**WARNING** This review contains spoilers! **WARNING**
The Amazing Spider-Man was not a bad film, but it suffered from being tugged in two directions with little time to develop its own identity. On the one hand, it inevitably went over ground familiar from Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man film; on the other, it spent a lot of time setting up a sequel. Now that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has arrived, the rebooted Spidey series starring Andrew Garfield has a chance to find its own voice. Has it succeeded?
The film picks up its predecessor’s plot thread of Peter Parker’s parents and their mysterious disappearance. Peter’s hunt for the truth takes him to the shady Oscorp Industries, and it is revealed that this company has passed into the hands of Peter’s childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan).
Oscorp, it turns out, has a lot of secrets. Not only was it involved in the deaths of Peter Parker’s parents, it is also prone to covering up accidents among its staff – such the one that turns electrical engineer Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) into the supervillan Electro. Another of its secrets is the fact that its founder, Norman Osborn, died from a genetic disorder that has been inherited by his son Harry. Desperate to avoid his father’s fate, Harry Osborn will go to any length to save his own life.
Around the time Roy Lichtenstein was placing blown-up comic panels in art galleries, Marvel Comics began referring to itself as “Marvel Pop Art Productions”. A company known for funnybooks about men in brightly-coloured tights had obtained a respectability of sorts, not so much by becoming more sophisticated, but by embracing its basic lurid charms.
Amazing Spider-Man 2 is true to this spirit, and this is never more evident than when Electro shows up. On a visual scale, this glowing blue figure is – no pun intended – the light of the film. With his mastery over electricity, Electro can manipulate the advertising screens and office blocks of night-time New York in the same way that Mickey Mouse controls the waves in Fantasia. The film’s fights make full use of this neon palette, and must surely stand as some of the standout action scenes of the genre.
These sequences have a rhythmic quality, almost like a music video. The film’s score contains so many buzzes and rumbles that it can be hard to discern exactly where the music ends and sound effects begin; the film actually acknowledges this when Spidey remarks “I hate this song” during a particularly noisy fight scene.
We even have a singing supervillain – sort of – when the music incorporates a low, hissing voice that raps out Electro’s internal monologues (“they lied to you, they shattered you… they’re dead to you”). This quasi-rock opera approach could have been disastrous, but it is effective and entirely true to the cartoon roots of the franchise. The action in classic cartoons was often synchronised to music, after all – even the pioneering Superman shorts of the 1940s.
Following the awfully dour Man of Steel, it is refreshing to see a superhero film that is so unabashed in serving its audience a gigantic helping of jelly and sherbet. On this level, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a thorough success.
Early reports suggested that the film would be flooded with villains, with Electro, Rhino, Norman Osborn and Harry Osborn all competing with screentime. This aspect is handled rather well, however: Harry is the brains, Electro is the muscle, Norman has no more than a cameo (he does not become the Green Goblin this time around, although his skin condition certainly makes him resemble one) and Rhino has the same tacked-on comedy role as that mole guy from the end of The Incredibles.
But with all this going on, alas, there is certainly one character who gets the shaft. At this point, I’m afraid that I will have to discuss a spoiler – although anyone familiar with the original comics will likely have already twigged what that spoiler will be.
While Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films used Mary-Jane Watson as their female lead, the Amazing movies replace her with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), one of the various other love interests that Peter Parker had in the comics.
In a famous 1973 issue, Gwen is hurled from a bridge by the Green Goblin; Spider-Man catches her with his webbing, but finds that her neck is broken. This scene is a adapted for the climax to Amazing Spider-Man 2.
The death of Gwen Stacy is remembered by fans as the moment in which the silver age of comics (an era of frivolous fantasy typified by the Adam West Batman series) ended and gave way to a darker period for the genre. Superheroes’ loved ones sometimes died during their origin stories – Batman’s parents, for example, or Spidey’s own Uncle Ben – but offing a long-term girlfriend was unheard of.
Shocking in its day, this plot twist has been repeated ad nauseam since then.
In one infamous example from 1994, the Green Lantern returns home to find the chopped-up remains of his girlfriend stuffed into his fridge. So gruesome as to be just plain daft, this incident led to the feminist comic author Gail Simone coining the term “women in refrigerators” – a catch-all label for female characters who are killed or otherwise mistreated as a cheap plot device, most often so that the male lead can have something to angst over.
Batman Begins introduced the Lois Lane-like character of Rachel, not found in the comics; The Dark Knight proceeded to kill her off, mainly to motivate the male villain Two-Face. Are women in refrigerators going to become a trend in superhero films as well?
Following Gwen’s death, Peter gets to brood for a while and even abandons his role as Spider-Man. Still, he gets over it quickly enough to ensure an upbeat ending, delivering one of his trademark quips as he slugs a comical Russian terrorist with a manhole cover.
God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world.