May 1, 2014
Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Sally Field, Dane DeHaan, Paul Giamatti, Dennis Leary
There’s a point in last year’s Man of Steel, when Clark Kent in his pre-Superman childhood days uses his superpowers to save another kid from an accident. Much to his confusion, instead of gratitude he evokes fear in that child. “People are scared of what they don’t understand,” his foster father played by Kevin Costner explains to him.
Sometimes, undeterred by that reaction, the object of fear goes on to become Superman, Spiderman or some other enemy of evil; sometimes that reaction combined with self-doubt brings out negativity, as it did with Lizard, the bad guy from the first instalment of this film series, and Electro from The Amazing Spider-man 2.
In a nation where a debate on Section 377 is raging; where politicians in election season are trying hard to net votes by invoking fear of the “other”; where efforts are on to demonise Muslims, secular Hindus, homosexuals, hijras, feminists and anyone whose ideology, personal choices or intrinsic characteristics can be used to paint them as aliens; in such a nation at this point in our history, Electro from The Amazing Spiderman 2 is a telling and poignant villain.
He doesn’t choose to become what he becomes. He is just a brilliant scientist going unnoticed by his colleagues until one day he is bitten by a tank-full of gigantic electric eels and mutates into a human generator of electricity. He didn’t seek out the power that came to him accidentally, nor is it his fault that he doesn’t at first know how to control it. “I just wanted people to see me,” he cries out helplessly when by-standers on the streets of New York react in horror as he himself first becomes aware of his own might as a mutant. But people’s fear compels him to protect himself, and that’s when all hell breaks loose.
This happens part-way through the film. The Amazing Spider-man 2 starts with a flashback to Peter Parker’s childhood and his parents’ murder. That being dealt with, we are back with Peter (Andrew Garfield) where we’d left him in The Amazing Spider-man: a youngster living with his Aunt May (Sally Field). Peter graduates with his girlfriend Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) and becomes a photographer whose calling card is that he has provided pictures of Spiderman to The Daily Bugle. Gwen becomes an intern at Oscorp, the company for which Peter’s dad had worked before his death. Remember Oscorp is where Lizard was born when the scientist Curt Connors injected himself with a serum containing genetically modified lizard DNA.
As Spidey continues to fight crime in New York, he’s also battling the worry that his work could some day put Gwen in danger. Meanwhile, his childhood friend Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan), son of Oscorp founder Norman Osborne, returns to New York and urgently needs to find Spiderman for his own personal reasons. He turns to Peter for help, not knowing the truth about Spidey. It’s also around this time that Electro (Jamie Foxx) is born.
Director Marc Webb efficiently negotiates the multiple strands in the screenplay without allowing it to appear convoluted at any point. American superhero films seem fixated on a powers-being-handed-from-father-to-son narrative, but Aunt May here is no silent spectator. For that matter, Gwen is no sidekick to Spidey either. She’s a feisty equal partner who fires him for daring to take a decision on her behalf in a bid to “protect” her. It is her scientific mind that provides Peter with a solution to combat Electro’s powers. And it is she who is the centre of many of the film’s most touching scenes. Through her we even discover that our Spidey is a feminist, that he’s not one of those guys who expects his girlfriend or wife to follow him across the world wherever his career may take him while she puts her dreams on hold.
Garfield and Stone are both lovely to look at and excellent actors. Their beauty, charm, charisma and undeniable chemistry might have sustained a much thinner screenplay. Here, with the backing of strong writing, they effectively convey to us the romance, companionship, sexual sparks, heartache and heartbreak involved in their relationship.
The two leads are backed by a supporting cast of wonderful actors though it has to be said that Oscar winner Jamie Foxx is given short shrift. We see little of him in his pre-Electro avatar, and as Electro we can barely decipher his face. Still, that’s not as bad as the embarrassingly insignificant role played by Irrfan Khan in the last film. On another front, it’s sad that superhero films rarely get the attention of awards-givers. If it weren’t for past trends, I’d have put my money on Field getting a bunch of Best Supporting Actress noms by year-end.
The screenplay of The Amazing Spiderman 2 has considerable depth, but it’s not without its flaws. First, it skims over the reason for Electro’s animosity towards Spiderman. Since we are not drawn into their enmity, that takes away much of the edge from their confrontations. Second, some of the satellite scenes needed to have been better written and directed, such as that awkwardly handled one in Aunt May’s hospital room when the lights come back on and she acts like a boss which in fact she is not, as is evident from an earlier conversation she had with Peter. Third, Garfield and Stone are so much more interesting than Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst who played Spidey and his girlfriend in Sam Raimi’s film series, yet this film like the first Amazing Spider-man, sorely lacks that one defining moment of burning romance akin to that electrifying upside-down kiss in the rain that has immortalised Maguire and Dunst.
TAS2’s special effects and action are top-notch though the music fails to stir. Overall, it is a high-adrenaline experience, zipping from one crest to the next to the next, leaving the viewer with little time to think or complain. In short, The Amazing Spiderman 2 is great fun.
Rating (out of five): ***1/2
CBFC Rating (India):
MPAA Rating (US):
PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi action/violence)
Release date in the US:
May 2, 2014
Poster and videos courtesy: Sony Pictures Entertainment
“Rise of Electro” video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8qESpVVTfI
Final trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNp7N1eRt7k
Hindi trailer featuring Vivek Oberoi: http://youtu.be/bmrOwxOaV3M
Hindi music video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVT93bhOntk