If Batman could be recast more than the character has any right to be, why not the friendly web-slinging guy in tight Spandex, right? Let’s face it, it was purely a corporate decision to reboot the Spiderman franchise to ride along the wave of the current Marvel vogue that’s earning mega-bucks otherwise Sony will have to stick with the James Bonds, Men in Blacks and Resident Evils that keep their business afloat. They brought in Marc Webb, he of  Days of Summer indie cred, restarted the superhero programme to hopefully make us forget Sam Raimi’s godawful, squirm-inducing Spider-Man 3 and give us a fresh-faced New York slinger in the form of the endearingly gangly Andrew Garfield. Turns out Webb’s The Amazing Spider-man is more of a rehash rather than revivification of the well-worn narrative – an insipid facsimile of the hero’s origin story with a few minor blots and changes to make it, like, not totally the same thing, you get what I’m sayin’? Thank fuck, Garfield is terrific and he nails Peter Parker from his awkward, schoolboy-ish charm right down to his entertainingly dopey strut in the body-hugging suit. Even Emma Stone is perfectly, fashionably dorky as Peter’s love squeeze Gwen Stacy.
The franchise’s strength of casting is Sony’s major selling point, and that continues in The Amazing Spider-man 2, the sequel to a reboot that no one really asked for in the first place. But aside from the wonderful, radiant chemistry that Garfield and Stone emanate together, whether this fully justifies the claim that there’s some ‘untold story’ to be unearthed in Peter’s story absolutely depends on your tolerance for 21st century Hollywood storytelling where things happen for no apparent reason. That personally tormented superhero narrative trajectory is something we’ve already seen before, where Peter is conflicted about the pain and danger he could potentially inflict to the people around him. After all, he’s seen two people die already in the first film, his Uncle Ben and Gwen’s father Captain Stacy (thanks to an invention called ‘deux ex machina’). Now he’s torn apart from having to stay away from Gwen but at the same time being helplessly drawn to her. Which is very cute – except that Webb needed to manifest Peter’s guilt by occasionally summoning Captain Stacy’s ghost just in case you missed the ‘untold story’ from the first film.
Elsewhere, when Peter and Gwen aren’t doing their on-and-off thing to prolong the running-time, Jamie Foxx’s blundering electrical engineer Max Dillon gets electrocuted (go ask Risk Assessment Department), falls into a pool of electrical eels, gets bitten and et voila – the villain Electro has emerged from the same creative concept that produced Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen, only less fascinating. If there’s any moral lesson to be take from here, it’s that somebody needs to shut that evil Oscorp building down, blow it up or something. Shit happens in that place. It’s a factory for villains. Surely, Spiderman himself would’ve realised that after Oscorp turned Rhys Ifans into a lizard, subsequently raising hell around New York in the preceding installment. But no, there are more sequels to be made and Spiderman needs a few more mediocre scoundrels to fight.
And remember the cluttered chaos of Spider-Man 3, where a battalion of arch-enemies are skirmished to ruin our hero’s day, Webb’s sequel comes perilously close to the Raimi’s disaster zone, pitting Peter Parker with his old childhood chum Harry Osborn, who turns up out of the blue, and the Rhino (a game Paul Giamatti bookending this chapter). It’s no spoiler territory to reveal that Harry eventually becomes The Green Goblin, as played by James Franco in the Raimi version. Dane DeHaan as Osborne Junior instantly betters Franco with DeHaan’s signature wounded menace that finely teeters between helpless charisma and arch villainy. Webb also peppers the film with a few more other characters that barely had the opportunity to breathe in the narrative. Thankfully, the ever-reliable Sally Fields provide some soulful credibility to Aunt May (the confrontation scene with Peter about his family’s dark past is one of the film’s strongest), but solid actors such as Felicity Jones and Sarah Gadon are reduced to footnotes. Worse for Gadon, who’s relegated to the role of Oscorp’s talking software.
The accumulation of all this is hardly a disastrous affair. In fact, Webb spins some bonkers, entertaining fun, offering some thrilling action set-pieces that plays fleet-footed through the film’s few narrative strands. It’s not always successful – the Times Square face-off feels like it’s been done before, and the ganging up of Harry and Electro feels a touch too hurried and contrived – but there’s real attention to character detail and emotions here. When the film manages to slow down, giving us Peter and Gwen, The Amazing Spider-man achieves some degree of relatability, finding something human to root for. This is the core of Webb’s arsenal, and the film’s major asset from first frame to last.