Many people thought that the reason for the reboot of the Spider-Man franchise so soon after the release of the final part of Sam Raimi’s trilogy was for Sony Pictures to retain the rights to the lucrative Spider-Man brand rather than having them fall into the hands of Marvel Studios and Disney. While this isn’t strictly true, the film certainly felt like it was. By retelling the origin story without adding anything new and having a unmemorable central villain, the film was completely underwhelming. However, it took in a shed load of money at the box office so of course a sequel was inevitable. The only question is whether or not they have learned from the faults of the first film to give us someting with a bit more focus this time.
In some ways they have succeeded. The main reason for this is that as they have gotten over the origin story so they can go straight into the action set pieces and the relationship between Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) without getting too bogged down in overly familiar territory. The strong chemistry between Garfield and Stone helps build the relationship between their characters, a huge plus seeing as their on/off relationship makes up a big part of the film. The only problem with their story is that there are times when Peter comes across as a stalker which, contrary to Gwen’s reactions, is a lot more creepy than endearing.
A nice touch to the film is that it stresses moments of Spider-Man’s heroism. There are times when during a battle Spider-Man goes out of his way to save innocent people, including a moment when he saves a young kid from being bullied. All of this helps to show that Peter Parker has a clear sense of right and wrong and that he feels he has a duty to help people rather than just protect them. Contrast that with Man of Steel where Superman comes across as not just uncaring about all of the destruction and death around him, but more like an active participant in it.
However, where the film really needed to improve on its predecessor was with its villains, and while it is an improvement it still is something of a mixed bag. Jamie Foxx does his best, but Electro doesn’t really convince as a villain. This is down to his origin story. His transition from meek down trodden electrical engineer Max Dillon, who adores Spider-Man after he saves his life, to Electro doesn’t really work. This is down to the turning point of his character’s move to the dark side, a sense that Spider-Man has betrayed him, not having the dramatic weight to pull it off. It doesn’t help as well that the character looks like a CGI version of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze, though thankfully he doesn’t resort to using electricity puns. Which is great, as there is no way you can make them current.
Dane DeHaan fairs a lot better in his role as Harry Osborn who later assumes the role of the Green Goblin. The ark of Osborn’s character feels a lot more engaging than Electro’s, with Osborn being driven not necessarily by evil but rather by the desperation to stay alive after being told by his dying father that he has inherited an illness. We also get a better sense of Harry as a person through his renewed friendship with Peter Parker after losing touch with each other after Harry was sent off to boarding school. The scenes between the two are well played by the two actors, with their first meeting that begins awkwardly before they gradually become more comfortable in each other’s presence, revealing a lot more about their history than any flashback could provide.
While the film certainly is an improvement of the first film, the biggest problem with it is that the plot is overstuffed. Many pieces just don’t work, such as Peter being haunted by the ghost of Gwen’s father and the promise that he made to stay away from her to keep her out of danger, which gets brushed aside and forgotten very quickly. Also, while Paul Giamatti is having fun hamming it up, his character’s only reason for being in the film is to set him up for the next film. Also the back-story of Peter’s parents, which actually is the first scene in the film, never builds itself to a satisfactory conclusion. Instead, it just turns up again halfway through the film, adding little to the plot or Peter’s character development. And at two hours and twenty minutes, the film is far too long.
But once again this is definitely an improvement, with the chemistry that Garfield has with both Stone and DeHaan making it perfectly watchable. However, while it certainly has more soul than the first film, it still is way too baggy for its own good.