Masks off to Andrew Garfield: the most impressive thing about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is just how much he has made the superhero (and guilt-ridden geek alter-ego Peter Parker) his own. He's done such a fine job in this sequel that you can't see anyone else in the role(s) in the future - and pretty much forget about the past.
This time 'round we reunite with Peter Parker just as he's leaving high school, juggling chalkboards and plutonium on graduation day. At first he seems cockier and cooler both in-costume and out, but it doesn't take long to realise he's still lugging a right old hurt locker around New York with him. And it's only getting heavier, especially with on-off girlfriend Gwen (Stone) inside.
As he tries to find some way to balance a private life with a superhero public one, and reconcile his past, present and future, Peter crosses paths (there's a nice Emerson quote moment) with two very different, but just-as-troubled misfits.
One is Max Dillon (Foxx), an electrical engineer at global behemoth Oscorp. The other is Harry Osborn (DeHaan), an old friend of Peter's from his outcast days and the heir to Oscorp. Max and Harry are carrying around a lot of anger, and soon Spider-Man will be their focus.
With better villains and bigger set pieces (the special effects really live up to the term), lessons have been learned from Garfield's first outing. This is one of those rare films where it's worth forking out for the 3D, but before sticking on the glasses it's worth knowing one spoiler: that familiar and dreaded Marvel duo, Numb Rump and Stifled Yawn, also make an appearance.
For all the good work from Garfield, Stone, Foxx, DeHaan and the green screen and design boffins, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is too long and tries to shoehorn too many themes, subplots, primers and arcs into the story. Ideas worth developing (eg, the ghost of Gwen's father) are chucked while others should have been stockpiled for the next movie. As good as Spider-Man's nemeses are, we really only needed one here. And when it comes to Easter Eggs, you'll be getting a lot more than the chocolate ones this April.
Perhaps it's too much to expect Dark Knight levels of intensity and claustrophobia here, but if the writers and film-makers are willing to grow with their younger audience, then Garfield will keep his end of the deal. He is only going to get even better in this role, and hopefully will inspire other improvements in the franchise.