Give a good-hearted frat boy a bunch of super powers and you have Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man. The characterisation of the timeless superhero as an off-the-wall, overconfident, but overall decent young man is in stark contrast to the awkward, mild-mannered Peter Parker we saw from Tobey Maguire and automatically puts this current franchise ahead of it’s predecessor simply because our main protagonist is much, much more likable. Add the infinitely gorgeous Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, Jamie Foxx as Max/Electro, Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborn, and Sally Field as Aunt May, and what director Marc Webb has is a sterling cast list that he can be proud of; a cast that can negate even the worst of movie scripts.
Every actor mentioned above does a fine job with what they are given, it’s just too bad that what they are given is mediocre at best. While The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro is by no means a bad movie – quite the contrary actually – every high is bogged down by a massive low, and the lows are usually found in the storyline.
Unable to completely move on from the death of his girlfriends father, Captain Stacy (Dennis Leary), in the first film, Peter Parker struggles to reconcile the promise he made to the dearly deceased – to stay away from his daughter – with the quite adorable love he has for her. A big driving force in this film is the on-screen chemistry between real-life couple Garfield and Stone as they constantly try and resist each other, failing each and every time. It’s something which makes some of the movie’s more emotional moments all the more impactful, even in the absence of decent character development.
Along with the film’s producers – Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach – Webb goes for the big, bright and bold spectacle, and mostly succeeds. The hero scenes – as over-the-top as they are – have just enough pizzazz to distract you from the goofy, kid-friendly caricature Garfield becomes when he zips into his Spidey suit. The entire movie is awesome to watch; a complete visual feast that knows exactly when to turn up the brightness and when to get down with the darkness. 3D is also used to great effect here, never quite reaching gimmick territory and remaining a technique which complements the film rather than dominates it.
The film’s biggest flaw lies with the development of the all-important villain. We have two (and to a lesser extent, three) villains to deal with in the movie, the most prominent being Jamie Foxx as Electro.
Max has a ‘Kathy Bates in Misery’ type vibe to him, becoming obsessive with Spiderman after the Spandex-wearing hero saves him from getting hit by a car. Here, Foxx is a very loveable, meek geek who seems absolutely harmless; but then he dies. The heartless Oscorp try to erase Max’s existence, even with the knowledge that he has become the sort of supercharged, hulking mass that every technician dream is made of. With his newfound ability to control the city’s power supply (New York City, I might add) is balanced with his benevolent nature.
This is where the movie starts to fall apart. Max goes from loving Spiderman to wanting him dead in a mere minute, seemingly over nothing at all. It’s a stretch to have us believe Electro’s motivations for hating Spiderman with such intensity, and it sadly puts a massive dent in the overall story. Even if it was just explained as some sort of ‘roid rage’ things would have turned out alot better than they did. It doesn’t seem good enough to throw a bunch of forced, expository dialogue at us to hammer home the idea that Max just wants to be noticed for once in his life.
The other primary, longer-lasting bad guy in this story is handled brilliantly by DeHaan, but again is let down by awkward pacing, and development which is borderline ridiculous. Harry Osborn is Peter Parker’s (largely absent) best friend who has inherited Oscorp following his father’s death in the first film. He comes to learn of the experiments his father, and Parker’s father, were conducting on the health regeneration benefits that come from spiders; hence, Osborn starts begging for Spiderman’s blood. He is quickly dismissed by Spidey, leading to a much more believable outrage than Electro’s; however, it’s quite a stretch for Osborn to become The Green Goblin and not at all have second thoughts about battling Spiderman after he learns that it is actually his best friend beneath the mask; a friend who he loves.
Perhaps the most ridiculous character in the entire movie comes with the brief appearance of The Rhino (played by Paul Giamatti) in the film’s final minutes. Here we have an absurdly designed villain who actually stops shooting up the place and wrecking carnage because he is distracted by how cute a kid in a mini Spider-Man costume is. It reminded me of those Professional Wrestling matches where one muscled-up wrestler is winning, but then stops to taunt his opponent and rest for a bit, therefore allowing the other guy to easily pick up a win. If that wasn’t enough, Giamatti’s character is a complete caricature of some overly-excited and loud-mouthed Russian mobster, so much so that it comes off as more than just ridiculous; it’s straight up unbearable.
Special mention must go to the really poor soundtrack by Pharrel Williams and Hans Zimmer, two world-class musicians who could have – and should have – produced something much more inspiring and fitting than the awkward music we were given; the worst musical moment: an up-beat indie-pop song playing while Peter Parker is having a rather desperate episode of who-was-my-daddy-and-what-did-he-do nostalgia.
Storyline and insipid soundtrack aside, there is enough here to get The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro over as a highly enjoyable watch, and one which undoubtedly showcases the importance of a great cast and exceptional directing in order to balance against a sub-par script.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Runtime: 142 Minutes
The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro is released in Australian cinemas as of today (17 April 2014)