This review contains minor spoilers.
Having artfully disposed of Syndrome, the Parr family relax back into normal suburban life. They have tensely watched their middle child, Dashiell, take part in Sports Day, and return to their car, trophy in hand. Suddenly, a rumble from beneath. A giant drill-like device emerges from the sub-terra, and the molelike Underminer introduces himself, ready to wreak havoc on the city. Bob Parr, the patriarch, looks to his family, who have already put on their super masks. He does the same. Close-up of costumed chest. Giacchino score. End.
Thus concludes The Incredibles, probably the best superhero film not based on a comic book. And weirdly, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has almost exactly the same ending. It seems somehow fitting that Amazeballs Spidey 2 should take great inspiration from a Pixar film, because it is unashamedly aimed at 10-year-olds, with jazzy, primary-coloured cinematography and comedic pratfalls. However, while The Incredibles avoided patronising its audience by including complex villains and a consistent tone, the latest in Marvel’s plan to guard the galaxy is messy, incoherent, and often boring. Time, surely, for itsy-bitsy Spider-Man to go up the water spout and never return.
Director Marc Webb has had one stab at this already, and despite rumours that Sony were going to say ‘So long’, he has crawled his way into the driving seat for this film and for its sequel, due in 2016. When the first reboot was released, Webb’s shortcomings were clear: the director of (500) Days of Summer was great at handling the warm relationship between Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), but couldn’t navigate the action set pieces nor the pacing required for a film of this size. Yet again, Webb isn’t sure whether his focus lies with Peter or his alter-ego, and this is not helped by the obvious studio pressure (as in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3) to add as many villains as possible. Bizarrely, big chunks of narrative and character development are washed over in favour of ‘kooky’ conversations about laundry or laughter.
It all starts well enough, with some nice background about Peter’s father, Richard (not to be confused with the tiger) and truly exhilarating web-slinging New York. In truth, Spider-Man preferred mode of transport has never looked better. What’s more, Webb is fortunate to have assembled a fantastic cast: Andrew Garfield has all of the smirking wit that Tobey Maguire made spooky, while Emma Stone is an appropriately feisty partner, instead of Kirsten Dunst’s whining Damsel In Distress. Together, the pair are fantastic, and you can see why Webb wants to spend so much time building their relationship. Elsewhere, Dane DeHaan is an excellently bug-eyed, manic Harry Osborne, and even Jamie Foxx as pre-antagonist Max Dillon is remarkably creepy and empathetic, acting out blood-curdling role-plays where Spider-Man wishes him a happy birthday.
Crucially, the film falls apart whenever anyone puts on a superhero costume. Webb and his screenwriters have great material here, but seem to have no idea what to do with it. This botched attempt is the cinematic equivalent of deep frying caviar, or playing Lionel Messi as a centre back. Despite being a new character in this world, it is assumed we already know everything about Harry, but his skin-condition and hatred for Spidey is badly shoehorned. His Green Goblin is well designed, but he is essentially another villain in a mechanised suit who makes a mark on nothing but the running time. Fans of the comic books or patronisingly signposted plot twists will know that the Green Goblin’s appearance is bad news for one character, and this is well dealt with, even if it does spawn the unnecessarily heroic and happy-clappy denouement (stay tuned for the most incongruous credits song in movie history).
Similarly, Max is Spider-Man’s biggest fan (he’s Marvel’s Annie Wilkes) before some genetically-mutated electric eels turn him into a battery with better teeth, and it is unclear what, as Electro, he wants to achieve, and why. Aside from depriving New York of electricity, beaming himself onto TV screens and pissing-off comedy German scientists, it doesn’t seem that Electro can really do much. This is a shame, partly because of the good work Foxx does before his accident, but also because of the possibilities available with Electro – the writing could have explored his control of iPhones, weapons, pacemakers, but instead he becomes a walking ray-gun and occasional defibrillator.
If the whole thing seems a bit pointless, it’s because this feels like a rushed stepping stone to Marvel’s Sinister Six film, which will pit a team of super-villains against Spider-Man in a kind of anti-Avengers experiment. Assuming that The Lizard from the first film, and Electro, Rhino and Green Goblin from this film make up four of the six, the remaining two spots will go to Doctor Octopus and The Vulture, whose costumes (more mecha-suits!) we have seen buried in the hilariously named ‘Special Projects’ branch of OsCorp.
You wonder if there is room for Webb and the Sony bigwigs in the Sinister Six, because they have arguably done more to hurt your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man than any super villain ever could.