If there’s anything we’ve learned from such recent films as Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, it is that superhero films are not necessarily comic book movies. They may be adapted from jovial comics but these are dark reinventions, hefty and gritty dramas that only happen to feature caped crusaders and flying aliens. They are cinema’s versions of Frank Miller’s serious “graphic novels”. Joss Whedon’s Marvel universe, on the other hand, is more joyful than somber. Yet Whedon’s sarcasm – one of his many signature styles – makes Avengers (and its stand-alone pictures) self-deprecating genre deconstructions, similar to Alan Moore’s Watchmen.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a sequel to Marc Webb’s 2012 Spidey revamp, possesses the gleeful and romantic allure comic books have on teenage kids seeking temporary escape from everyday routine. As such, it’s a genuine comic book movie, turning the colorful art of Steve Ditko into a blasting three-dimensional spectacle, albeit one with considerable heart.
This time around, Peter Parker – Spiderman under the mask – is graduating from high school, along with his girlfriend Gwen Stacy. Like most 18-year-old sweethearts about to hit college, they’re anxious about the future of their relationship. However, unlike most teenagers, they have to contend with Peter’s deathbed promise to Gwen’s father, slain by last film’s villain, that he would keep Gwen out of harm’s way and at arm’s length. Unfortunately, danger features prominently in the job description of superhero’s girlfriend. Peter’s childhood friend Harry, the heir to the Oscorp Enterprises empire, comes back to town as his company’s scientific experiments go terribly awry – unleashing the cult super-villain Electro. Jamie Foxx interprets the kind of villain one enjoys – in particular when he delivers menacing one-liners and monologues in a deep, computer-modified groan. As his teenage opponent, Garfield never loses sight of the human in his character’s superhumanity, and never indulges in vain hero mode. Stone is resourceful enough not to play the damsel in distress, especially since the script suggests Peter is the one that needs to be saved. And Dane DeHaan as Harry Osbourne is peculiar and odd enough to be succeedingly puzzling, sympathetic and chilling.
Freed from the constraints of setting the stage and going through the monotonous motions of Spiderman’s origins, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 fires on all cylinders. It’s an explosion of imaginative set pieces and tender character scenes, funny interludes and sweeping montages. It’s the longest Spider-Man film to date (including the output of Raimi’s reign) yet it’s also the fastest, the most smartly structured and exhilaratingly paced. The arrival of new screenwriters – powerhouse duo Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci, arguably the finest writers of blockbusters today – can be felt. Along with Fringe’s Jeff Pinkner they craft a story grounded in the characters of the Spiderman universe, much like they did for 2009’s Star Trek. Marc Webb handles the material with the utmost confidence and a welcome familiarity. He conjures up a heightened and sustained world, one we are delighted to be a partake in. Dan Mindel, the lush cinematographer of Savages, shot on 35mm film. The result is a saturated comic-book heaven, and strikingly textured imagery – a far cry from the sleek digital look of the first installment.
Webb has a knack for on-screen chemistry, letting the performers develop their own endearing idiosyncrasies, seen first with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer and now, of course, with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. Their scenes together dazzle with intensity and warmth. They call to mind the great couples of old Hollywood classics; their timing is impeccable in comedy and drama, slipping with great ease and fluidity from one to the other, or if necessary, playing both simultaneously.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is the film version of a gourmet Happy Meal. It’s got a delicious tasty burger and fries, a sweet soda and plenty of figurines. And watching this new adventure of the Web-Slinger, we can’t help but remember the kid we once were.