Despite its absolutely atrocious subtitle (really, who thought ‘Rise of Electro’ was a good idea?), The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is an improvement over the previous film in the series. Director Marc Webb throws a lot at the screen this time around, but most of it manages to stick, with a consistent tone that keeps it all from buckling under the weight of ‘too many villains’ syndrome which Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 famously suffered from.
Free from the shackles of having to go through Spider-Man’s origin story yet again, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is finally able to break away from the familiar and chart a new course. This begins with answering many of the unanswered questions from the first film, notably exploring the mystery of Peter Parker’s parents (which was much advertised in the lead-up to the reboot but which factored in disappointingly little in its plot).
Of course, there’s also romantic trouble with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), as Peter (Andrew Garfield) struggles to keep his promise – to stay away from her to protect her – to her deceased father. And then there’s the rogues gallery. No less than three iconic Spidey villains appear in the story, and while this might seem like overstuffing to some, this film is much better positioned to deal with the potential overcrowding.
The heavy of the day is Electro (Jamie Foxx), a nobody super-fan of Spidey working as an electrical engineer for Oscorp who, predictably, suffers a nasty accident and transforms into a power-hungry supervillain. Electro is a pretty standard big bad who lacks substance but makes up for it in flash and an inspired musical theme by Hans Zimmer and The Magnificent Six. He keeps the action exciting while allowing the filmmakers to spend time developing Peter’s relationship with childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan).
This feeds into the appearance of Spider-Man archenemy Green Goblin, but there’s the sense that Goblin is merely being introduced here for much more to come in subsequent films. It’s unlike Spider-Man 3 which tried to deal with villains Sandman and Venom in equal measure (and also New Goblin!). Admittedly, Rhino also appears in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 but it’s an appearance that smartly bookends the production and amounts to little more than a glorified cameo – and a tease for future storylines.
In this respect, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is comparable to Iron Man 2. It’s Sony’s attempt to really lay the groundwork for a shared cinematic universe akin to Marvel’s own – already there are plans for another two Spider-Man films as well as plans for a Venom movie and a Sinister Six spin-off. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 therefore shoulders a lot of responsibility and does a lot of heavy lifting; there’s a real sense that it’s a whole lot of set-up for things to come.
Electro then provides the immediate threat (in a monster-of-the-week sort of way), to give all the disparate plot elements something to bud off of. That Webb is then able to keep the tone consistent is a testament to his skill as a director, but much of the film’s success is also owed to Garfield who nails both Peter Parker and the wily Spider-Man. There’s much humour and wit here in amongst the exciting action and story that, thankfully, isn’t afraid to take its time. The 3D is excellent too (web-slinging never looked so good!). Yes, it’s ambitious and a bit of a hodgepodge rooted in old-school comic sensibilities, but it has in mind the long game and when it works it electrifies (ba-dum-ch!), and that’s something worth praise.