Betty, Veronica, Reggie, Jughead, and Archie in my beloved "Archie" comic books.
Then, I discovered Super-Man.
I'm not completely sure why, but there was something different about Spider-Man that made him a superhero I could embrace. He just seemed different.
He seemed more real or, at the very least, he seemed about as real as a webslinging superhero in a spidey costume could be. He was super, yet decidedly human. He was strong, yet vulnerable. He was heroic, yet he was also coated in a shield of compassion. When I began my activism in the area of child abuse prevention some twenty plus years ago, I became even more of a Spider-Man fan when Spidey became involved in a public child abuse awareness campaign.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn't the perfect Spider-Man film, yet it couldn't really be the perfect Spider-Man film and remain true to its mission of being what amounts to a bridge to the rest of the planned series of at least four films plus a Sinister Six film. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is designed, at least it seems, to set the tone and the stage for everything else that is going to unfold for Peter Parker and Spider-Man.
It seemed almost ludicrous when it was announced that there would be a Spidey reboot a mere five years post-Raimi and Tobey Maguire. In fact, it hadn't even been ruled out that Raimi would continue, though Maguire had seemingly ruled himself out of any further films. Yet, here we went. The man who directed the indie hit 500 Days of Summer was suddenly tasked with the challenge of rebooting a familiar and popular cinematic series, even if it had ended on a bit of a whimper. While some felt that Webb's reboot itself started off with a bit of a whimper, acclaim was generally high for Garfield's charismatic and more emotionally complex Spidey and Emma Stone's similarly appealing take on Gwen Stacey.
Me? I loved Webb's reboot, though I suppose it was more because it captured more of the spirit of Spidey than anything else. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is certainly not The Dark Knight, but it is a darker and more emotionally layered film than its predecessor and, perhaps, even moreso than we've seen from the Spider-Man films. Peter Parker, still played by Garfield, is still troubled by his past and trying to figure out why his parents had abandoned him when he was six-years-old. It is his parents, played in flashback by Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz, who comprise the film's mood-setting yet somewhat cartoonish opening scene that fuels audience awareness of the story and stories that are about to unfold. The opening scene asks questions, some of which are answered by film's end and some that are not. When we come back to present time, we get what amounts to a brief yet over-the-top intro to Paul Giamatti's soon to be turn as Rhino, an intro that amps up the volume on the film's action sequences that remain significantly amped up over the film's predecessor.
There are other story threads to follow in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and while it's understandably necessary to introduce these characters now in order for them to function in future films there's also a sense at times that Webb doesn't quite have control of the multiple threads and how they all tie together. It is rather refreshing, though not entirely successful, to have our villains painted with broad strokes of humanity and even sympathy. Jamie Foxx, whose occasionally been known to go a bit too histrionic even for histrionic characters, hits all the right notes as the film's biggest baddie of them all, Electro, whose origins are served up as the rather nerdish and painfully lonely Max Dillon, an Oscorp employee whose brief encounter, real or imagined, with Spider-Man initially turns him into a rather obsessed fan. The film also brings in Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), the dweebish 20-year-old son of Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper) who suddenly finds himself at the helm of the infamous Oscorp and reunited with longtime friend Peter Parker. Sally Field is also back with much more to do this time around as Aunt May.
As was true in the first film, the chemistry between Garfield and Stone is energized and believable and not just because we already know that the two are a real-life couple. The journey they undergo is both entertaining and emotionally involving, and both performers are at the top of their game in infusing their characters with a relaxed quality that makes it all that much more enjoyable. This Spidey is a more accessible Spidey, with Garfield projecting both heart and humor and interacting with several characters throughout the film in a way that is frequently funny and endearing. This is most notably true during a particular interaction with a young boy whom one could easily say becomes his biggest fan.
While the film's opening scene left me dissatisfied, mostly owing to an airplane scenario that was fun to watch yet felt cartoonish, the film's closing scene comes about as close to cinematic superhero perfection as one could possibly get. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 also features original music from the inspired trio of Johnny Marr, Pharrell Williams, and Hans Zimmer, though you may be relieved to know that there's nothing even remotely as catchy as Williams's despicably overplayed "Happy."
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 will very likely have its naysayers, though it's still an entertaining and enjoyable flick that manages to sustain that sense of entertainment despite the challenging task of preparing us for Spidey's future. While this may not be quite as amazing as one would have hoped it would be, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 proves that Spidey is still one mighty super hero.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic