They say if you throw enough money at a movie, it is bound to stick.
I was one of those who saw Sony's move to revive Spider-Man on the big screen just five years after the failure of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 3 as a wholly commercially driven decision. Two years ago, Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man failed to come up with anything remotely fresh in its perfectly adequate retelling of the wallcrawler's origin story. But the studio has turned round matters with its $200m (£120m) sequel: all those greenbacks are now firmly trapped in Spidey's web, waiting for Hollywood to collect them as the movie drives all before it at the box office.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 currently has a rating of 83% "fresh" on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, while the Guardian's Xan Brooks reports that Webb has delivered a "savvy, punchy and dashing" sequel. Webb's sequel has careered to the rescue of on of Hollywood's most controversial of revisited superhero sagas by finally delivering a story audiences have not seen before. With required Spidey origins story segues such as the death of Uncle Ben and that fight with Flash Thompson out of the way, it dives headlong into new territory with an audible cry of relief.
Without giving away too much of the plot, these new developments also retrospectively explain and endorse Andrew Garfield's appointment to the role of Peter Parker. While predecessor Tobey Maguire is a fine comedic actor with self-effacing googly eyed charm, there are moments in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 that require a starkness and delicacy that might have been beyond him. One particular scene at the film's denouement is so perfectly and soulfully underplayed that one cannot imagine anyone else but Garfield pulling it off.
Emma Stone's slightly insipid Gwen Stacy seemed to pale in comparison to Kirsten Dunst's fiery Mary Jane Watson in the earlier instalments. She comes into her own in the sequel; Star Trek screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman give her hopes and dreams beyond being Parker's girlfriend, as well as her own crucial part to play in Spider-Man's continuing development as a superhero. New villain Electro (Jamie Foxx) lends the new film most of its thrills and spills. But it's the chemistry between Stone and Garfield – crackling with a very different kind of electricity – that gives the sequel its emotional weight.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 also beautifully sets up future films in the series, which at this point includes two confirmed sequels and a proposed Sinister Six movie. The latter is likely to head into full-on supervillain terrain, with Spider-Man's enemies Doctor Octopus, Sandman, Electro, the Vulture, Mysterio and Kraven the Hunter taking centre stage. As producer Avi Arad explained last month: "With [our] characters, the villains are victims of circumstance … nice and complex."
This plan to imbue the saga's villains with as much charm as its heroes – and they will need it if the Sinister Six film is to dispense with Spidey completely – finds currency through the arrival of Dane DeHaan's Harry Osborn in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The new Green Goblin may not be as thrillingly demented as Willem Dafoe's take, but he emerges as the perfect conduit to blow the story wide open.
Webb's film is obsessed with Osborn's Oscorp, with its penchant for genetic manipulation and its shadowy, Batmanesque "special projects" department. Fortunately, this new world is weird enough to transcend the inevitable comparisons to the trilogy by Christopher Nolan. Sony has delivered a comic-book film that feels more like a slightly far-out sci-fi piece: the big screen answer to JJ Abrams' Fringe, perhaps.
These futuristic confections are undoubtedly far-fetched, but they all make thrilling sense within Spider-Man's world – one that sits just beyond the bounds of possibility, yet just close enough to make these fantastical predictions irresistibly intriguing. Sony seems to have stumbled on a way to expand its universe that will sound a different note with audiences than the comic-book vistas being developed by Warner Bros and Marvel, but one that might just be even more satisfying than either of the above. Money talks, but imagination and innovation shout.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010