Garfield: His Nine Lives
In 2012 an experiment got underway in the basement of Sony Tower, in lab space designated “special projects”. The plan was to reanimate the essence of a Joel Schumacher Batman sequel but with very strict controls. The pure form, it was acknowledged, was too strong for audiences. The deleterious effects of Batman Forever’s camp isotope were still being studied, but all agreed it weakened the integrity of the comic book movie. If Sony wanted the broad, child-centred appeal of Joel’s duo, with its avuncular approach to characterisation and colourful setpieces, yet keep the film together, they’d need to dilute the formula: a movie to the right of Schumacher, a movie turned down to Richard Lester. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is what emerged from the lab.
If you like your movies all over the place, with plenty of tension between two competing narratives, then this sequel will tickle your mimsy. Returning director Marc Webb is the right man to paint a charming, oft frustrated romance between Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker and the large, inviting eyes of Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacey. This is the human element that Joel Schumacher wasn’t wired to understand and that bored Richard Lester because it didn’t contain a pratfall or a pie in the face. It’s light and breezy, and in plot terms telegraphs the climax with all the subtlety of Jamie Foxx’s villain, but it keeps the movie warm and likeable with characters you give half a shit about. But kids don’t show up to a Spider-Man movie to watch their hero stalking his girlfriend (albeit in a loveable fashion), they expect a superhero dust up, and its Webb’s inability to successfully integrate these two movies, as in the last film, that gives it an uneven, ramshackle quality. A better balm was needed to join the two movies, in short – a watertight screenplay.
Indeed watching The Amazing Spider-Man 2 we become conscious that so awkward do large portions sit amongst the more intimate, often pleasant character moments, so wild are the shifts in tone between grounded and ridiculous, creepy and camp, it’s almost as if a sensible screenplay had been rewritten, at least in part, by a couple of idiots. So knock me down with a feather if Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci’s names, of Transformers and Star Trek Into Darkness fame, don’t appear with Jeff Pinker’s in the end credits.
One wouldn’t wish to ascribe characters constructed from a single extended metaphor to Kurtzman and Orci, like Jamie Foxx’s Electro, who goes from feeling powerless to being literally charged like a battery, whose motive for hating Spider-Man is established using a single line of dialogue (because doing the psychological groundwork would be such a chore), but evidence collected from their previous screenplays builds a powerful case. Only a pair of feckless lower hominids, you feel, would put such a one dimensional villain front and centre, while relegating the far more interesting Green Goblin origin story to b-story status.
Of course the real reason that Dane DeHann’s creepy and demented antagonist spends most of the running time in transition is the franchise imperative: building villains today for the movie you’re going to watch tomorrow. The problem for audiences is that such a strategy wastes an entire film’s running time with a real character propping up a straw man whose only reason to exist is to fill the enemy gap. This sequel has to be satisfying in its own right, not just a prequel to The Amazing Spider-Man 3, and part-try though the writers have to balance the needs of the audience with the dictat from Sony HQ, the result is a fudge.
Still, two men save this second film from being a busted flush. Step forward Andrew Garfield and Hans Zimmer, who between them provide the heart and atmosphere that Webb and his truckload of writers can’t quite muster. A movie this unbalanced and with so many callbacks to the dark times of mid-nineties Schumacherdom, fronted by the whiney Toby Maguire, would have been unbearable. Yet Garfield inhabits the role with great skill, understanding that Spidey is, essentially, a kid having a great time with his special powers, under pressure in his personal life. When a film’s anchored by such a natural performance it’s in a good place. When a score attributes a leitmotif to characters otherwise lacking definition and ramps up moments of tension and dread in the absence of any discernable style, then the director who hired Zimmer and The Magnificent Six, is very fortunate indeed. Consequently, despite the forces working against it, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 emerges as a fun, if undemanding sequel, that just about gets away with its shortcomings.