Review – The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Amazing by name, but not unfortunately by nature, this bloated second installment in the hastily rebooted Spidey franchise fails to trap you in its web.

A trio of great performances can't save what is, at best, a very average movie and another underwhelming entry in a franchise that's so far failing to live up to its title

A trio of great performances can’t save what is, at best, a very average movie and another underwhelming entry in a franchise that’s so far failing to live up to its title

When Sam Raimi brought Spider-Man to the big screen in 2002, it landed at a time when the new era of comic book movies that had begun with X-Men two years earlier was still in its infancy.

Fast forward to 2012 and Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man arrived in a far more crowded market place, dominated by the double whammy of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises and Marvel’s The Avengers.

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) investigates the death of his parents in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) investigates the death of his parents in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

While it did good business, when compared to these two box office behemoths, The Amazing Spider-Man felt like a lesser film. Lest we forget, it had only been five years since Raimi’s forgettable Spider-Man 3 and Webb’s reboot felt like what it was – a money-grabbing exercise by Sony Pictures to muscle in on the comic book movie boom.

The strongest aspects of that film remain the highlights of this follow-up – namely the performances of Andrew Garfield as awkward teenager Peter Parker turned superhero Spider-Man and Emma Stone as his smart and spiky love interest Gwen Stacy; and the winning chemistry both actors have together.

Nerdy Oscorp employee Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) shortly before becoming Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Nerdy Oscorp employee Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) shortly before becoming Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 finds Peter struggling to maintain the promise he made to Gwen’s father to stay away from his daughter in order to keep her safe, while also settling into his role as Spidey. With great power comes great responsibility and Peter’s responsibility to the people of New York is severely tested by the arrival of powerful supervillain Electro (Jamie Foxx), formerly sad and lonely Oscorp engineer Max Dillon.

Meanwhile, Peter’s long-absent childhood pal Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) returns home in time to take over the reins of Oscorp from his dying father (Chris Cooper) and it’s not long before Spider-Man gets in the way of their friendship.

Peter Parker's love interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Peter Parker’s love interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The film inevitably draws comparisons to 2004’s Spider-Man 2, easily the best in Raimi’s Spidey trilogy, but falls short. The narrative is pretty similar – a brilliant Oscorp employee accidentally mutates into a supervillain and, with the help of a vengeful Harry Osborn, faces off against Spider-Man. However, while that film featured a properly three-dimensional villain and a storyline that zipped along, Electro’s arc feels underdeveloped, the action set pieces fail to properly engage and the pace often flags (at 142 minutes, it’s at least half-an-hour too long).

It also falls into the same trap as too many other comic book movies (Spider-Man 3 in particular) of believing that bigger is always better. Paul Giamatti’s Russian nutjob Aleksei Sytsevich is as superfluous as he is ridiculous and has presumably been injected into the film as a platform between this film and the next chapter in the franchise, while the curious shifts in tone between comic book goofiness and brooding seriousness suggest a movie that’s trying to be all things to all people, but ends up coming off as directionless.

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) catches up with old buddy Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) catches up with old buddy Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2‘s saving grace are the trio of Garfield, Stone and DeHaan. The strained relationship between Peter and Gwen is effectively brought to life by both actors and Stone in particular radiates in a role that commands strength, purpose and fortitude. DeHaan, meanwhile, is great as the increasingly desperate Harry and employs a smile that turns more crooked as the film wears on.

Special mention should go to the soundtrack, crafted by Hans Zimmer in collaboration with Pharrell Williams and several others. The music that introduces the newly created Electro is particularly effective as it both drives the action and provides a schizophrenic audio accompaniment to the confusion and anger coursing through the character’s mind.

However, a trio of great performances can’t save what is, at best, a very average movie and another underwhelming entry in a franchise that’s so far failing to live up to its title.

Ho Ho No – Christmas Turkies

Christmas is the season of goodwill to all men (and women). However, that generosity of spirit need not – and should not – extend to the slew of bad yuletide movies that make a plate of soggy Brussels sprouts look appealing.

For every Elf, It’s A Wonderful Life or Scrooged there are countless turkies seeking to cash-in on our festive cheer that make you want to shout “bah humbug” at their sheer cynicism and ineptitude.

Below are a selection of just some of the many risible Christmas movies I’ve unfortunately come across over the years. Consider this list a warning – don’t ruin your well-earned festive goodwill by subjecting yourselves to them. That being said, I’d love to know:

What are the worst Christmas movies you’ve seen?

Santa With Muscles (1996)

Santa With Muscles

In an all-too-familiar example of commerce winning over common sense, there was a period back in the 1990s when Terry Gene Bollea, otherwise known by his ring name Hulk Hogan, was something approaching a movie star. The fact he coudn’t act seemed unimportant. Put it down to collective insanity on the part of all involved (including Mila Kunis in only her second film), but Santa With Muscles must figure as one of the most far-out excursions into Christmas movie-making ever seen. Hogan stretches himself by playing a professional wrestler who believes he’s Santa Claus following a bang to noggin and tries to save an orphanage from an evil scientist. I’ll leave it there.

Four Christmases (2008)

Four Christmases

The truly uninspired (and poorly photoshopped) poster for Four Christmases of Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon standing with their backs to each other should tell you all you need to know about this car crash of a film. Christmas should be a happy time of year, but Vaughn and Withspoon turn this tale of a couple visiting their divorced parents’ homes on Christmas Day into one of the most joyless experiences you can imagine. Worse still, the film co-stars Jon Favreau, which only serves to make you want to go back and watch Swingers instead.

Jack Frost (1998)

Jack Frost

No, not the 1964 Russian film (or the 1997 cult horror comedy), but rather the frankly bizarre fantasy flick starring Michael Keaton as the titular Jack Frost, who dies in a car accident and returns to life as a snowman. I’ll repeat that: returns to life AS A SNOWMAN and gets a second chance “to be the world’s coolest dad” to his young son. The classic animated short film The Snowman showed how magically something akin to this can be done; however, Jack Frost simply tugs the heartstrings (and trips the mind) and hopes that’ll be enough for audiences to ignore just what a pile of yellow snow it is.

Surviving Christmas (2004)

Surviving Christmas

Ben Affleck is now enjoying the fruits of a successful directorial and acting career, but there was a time not so long ago when all he touched turned to poop. Alongside such box office bombs as Gigli and his other Christmas-set movie Reindeer Games, Surviving Christmas came and went from cinemas quicker than you can say “Santa”. It’s an appropriate title, as watching Affleck as an annoying millionaire who pays a family to spend the festive season with him feels like an exercise in survival itself. What’s even more tragic is that it also stars the late James Gandolfini.

Fred Claus (2007)

Fred Claus

Vince Vaughn has the dishonour of appearing twice on this list, such are his crimes against Christmas cinema. Here he plays Fred, the elder and less well known brother of Santa Claus (Paul Giamatti), who is forced to make toys at Christmas HQ after being bailed out of jail by his younger sibling – with unamusing results. In spite of a great cast (Giamatti, Miranda Richardson, Kevin Spacey, Kathy Bates, Rachel Weisz), the film will leave you as cold as its North Pole setting. Now please Mr Vaughn: stop making Christmas movies. Think of the kids.