Though the cynical overtures of film critics – who berated the new series as a premature reboot with a cash-cow rationale—overlooked the improved quality of the lucrative franchise when compared with Sam Raimi’s hollow visual-effects bonanza, they clearly did little to dent the mass popular appeal of the ‘Spiderman’ series. Indeed, less than two years have passed and we have the sequel to the 2012 film, where beloved actors (including Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone) reprise their perfectly cast roles.
The franchise is obviously learning to progressively unveil the fate of Spiderman’s mysterious parents; the suspenseful and visually stunning prologue, involving their journey, puts the movie’s plotting in a dark contextual focus that maintains the conviction that it is dealing with matters of life and death.
Then it’s on with the plot as teenager Peter Parker (Garfield), on the cusp of his manhood, is progressing through his high school graduation ceremony by battling the various foes that plague the New York setting. However, despite his web-fuelled heroics, he is plagued by the apparitions of his girlfriend’s deceased father, who very poignantly made a pact with Peter to keep his beloved daughter Gwen Stacey (Stone) out of the criminal action. It seems Peter, naturally being deeply in love with Stacey, can’t seem to keep away from her – and who wouldn’t with lovely Emma Stone cast in the role?
Meanwhile, dark clouds circulate the horizon as Peter’s childhood pal returns; the recently bereaved Harry Osbourne (Dane Dehaan in another example of Webb’s perfect casting) who holds a tragic fate that only Spiderman may be able to save him from. And tangling the web even further is the return of Spiderman’s arch nemesis, Electro, whose provenance might not be as villainous as it appears; given the socially awkward nature of the character’s alter ego, this is an understatement to say the least.
Marc Webb’s directorial flourishes are disembodied from studio conglomerates, who noticeably make the misguided mistake that, somehow, special effects can disguise human warmth and personality; this sapped the soul of the earlier comic book adaptations. Webb disregards multiplying the heroic numbers — which proved to fatally mar the over-plotted and overegged mess that was the Avengers Assemble; instead, he is more fixated on the altruism of the supporting characterisations.
Consequently, heroism takes greater precedence in the film: Gwen’s integrity and resilience that is pivotal in saving Peter from Electro; Aunt May enrolling on a nursing course to put Peter through college; Peter saving a pre-teen from bullies — who has a critical role in the film’s climax. Therefore, it all becomes very apparent that Webb is more interested in the altruism that is inspired by both the lore of Spiderman and Peter Parker himself.
That isn’t to say that Webb is without his artisan staging of special effects; indeed, some of the visual effects flaunt of his exhibitive directorial flourishes. The highlight being a clock tower setting, in which Webb stages the climax, which has metaphysical allegorical overtone, with regards to the tragedy that it reverberates.
There’s also his much accomplished trio of acting talent, whose charisma boosts the narrative lulls that threatens to overwhelm the extraordinary long winded running time. Webb supersedes Raimi’s wooden casting of Kirsten Dunst and Toby McGuire and instead has Stone and Garfield shooting of sparks in their intense chemistry that, ironically, upstages even the shoddy special effects work of Electro. The natural charm of the actors adds depth and humility to the romance that could have been easily been de’rigueur accessory in this type of summer blockbuster, but, because of their efforts, feels integrated within the plotting. It also puts marvellous emotional vitality into some of the more poignant moments (see picture) and of course, the tragic and deeply moving pay off.
However, they are both infrequently upstaged by the marvellous casting of Dane Dehaan who transforms the idiosyncrasy of Osborne into something deeply disturbing. His eerie calculation in his performance easily surpasses Franco’s intolerable boyish smoulder in the original series, which diluted any interest or connection with the character.
A tour de force in directorial flourishes, with outstanding acting talent; whereas the material felt wooden and artificial in Sam Raimi’s original series, here – with the exception of some pacing issues – everything flows naturally into one of the best comic book hero films in ages.