The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (12A, 142 mins)
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (12A, 142 mins)
Director: Marc Webb
It's only been two years since The Amazing Spider-Man hit cinema screens to a general shrug of apathy. It was a movie whose chief characteristic was the utter pointlessness of its existence, coming so soon after Sam Raimi's original Spider-Man trilogy and retelling the story competently but pretty much beat for beat.
Still, it made a packet and so here we are again with this decent, sometimes very good but ultimately underwhelming sequel, the first of a reported three that are going to hit us between now and 2018.
Almost everything that was good about that first go-round derived from its stars, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. As Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, they were the beating heart of a movie that succeeded as a love story but disappointed as superhero action.
A promise Peter made to Gwen's dying father in the first film that he wouldn't get involved with her in order to protect her from his enemies forms the backbone of this return.
Few comic-book movies manage this level of authenticity to the relationships at their core, and the perfect chemistry between Garfield and Stone is once again what works best here.
The shady Oscorp Industries is behind just about every other element of the plot, beginning with a prologue that starts out identically to the first film's, as Peter's parents leave him as a young boy with his aunt and uncle.
His father, scientist Richard Parker (Campbell Scott) is forced to hide the data he's been working on, to do with Oscorp's genetic experiments on animals, and we get to see a bit more of what happened to them after they go on the run.
We all know the story of how Peter was bitten by a spider and developed the powers that turned him into crime-fighter Spider-Man, so after this prologue we're thrust straight into web-slinging action with Spider-Man taking on a Russian criminal (little more than a cameo from Paul Giamatti, who may well feature more in films to come).
As Spidey swings between buildings on his web ropes, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 soars in ways that none of the films before now have managed. The technology has finally caught up with the ambition and the special effects are fantastic.
Couple this with a more memorable score, as Hans Zimmer channels a Copland fanfare to accompany these scenes, and for the longest time it looks like this is going to be a great Spidey film, the first since Spider-Man 2 a decade ago.
It's an altogether more fun superhero movie, colourful without being juvenile, and absolutely nailing a comic-book tone that's quippy and breezy and hugely engaging.
Unfortunately, being a superhero movie, there has to be a super-villain. The second big flaw of The Amazing Spider-Man was the weakness of its villain (Rhys Ifans' Oscorp scientist-turned giant lizard), and that's something that hasn't been overcome here.
Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) is an Oscorp worker and obsessive Spider-Man fan who is zapped by electric eels and turns into Electro, who can absorb electricity and disappear down plug sockets.
His first encounter with Spider-Man is dazzling, with a real elegance to the set-up of their fight and a chance for Peter to demonstrate the depth of his character.
Sadly, Foxx doesn't convince for a second as a nerdy scientist, and just what Electro's motivation or scheme is supposed to be is vague at best, especially as, after their initial battle, he doesn't appear for a good hour afterwards.
To fill that gap there's also the introduction of Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), son of the dying Norman Osborn, head of Oscorp. He renews his friendship with Peter and reveals a genetic illness that he hopes to cure by utilising Spider-Man's blood.
This all makes for plenty to chew on dramatically, with Peter facing confusion and conflict over what to do on several fronts: about Gwen, about Harry and about the family mystery that his parents' disappearance initiated.
But the result is a final third that grows ever more bogged down in under-written developments and flashy but empty action sequences. There's still fun to be had, sure, but it's quickly forgettable and a bit of a letdown after the strong build-up.
Sony are on the right track with The Amazing Spider-Man franchise. It's just a shame they seem in such a hurry to release so many of them, as with a little more care and attention devoted to the scripts, we might finally get the webslinger movie we deserve.
See it if you liked: The Amazing Spider-Man, Iron Man 3, Man of Steel
The Love Punch (12A, 94 mins)
Director: Joel Hopkins
Emma Thompson and Pierce Brosnan begin this weak romantic comedy as a divorced couple facing up to life without each other.
He's about to retire and discovers that his company has been bought out and put into receivership and that their pension fund has been emptied, causing them to travel to France to find out what can be done.
What starts out like a cosy suburban sitcom becomes a flatly paced caper of kidnaps and impersonations as they decide their only course of action is to steal a $10m diamond belonging to the man responsible for their predicament.
Everything is dictated by how jaunty the music is, but for a while you still retain the hope that the cast will be able to salvage it, particularly the infallible Thompson.
But she's very poorly served by a script that's mostly comprised of her and Brosnan bickering, and it's far from the freshest material.
Aiming to tap into the vast and lucrative fifty-plus audience who came out for Best Exotic Marigold Hotel but falling back on jokes about sore bones and weak bladders, this is a heist comedy on the level of an episode of Terry and June.
See it if you liked: Gambit, Le Weekend, Love is All You Need
Locke (15, 85 mins)
Director: Steven Knight
Tom Hardy is Ivan Locke, a building contractor whom we first meet as he's leaving a site.
A woman is having his baby and he's driving to London to be with her, news he breaks to his wife over his car phone, which he also uses to deal with various work issues.
It soon becomes evident that the entire film is going to play out inside the car over a series of calls to home, work and the hospital, and it also becomes clear that this isn't going to be a problem in what is a gripping study of a normally steady man falling apart.
It gets in and out quick, which really helps, as does stunning cinematography that captures events from a number of angles to keep the situation fresh and varied.
In a new approach for Hardy, he's softly spoken and composed, most unlike what we're used to seeing from him, and he's mesmerising as he holds the film together.
The tension of each situation is kept high, with the calls directed and acted so naturally that what could be theatrical is anything but in a film which is quite unique and, in its own small way, really quite thrilling.
See it if you liked: Phone Booth, Buried, The Call