If one was to collate all the column inches, online comments and conversational discords dedicated to grumbling about 2012’s reboot of Marvel’s arachnid idol they’d uncover enough dissention to make Vladimir Putin blush. Despite the creative shortcomings of Spider-Man 3 – and the merciless critical hammering it received – it seems that audiences and commentators alike were willing to forgive and forget, and encourage Sam Raimi to take another spin.
You can count DragonDark among those on Team Raimi. As lifelong web-heads, 2002’s original it’s 2004 sequel was everything we had spent decades dreaming of; heartfelt and breezy love letters to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s wall-crawling creation, packed with breathless action sequences but never forgetting to place character development front and centre. The threequel was undoubtedly a misstep into filmmaking by committee, but we felt Raimi deserved the chance to right the wrongs so clearly enforced by an interfering studio.
It wasn’t to be and instead we were introduced to our new screen Spider-Man; a darker take on the source material that tapped more into Marvel’s teen-friendly Ultimate imprint, hamstrung by an occasionally sketchy script and Lizard effects that left Curt Connors’ cold-blooded counterpart looking more like Marlon Harewood than Godzilla. It would be harsh to call Spidey’s comeback a bad film – catch DragonDark in a good mood and it might even be described as a solidly entertaining one – but this is a character whose printed escapades are prefixed with adjectives such as Amazing, Spectacular and Sensational. Issue #1 of The Could Be Worse – at Least it’s Not as Bad as Green Lantern Spider-Man probably wouldn’t shift too many units.
What The Amazing Spider-Man did well, however, was an excellent marketing campaign. With a trailer that focussed on Andrew Garfield’s impeccable delivery of the web-slinger’s patented one-liners, it left fanboys and fangirls champing at the bit to experience this new take on the classic character. Previews of the sequel have left audiences anticipating an overstuffed mess though, a tangled web if you would. Too many plot threads, too many villains, too many easter eggs that point toward a Spidey-centric cinematic universe to rival Marvel Studio’s own … expectations were not high for this one at DragonDarks Towers.
Naturally this makes it an unexpected delight to report that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is an absolute hoot and a half; an immeasurably more confident caper packed with laughs, shocks, popcorn-spilling twists and triumphant air-punching moments that pays tribute to the roots of this comic strip institution while also crafting its own niche in Spider-Man lore.
Following a flashback that fills in more of the ‘untold story’ promised but never really delivered by the original, the tone of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is clear; while watching a CG Spidey swing through the Manhattan skyline in glorious 3D may have many reaching for a phantom joypad, it’s obvious that we’re firmly back in the land of breathless, unassuming fun. Much of the opening robbery-foiling action sequence borders on cartoony, but it works – and in many respects provides the closest thing we’ve actually seen to a living comic book on-screen since that scene in Avengers Assemble. Maintaining such a knockabout tone is undoubtedly a challenge, but it’s one that Marc Webb and screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Robert Orci and Jeff Pinkner pull off with aplomb; The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is frequently screwball but never camp, often charming but never cloying, and sprinkles just enough narrative tension throughout the running time to ensure when the emotional moments come they carry sufficient clout.
That said, there’s a lot to squeeze in so some story elements suffer. Raimi’s trilogy was notable for building itself around the Peter Parker/Mary-Jane Watson/Harry Osborn interpersonal drama, with the spandex shenanigans of secondary concern. Webb handles the slushy stuff every bit as capably you’d expect from the director of the superb (500) Days of Summer, but with so much going on elsewhere the sizzling chemistry between Garfield and Emma Stone isn’t fully exploited, instead frequently stuffed into lengthy expositional scenes. These moments of respite from the whizz-bang effects are welcome, but the balancing act doesn’t feel quite as polished as in Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. Garfield and Stone are such fine performers that we’d be happy to watch them interact in anything though, and while DragonDark bellyached as much as the next man about how the former is far too hip to portray the Peter Parker that we know and love, there’s no denying that he is Spider-Man – aided by arguably the best interpretation of the costume we’ve yet seen on-screen.
One fear that can be assuaged is that of villain overload. With the trailer going heavy on Electro, The Green Goblin and Rhino, there was been a suspicion that Jamie Foxx would be lost in the noise. It’s unfortunately undeniable that Electro is not necessarily essential to the overarching plot of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, with the accommodation of his story contributing to the hefty running time and seemingly inserted as an excuse for some showpiece CGI smackdowns. We wouldn’t be without Foxx’s portrayal of Max Dillon though, which taps into the character’s fabled insecurity and troubled psyche with fantastic effect (the voices in Dillon’s head are wonderfully creepy), and special effect-led follies are easier to forgive when the set pieces are memorable – and thankfully the showdowns between Spidey and Sparkles (the flippant nickname bestowed upon the unforgiving electrician) are bloody great. Evoking memories of some classic comic book confrontations between these two enduring opponents, and showcasing how Peter Parker uses his smarts over pure power, Electro is a thoroughly welcome and long-overdue addition to the cinematic Spider-verse.
As you may have heard though, this is Dane DeHaan’s movie, portraying Harry Osborn’s descent into that most terrifying of scoundrels – a hipster. DeHaan brings a unique spin on Osborn to fully three-dimensional life, blending tragedy with arrogance but never losing our sympathy. We’re loathe to go into details about DeHaan’s pumpkin bomb tossing for fear of spoilers, but rest assured that he has the infamous cackle down-pat, while some of the glider-mounted combat choreography between hero and villain is top-notch – arguably even better than Spider-Man 3’s engagement ring tussle. Nods to the impending Sinister Six movie are sprinkled throughout The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (alongside countless other nudges and winks that Spider-fans will relish), but none of them have DragonDark more excited than the prospect seeing DeHaan back on screen as the Green Goblin.
One final tribute should be paid to arguably the biggest star of the show, though; Hans Zimmer. For all Danny Elfman’s instantly-recognisable oom-pah none of the Raimi’s movies enjoyed any real impactful audio and James Horner’s score for The Amazing Spider-Man was serviceable but unspectacular, but Zimmer packs almost every scene with an uncharacteristically playful score; evidently the German composer realised that we are far from The Dark Knight territory here. Soaring and triumphant, Zimmer’s music helps set the tone for what is an astonishingly entertaining film.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a pure, unabashed comic book movie that wears its origins proudly on its sleeve, meaning that unlike Captain America: The Winter Soldier it will be far from enthralling for those reaching saturation point with the genre. It will, however, leave an uncynical viewer leaving the cinema with a grin on their face and a firm faith in the humble hero. Isn’t that pretty much the whole reason why we watch these films in the first place?