“All right, let’s get to work!” These words are spoken by the titular webslinger near the beginning of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and though it’s rather innocuously stated in relation to the film’s initial, commencing events, its meaning is taken more literally. Director Marc Webb’s follow-up to 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man plays like another dot in a larger, franchising schema, proffering more avenues for future entries than tying up loose webs of its own. These intentions are made rather explicit, as the film ends with a shot of Spidey mid-air, slinging a sewer lid attached to a chain at Aleksei Sytsevich, a.k.a. Rhino (Paul Giamatti), who’s likely to be a significant player in the already announced third installment, set for 2018. Surely the same applies for Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), a character given the Harvey Dent a la The Dark Knight treatment, in that he doesn’t actualize his villainous persona until the film’s final third.
While these developments only concern the last portion of the film, it’s necessary to point out their emergence in relation to this entry, since much of Webb and screenwriters Alex Kurtman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner’s focus relies on disguising these impending developments through scenes that effectively tread water, as a means to bloat the film’s 141-minute runtime to “epic” length. These aims become particularly clear with initial scenes between Harry and Peter (Andrew Garfield), in which they quibble over Spider-Man’s place within New York City; Harry’s doubtful, while Peter emptily suggests: “I like to think he gives people hope.” Yet at this point, the film has done nothing to back such a claim, aside from brief insertions of Spidey swinging in to save a bullied adolescent or rescuing a peculiar Oscorp employee, Max (Jamie Foxx), from death-by-airborne-taxicab. Any deeper exploration of heroism has given way to franchising mentalities, where exposition rules and thematic explication flounders. That applies to Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) too; she’s meant as a totem for normality and upward mobility, as her impending scholarship at the University of Oxford threatens to separate her from Peter, but at least it’s a notion the film surprisingly and refreshingly takes to its bleakest conclusions.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s darker aspects, such as Gwen’s fate or Max’s certifiable mental-illness-cum-transformation into Electro, suggest Webb as a filmmaker willing, but dissatisfied, to toe the franchise line. These inclinations explain not only his adept play with canted angles throughout, but also his decision to shoot his follow-up on film, rather than the now industry-standard digital. Thus, a simple dialogue scene between Peter and Aunt May (Sally Field) vacillates between standard shot/reverse-shot and camera tilts that alter the framing during the course of the shot. Such techniques are inherently experimental, at least relative to the expectations established by blockbuster filmmaking, which often reserves its camera movements exclusively for action sequences.
Webb does plenty of that as well, but these kinkier curveballs, subtle but formally significant, complement the decision to mount both a Blowup and The Man Who Fell to Earth poster on Peter’s bedroom walls. While Webb could easily be vying for cinephilic capital while delivering the yes-man goods, he elides such an easy charge through the filmmaking itself, which is goofier and more referential than one might expect. That includes a selection of “The Blue Danube Waltz” during Electro’s emergence and interrogation by Oscorp scientists, which is both a pun and dual gesture to 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange. Surviving a comparable Ludovico “shock” treatment and wielding the newfound power of personified electronic media, Electro is the film’s most “Bane”-ful dialogic weapon, and Webb combines the implications into an excellently staged and photographed action sequence, set in Times Square.
Alas, Webb cannot avoid the insidious pitfalls of the studio’s corporate hand, as there are innumerous product plugs for Sony products throughout. In a prologue that reframes the disappearance of Peter’s parents, Richard Parker (Campbell Scott) studies documents on his Sony computer. Later, Peter types away on his new Sony Vaio laptop. And finally, in what’s meant to be a touching eulogy for Gwen, the Sony logo is but inches from her face, as she speaks to Peter through a recorded video. An advertisement for Blu-ray reading “Perfect Picture. Perfect Sound” is destroyed by Electro’s “Blu-rays” during the Times Square attack. Also in full view is a towering Disney sign. The synergistic self-promotion goes on and on. So while Webb displays aptitude and moxie for more playful and daring large-scale elements, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 can’t evade the capitalistic death drive which pervades too many of its frames.
Sony generally goes to great lengths to ensure that their franchise entries receive red-carpet Blu-ray treatments and, on the whole, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is no exception. Reds and blues gleam with impressive clarity, while retaining the grain inherent to Webb’s decision to shoot on film. Scenes with Electro are given exceptional care, in some of the most stunning imagery yet to make its way to Blu-ray. Image depth is strong and clear, especially in Spidey’s remarkable CGI sequences, which feature the webslinger looking better than ever before. Likewise, the sound mix is a whomper, most notably when booming Hanz Zimmer’s Electro theme. But even here, there remains a nice balance between score, Foley sound, and dialogue, without one overpowering the other.
While receiving the expected assortment of deleted and alternate scenes, all of which function for expositional purposes, the real gem here is a 103-minute making-of featurette, which explores nearly every aspect of production with acumen and brevity. Marc Webb, Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, and Hanz Zimmer all make appearances, with Webb’s words the most essential, as he jumps from explaining the shoot in New York City, to his decision to shoot on film, to his adoration for Buster Keaton and its influence on his filmmaking. Moreover, he and Zimmer talk about the decision to go more electronic for the Electro theme, with Webb calling what they came up with a "dubstep manifesto." Another featurette goes a bit further into the film’s music, with contributors Pharrell and Johnny Marr making appearances as well. There’s also a feature commentary with writers Alex Kurtzman and Jeff Pinkner and producers Matt Tolmach and Avi Arad that goes in-depth behind the efforts made to keep various story elements in-check, especially once the decision was made to kill off various characters. Also included is a rather forgettable video for "It’s on Again" by Alicia Keys, featuring Pharrell, Kendrick Lamar, and Hanz Zimmer.
Sony’s insistent to let fans have their webs and sling them too and the high-flying 4K Blu-ray of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 does precisely that.