SPOILER WARNING! This review discusses and/or mentions a few important plot points. If you would prefer not to have these spoiled, please stop reading now and come back once you've seen the film.
Are you sitting comfortably? Good, because you'll need to be. There is so much going on in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 that, even at a bum-numbing 142 minutes, a few things are left hanging. The knowledge that a third and fourth instalment, plus two spin-off films, are in the works gives screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner the luxury of not having to tie everything up. Thank heavens, because if they'd had to, the final edit could have easily given The Lord Of The Rings a run for its money.
The story starts with Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) loving life and loving being Spider-Man and keeping New York safe. After a dust-up with Russian mobster Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti, earning his 'with' credit with a total of about five minutes' screen-time) on the morning of his graduation, Peter and girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) are looking forward to life after college. However, besides the usual relationship issues, there's still the mystery over what actually happened to Peter's parents, the return of Peter's old friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) and a brand new threat to deal with: the formidable Electro (Jamie Foxx). Loyalties will be tested, alliances formed and hearts broken as the webslinger faces his toughest times.
Despite the fact that one of the marketing campaigns for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is 'enemies unite'- and you do get three of Spidey's best-known villains- the film manages to quite cannily sidestep the Spider-Man 3 trap of throwing too many villains at the screen and not giving them enough to do or not enough screentime.
Stone is excellent again- Gwen's no shrinking wallflower, she's a gutsy young woman who can make her own decisions. She doesn't need rescuing and is an equal to Peter and to Spider-Man. Prior to editing, there were scenes filmed which would introduce Divergent star Shailene Woodley as Mary Jane Watson, even one where Gwen and Mary Jane meet. I think it was a good move to remove these scenes (not least because of the already crammed storyline) but because the main love story here needs to be that of Peter and Gwen and everything that entails. Comic-book fans will know how that storyline pans out and the film remains true to it, even managing a stylish homage to one of the iconic comic book panels at the end. Even if you know what's going to happen, it's still an absolutely gutwrenching and emotional moment when it does come (again sold by Garfield's devastated performance).
As for the other labyrinthine strands the story takes us in, some are more successful than others. For instance, Dane DeHaan brings more charisma, menace and emotion to his role of Harry Osborn in this one film than James Franco managed in three. Home to see his dying father Norman (a reptilian and uncredited Chris Cooper) and finding himself in charge of Oscorp, Harry becomes obsessed with finding a cure for the illness that killed his father and is killing him. It's a real shame that certain advertising campaigns chose to plant a massive spoiler signposting DeHaan's character progression because Harry's transition from ally to adversary would have carried more weight had it been kept under wraps.
Getting to see what ACTUALLY happened to Peter's parents and finding out more of their story is one of the more successful parts. Campbell Scott builds on his stoic and strong performance from the first film as his ethical dilemmas and the danger he faces start to build. There's the usual second-act misdirection as a few painful truths have to come out from Aunt May (Sally Field, superb as always) but the final resolution of that particular storyline (assuming it has now been put to bed) is emotionally satisfying.
The one bum note in all of this is the Electro storyline. Meek and mild Oscorp grunt Max Dillon, an invisible and unregarded man, gets involved in a terrible accident that leaves him with his superpowers. That's fine. All well and good. The first showdown between Electro and Spidey in Times Square is one of the film's set pieces and is a high-octane balls-to-the-wall everything-and-the-kitchen-sink battle which looks fantastic. My problem is Foxx's performance. It just didn't seem right. He didn't convince as the mousy Max (not helped by a slightly ridiculous cartoonesque soundtrack just before his hideous accident) and the hero-worship of Spidey which turns into an unhinged obsession wasn't handled right either. He's better when he is Electro but is disposed of pretty quickly in the final fight (another admittedly visually stunning set-piece). A stronger actor could have sold the pathos or the loneliness better but Foxx just didn't do it for me.
There are so many hints thrown in for later films. Two more of Spider-Man's most iconic villains are teased with background shots of mechanical equipment and the name of Felicity Jones' character may raise a few eyebrows. In places, this feels more like the start of a franchise than just another sequel but doesn't feel too blatant or cynical. The post-rendering to 3D was largely successful, giving some of the bigger setpieces a real depth.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 engaged me, engrossed me and I enjoyed it thoroughly. By the way, as has become standard with comic-book movies, I'd advise you stay for the mid-credits scene (there is only one). It's a jawdropping little teaser that opens up a few questions of its own.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5