Childhood heroes never die, they simply outgrow us, outlive us and transfer their attentions to the generations that follow.
Even Spider-Man, whom I loved as a kid, has now long since moved on. He has taken the Hollywood shilling, embraced three dimensions and pitched himself squarely at the multiplex crowd. By rights it should be all over between us.
But The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – which opens in South Africa on April 25 – turns out to be so savvy, punchy and dashing that it won’t be denied. It’s the thread that won’t break and the yarn that still binds.
Marc Webb’s spring blockbuster is the sequel to the reboot of the movie adaptation of the original Marvel comic books, which is another way of saying it’s a copy of a copy. But if the Spider-Man tale is about anything, it’s about gawky youth and surging powers. And the film makers know this and keep the tone skittish and fresh.
In this they are again helped by the perfect casting of Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker; he looks whelpish and raw, as though he’s still filling out. I also like the way that, despite the reputed $200-million budget, there remains an endearingly amateur quality to Spider-Man’s crime-fighting antics. Here is a superhero who occasionally travels to work with a heavy cold. He is not above riding to the rescue of a bullied schoolboy or humiliating a Russian gangster by pulling down his pants.
Garfield’s gallant web-slinger may be out in the world and halfway up a building, but he clearly still has one foot in the locker room at high school.
Added emotional entanglements
Given that the sequel marks Spider-Man’s sophomore mission, it follows that the script will deliver sterner tests and added emotional entanglements. On this occasion, Parker breaks up with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), who refuses to share him with his costumed alter ego and prepares to light out for a new life in England.
If that wasn’t enough, he must also contend with a brace of fledgling super-villains in sickly Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), a putative Green Goblin, and downtrodden Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), who flicks a switch and becomes Electro.
It should be noted that neither Harry nor Max especially want to be criminals. It’s more that they feel hurt and betrayed and appear to stumble on wickedness as a last resort. Marvel’s moral universe always was more nuanced than that inhabited by the stolid likes of Superman.
In a perfect world, we’re guessing, Spider-Man and Electro may even have been friends. All being well, Electro could have been loved and respected and not set off every car alarm on every street he walks down, thereby probably making himself the most hated man in New York before he commits his first crime.
But sadly it is not to be.
Undeniably Webb’s approach cuts a few corners and takes the occasional liberty. The most hazardous of these, I think, is the decision to beef up the backstory of Peter Parker’s parents, if only because it conjures our lowly orphaned hero into a gilded little prince and monkeys with an origins story previously defined by those robustly American themes of self-renewal and reinvention.
But maybe that’s OK; let’s not get hung up. Bloodlines, after all, must adapt in order to survive and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems to know exactly what it’s doing.
Webb’s film is bold and bright and possesses charm in abundance. It swings into the future and carries the audience with it. – © Guardian News & Media 2014