Have you seen that pizza with a cheeseburger crust? If not, just imagine a normal pizza, except where the pizza ought to end — and civilised society begin — there’s a ring of about ten miniature burgers, all encased in dough. On top of each of those burgers is a greasy discharge of cheese. There’s also an option to add bacon.
I mention this because the opening of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 feels much the same. It serves up pizza: a pre-credits flashback in which the parents of Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man, struggle to upload data to YouTube, or wherever, while battling a gunman on board an exploding plane. But then it can’t help itself from adding burgers, bacon and cheese: we flash instantly forwards to Spider-Man, aka Peter Parker, chasing criminals through the grid map of New York City. They’re driving a security truck! There are dozens of cop cars in pursuit! He’s swooshing from skyscraper to skyscraper! Watch out for the plutonium! And that guy on the road! And the jokes!
It’s almost like a response to the consensus criticism of the first of these films, released in 2012. The director Marc Webb wasn’t just chosen by the dictates of nominative determinism, but because he had created the offbeat rom-com (500) Days of Summer (2009). That made him perfectly suited for the teenage romance and anxiety of Spider-Man. But could he deliver awesome spectacle? Could he blow things up real good? No, they said. The first film’s lizard-man villain was rather forgettable. There was a disproportionate amount of kiss-kiss to bang-bang.
Except I quite enjoyed that more understated version of the superhero movie. It proved the old saying: ‘Better kiss-kiss than pizza with a cheeseburger crust.’ And this sequel proves that again. Its best moments are those, as in the comic books, that are more about Peter than about Spider-Man. They enable Andrew Garfield to exercise his likability as an actor. And it’s also where he can display his extraordinary — and, so the Daily Mail website tells me, real-life — chemistry with Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy. So long as you can tolerate sappy lines such as ‘you are my path’, as well as Ms Stone’s immaculate, grown-up wardrobe, their scenes together are a straightforward joy.
Sadly, though, that won’t leave much tolerance left for The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s amazingly convenient plotting. To streamline decades’ worth of comics and convoluted back stories, Webb and his writers devise a solution that is at once smart and extremely silly: they link everyone to the same workplace. Spider-Man’s parents? Killed while on the run from Oscorp. Spider-Man’s girlfriend? Employee of Oscorp. Spider-Man himself? Result of a scientific accident at Oscorp. Bad-guy the First? Also the result of a scientific accident at Oscorp. Bad-guy the Second? Also the result of a scientific accident at Oscorp, and son of the founder of Oscorp. You can only assume that, with a history and safety record like that, this company is too big to fail. I bet the government has bailed it out a hundred times.
And the convenience doesn’t end there. This is a movie in which the hero’s girlfriend appears to be the only person in New York who knows how to restart the city’s electrical supply. And she turns the power back on just in time for two planes to avoid an inflight collision, helping to demonstrate that pilots and air traffic controllers can be heroes too. Also, nurses and firefighters.
Thus we’re pushed by a heavy hand to the film’s conclusion. What happens? Someone from the studio actually stood up before the screening to ask that we refrain from dealing in spoilers, so I won’t reveal anything here. But I will say that it’s almost as excessive as the beginning. There’s slow motion. Copious computer effects. Even more slow motion. Cogs and distractions. And then…well, the comics did this simpler and better in the Seventies. Thanks to what’s gone before, this emotional climax isn’t totally without the emotion bit. But it still plays like a cheap music video. Just add angsty, eye-shadowed teen-rock.
But what’s this? According to his online filmography, Webb has actually directed videos for the angsty, eye-shadowed teen-rockers My Chemical Romance. That must have been where he got the idea for this Spider-Man film from. There’s plenty of romance and plenty of chemical experiments gone wrong. The moral is: never mix the two.