5 Things That Redeem “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 currently sits pretty at 53% on Rotten Tomatoes, hereby making it the worst-reviewed Spider Man movie ever released. The much-maligned Spider-Man 3 sits at 63%, so I guess it must say something about how much people disliked this latest installment when the 10 minutes of Venom, Emo Peter and the infamous dance scene were better received than what’s currently in cinemas.
This is not to say, though, that I don’t see why people were dissatisfied. For me too, the movie was a big letdown in several areas. Why cast modern acting giants Jamie Foxx and Paul Giamatti when they just get shoved to the sidelines to the point where we almost forget that there’s supposed to be villains in this movie? Why focus so much on hyping up the Sinister Six instead of just making this a good, standalone flick? Why introduce so many new characters when they’re inevitably going to be nudged out of the spotlight in following movies to make room for even more new characters? Why stick in plotlines that go nowhere, don’t develop the characters and ultimately feel like a waste of time?
Yet, despite all of these problems, I still think The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was good. Not as good as the previous Amazing Spider-Man, definitely not as good as the first two Raimi films, but still a decent movie-going experience that I’m glad I saw. I definitely don’t think it deserves to have such a low rating on Rotten Tomatoes as it does, but who am I to argue with critics?
The film does have a lot of issues and I understand the general let-down feeling. Going into a movie expecting it to be bad and finding that, indeed, it was bad is one thing. But being disappointed by a movie you were looking forward to, a movie that seemed like it had everything going for it, is worse.
Having said that, I am an optimist by nature and try to see the good in any situation, including film and there’s a lot about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 that is still really good, stuff that doesn’t quite go all the way towards cancelling out the things that made it a disappointment but help to soften that crushing, let-down feeling a fair deal.
So, with that said, I would like to share with you five things about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 that improved the movie-going experience for me, not in the hopes of changing your opinion, but just to focus on the positive rather than the negative:
5. It Provided Closure
Before I defend this particular plot element, I first have to acknowledge its flaws. Yes, it brings the movie almost to a grinding halt, resulting in a very saggy second act that had me glancing at my watch several times. Yes, it steals away precious minutes that could’ve been better utilised on Electro or Harry Osborn and Peter’s relationship. Yes, it felt like poor old Uncle Ben, Peter’s biggest moral pedestal and who he constantly remembers in moments of crisis, got shoved to the sidelines in favour of this guy. And yes, it’s frustrating that the writers seemed to think that this was something audiences desperately wanted to see resolved. No, it wasn’t. I would’ve liked another action scene or a deeper delve into Max Dillon’s fractured psyche, thanks. Yet, at the same time, I ultimately find the focus on Richard Parker’s storyline to be a good thing, if only for the closure it brings. In this Spider-Man universe, Peter’s curiosity about his parents’ mysterious disappearance led him to Oscorp, which led him to encounter the genetically-engineered spider and thus, change his life forever. In fact, marketing for the first Amazing Spider-Man movie hinged on it. It was drawn up as Peter Parker’s driving purpose, the one thing that haunts his life, the one thing that he wants closure on.
Well, here he finally gets it and so do we. After a whole second act of investigating, throwing in the towel and then investigating again, Peter discovers a secret lair that belonged to his father along with a posthumous video recording and we discover why exactly it was that he and Mary had to do a runner – Norman Osborn was planning to use his research on biological warfare, so Richard quite literally took his research to the grave in the hopes that no-one could exploit it. So not only is the mystery solved, but Peter is also reassured that they didn’t just dump him for reasons unknown, that they weren’t criminal masterminds and that everything they did was out of love for their son. Closure not just for him but for us too. Not only that but, for as long as this subplot took to set up and run its course, it’s not completely superfluous. It helps to further set up Oscorp as the villains of this planned universe and, with the revelation that only people of the Parker bloodline are compatible with Richard’s research, adds a new lever of danger to hang over our young web-slinger’s head.
Whether this particular plot thread intrigued or irritated you, at least it’s over now. The writers saw fit to end it and move on with newer, more pressing developments. Now we don’t have to worry about it overshadowing the bigger picture in The Amazing Spider-Man 3.
And the inclusion of the Parkers gave us one kick-ass opening sequence. There’s that too.
4. It Remembers to Have Fun
One thing I will always take away from a Spider-Man movie is the fun. Spider-Man is a free-spirited, cocky, down-on-our-level kid and the gleeful, immature humour that comes with that balances out the darker aspects of his life and, indeed, the darker territories this movie will plunge into come the third act.
But the first two acts are simply buzzing with jokes and wonderful light-heartedness and, in a world where a lot of superhero movies strive for that “darker and edgier” feel, this is a breath of fresh air. For now, at least, superhero business is just a non-stop thrill ride. The opening sequence with the Rhino was a great way to put the accelerator to the floor. As much as Giamatti’s Rhino has been criticised for being over-the-top and barely registering on the audience’s radar, I quite enjoyed watching him chew the scenery like it was made of delicious, juicy ham. It doesn’t get any more cliché than hearing the words “I crush you! I destroy you!” in a thick, fake Russian accent, but it works, in a small dose at least, which the filmmakers thankfully seemed to realise.
Gwen Stacy gets to play the straight-woman to Peter’s prankster and Emma Stone perfectly balances out the inherent wackiness of superhero-ism with her dry observations and back-and-forth banter with Peter, such as when he’s criticising her for her choice of hiding place and when she teases the truth out of him when his spying comes to light. She keeps things grounded when they threaten to become just a little too off-the-wall.
There’s also plenty of inside-jokes, such as Peter’s ringtone and the obligatory Stan Lee cameo, but there’s also some dark humour to be found with Harry Osborn (“Welcome back to the bonus round”) and cringe comedy with Max Dillon is his pre-Electro scenes.
Then there’s Peter himself and whether he’s in civilian-mode or in costume, he’s a source of infectious joy when he’s doing the things he loves. Nothing fazes him and there’s a wisecrack to be made at the expense of everything, whether it’s his “laundry sheriff” Aunt May getting absurdly overbearing, a bunch of delicate radioactive cylinders that refuse to stay still long enough to be collected (“Heel!”) or a blue glowing super villain who proclaims he will be a god and everyone will bow down in fear before him for being so ignorant of him in the past. All at the same time Peter can be a klutzy goof, a deadpan snarker and a guy who staves off fear and immediate peril simply by laughing at it. And, swept along into this mad world, we laugh too.
I desperately want to see more of Dane DeHaan’s Harry Osborn in the next Amazing Spider-Man movie. He’ll definitely be present, but I want to find out even more about him because he proved a fascinating specimen in this movie.
James Franco’s Harry Osborn is the previous Spider-Man trilogy always seemed to be a product of the movie’s environment – he was whatever the plot required him to be: the school outcast; the cool best friend; the poor little rich boy; the grieving son; the stressed-out, alcoholic CEO of Oscorp; the betrayed, vengeful New Goblin; and, in his final moments, the sacrificial best friend again. In short, he never really seemed to have his own identity.
The Harry Osborn of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 did. Yes, he shared some characteristics of the previous Harry (parental abandonment issues, the pressures of suddenly having leadership thrust upon you when you’re nowhere near prepared for it) but he also managed to have some individual aspects too. In this universe, Harry is dying from a hereditary disease that has just claimed the life of his father, Norman. As time passes and his condition deteriorates, he slowly begins to unravel, going from a young man who, while somewhat damaged, still had a sensible head on his shoulders, new opportunities to reinvent himself and, of course, a best friend in Peter Parker, who can simultaneously empathise with having a missing father-figure and bring him out of shell.
Of course, this budding friendship and source of stability in Harry’s turbulent life quickly goes to hell when, after digging through Oscorp’s research, Harry theorises that Spider-Man’s blood, with its self-healing abilities, could be the cure for his disease. Peter is then forced to play third-wheel between Harry and his alter-ego and ultimately refuses for fear of doing Harry more damage than good.
Here is where DeHaan really gets to shine. Seething with bitterness at a world, a company and a best friend who have spectacularly screwed him over and rapidly losing his grasp on basic human sensibilities and sane thinking, he spirals into a desperation that we can all empathise with. He does not want to die and is pushed into evermore questionable actions in order to stave off his death sentence, teaming up with an imprisoned Electro in a sequence that perfectly illustrates Harry’s unwillingness to compromise anymore after a lifetime of compromises, his newfound ruthlessness and his childlike helplessness against his own fate. This kid without a dad may be fast becoming a villain but, at this point, he still “needs” someone to come through for him.
Then comes his miracle, the Goblin formula, which backfires horrifically, just as Peter feared, and any ties to his former life are out the window. Whereas Franco’s Goblin always seemed quite lucid and in control of what he was doing, DeHaan comes across as legitimately batshit crazy with a skin-crawlingly creepy laugh to boot. He has no second-thoughts and no humanity to hinder him. Like he says to Gwen, “Harry’s dead!” He is a single-minded force of poisonous, hateful vengeance and will go on to inflict a blow on Peter unlike any his other enemies have ever accomplished.
By the denouement, it would seem that Harry still has a thirst for revenge and I hope we’ll get to see even more of DeHaan’s brilliant, fractured but still sympathetic work in future installments.
2. It’s All About the Heart
I’ve heard a lot of reviewers saying that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 would actually be a better movie if the superhero element was removed from the picture entirely. This is actually a fair argument. Mark Webb is an accomplished director when it comes to base human interactions. It’s what made 500 Days of Summer such a delight and it’s what helped to bolster up the first Amazing Spider-Man movie when the failure to develop the Lizard and encroaching feelings of “been here, seen that” threatened to overtake everything.
While the original Spider-Man trilogy has its identity rooted in awesome action scenes, complete superhero immersion and the genuine feel of a comic book, the Amazing Spider-Man movies seem to have their identity rooted in the relationships between the characters and how flesh-and-blood realistic it comes across.
How many superhero movies have we seen where we just couldn’t give a toss about the obligatory “character-developing” moments? All they did was slow down the parts we were really invested in, the action and adventure. They felt like a fruitless venture into trying to make us care about the characters and we simply didn’t.
In The Amazing Spider-Man 2 I cared and felt for the characters. I could understand their motivations, their hopes and their conflicts. Peter is hopelessly in love with Gwen and wishes that he could just have a normal life with her but at the same time, with great power comes great responsibility and there’s also Ghost Captain Stacy shadowing his thoughts and constantly reminding him of his broken promise. We can understand why he broke that promise because Gwen is irresistible and she doesn’t appreciate other people making her choices for her but we can also see why it would probably be best if he just let her go and live her life without him, because Gwen also has a calling, just as he does. The film makes a big deal of this tug-of-love going on inside Peter’s heart and makes a good case for us all to care about him on a deeper level than just “He’s Spider-Man, he kicks ass.”
There’s other little emotional beats scattered throughout the film that give it a much-needed anchor when the plot becomes a little too unwieldy. I mentioned before Harry Osborn’s “rage against the dying of the light” dilemma and the seeds of his anger towards Peter being sewn, but there are plenty of other examples too. Electro’s defining trait of needing purpose, any purpose, is practically the only thing we learn about him but still manages to stir up some pity for this ignored little underling. He just wants a friend, damn it. I wish the filmmakers had expanded more on this aspect of his personality as well as the scene in Times Square where he’s desperately afraid of his newfound powers and what he’s become.
There’s also Sally Field’s big scene where she finally tells Peter the truth (at least, her version of it) about his parents. She sympathises with his desperation to know, but she can’t help herself from feeling resentment towards his real parents for just abandoning their child and feeling pushed away by Peter, the boy she’s raised as her own, when she believes that he values them more than her (“You’re my boy! Mine!”). That’s a level of realism you don’t often see if these escapism-style movies.
To some they may come across as interfering but to me, moments like these are the ones that stopped the film from falling apart all together. So it should come as no surprise that the biggest source of heart is what I believe to The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s ultimate saving grace…
1. Peter and Gwen
When the critics said they felt that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 would’ve worked better without the superhero stuff, what they really meant was that it would’ve worked best as a romantic comedy between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, because the two of them together are undoubtedly the film’s biggest redeeming quality.
Despite the fact that the relationship is very much on-off for the majority of the film, watching the two of them is always rewarding. Unlike a lot of couples in mainstream movies, in any genre, the circumstances that conspire to have us the audience believe that they belong together are usually pretty weak. Whether it be bad dialogue, lack of chemistry or poor plotting, romance on the sidelines in film usually flat-lines.
Here, the movie is never better than when we get to focus on Peter and Gwen and whether the situation is good or bad, they make it count – whether it’s listening to them joke about the various things they won’t be able to resist about each other (Gwen’s laugh, Peter’s puppy-dog eyes) when they’re going through a “just friends” phase to trying to toe the line between letting each other have what they need rather than what they’d want (when it comes to Gwen’s impending scholarship at Oxford University and Peter wrestling with his guilt over the forbidden fruit nature of their relationship) to coming together in a brains-and-brawn duo in the final act, bouncing off each other perfectly in moments of adrenaline-fueled action and the fate of the New York resting in their hands.
When Peter wistfully spies on Gwen from his skyscraper vantage-points, it’s not creepy in an Edward-Cullen-“I-like-watching-you-sleep” kind of way. It’s quite endearing and a little sad too, as if he’s privileged to just watch her life take off from afar and see her get everything she’s ever wanted. With the stress of the mystery surrounding his parents, Harry starting to turn to the dark side and the general pressures of being a superhero, you get the feeling that Gwen-time is starting become the best part of his day, his only refuge from his mounting troubles. And Gwen, for her part, sees her life and her chance at the big time as something to be grateful for. Yet it’s not quite as exciting and fulfilled as life with Peter in it.
The chemistry between the pair (no doubt aided by Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone’s off-screen relationship) is so charming that I could probably watch them do anything together, talk about anything together and it would be interesting, just to have the pleasure of watching them interact and see the sparks crackle between them. Garfield and Stone just are those characters, completely and wholly. I never expected to go into a Spider-Man movie and be reduced to a simpering idiot at the mere sight of a photo of Peter and Gwen cuddled together in bed, utterly content, but there you go.
But, alas, all this adorableness, all this build-up and all this investment could only lead to one outcome. If you’re familiar with the Spider-Man comics then you probably saw this coming a mile off but, yes, Gwen did die in the confrontation with Harry’s Green Goblin and it made for utterly heartbreaking viewing, not just because of poor Peter’s completely broken reaction (thanks for making me cry, Andrew) and subsequent 5-month-long giving-up-on-the-world but because we too could feel the vacuum that Gwen’s death had left behind. We wanted her to escape unscathed; we wanted to see that web catch her in time; we wanted to see her open her eyes. Unlike other generic love interests, where we felt distinctly removed from any emotion, we wanted her to live too and felt that kick in the stomach along with Peter as it became clear she was not going to come back.
Kudos has to be given to the filmmakers for not pulling their punches. It would have been very easy to chicken out of this iconic comic-book moment and have Gwen live for the sake of a happy ending and not making the movie too depressing. There was a point where I was convinced they wouldn’t go through with it, but when they did, I was impressed. I was aggravated and sad because Gwen was gone and the movie had just lost one of its most valuable assets, but I was impressed by its integrity to the Spider-Man mythos and how effectively they pulled it off. Sure, the build-up with the Goblin was insanely rushed but the death itself was perfectly played.
That said, I still didn’t like the movie feeling the need to quickly tack on Peter getting back into his groove (I still think they should’ve had the courage to leave on Peter holding vigil by Gwen’s graveside, tease the rise of Sinister Six and then leave on a cliff hanger) but it was suitably fitting that it was Gwen’s words from the past that rekindled hope in his bruised and bleeding heart. I wanted so badly for the two of them to fly off to England together and live happily ever after, Gwen splitting the atom in Oxford while Peter leaves London gangsters dangling in giant webs, but that wouldn’t be true to what Spider-Man is. Spider-Man is hope for the people he protects, so he has to have a source of hope himself. Gwen’s death was terrible blow, but we know he’ll use it to go forth and feed his inner heroic fires in order to save the day.
I can’t shake the feeling that future Amazing Spider-Man movies will be weaker without Emma Stone but if they can do for Mary-Jane Watson what they did for Gwen Stacy, then I will continue to have faith.
That or write terrible Peter/Gwen fan-fiction.
So there you have it: five things that helped to redeem The Amazing Spider-Man 2. I won’t say that these things saved the movie completely. None of them made me shift my opinion from “just okay” to “wow, best movie ever!” but they raised it in my esteem to the point where I would watch it again. It’s definitely not the sequel that I and millions of others were hoping for, were promised by Sony (keep trying, guys) but for what I got, I could say that it could have been worse. We have a ton of big blockbusters out there that show complete disregard for any of the things that I mentioned above: wrapping up their loose ends; actually being funny; developing their villains beyond “I am evil”; making us care about their characters; and making sure we might actually mourn these characters in the event that they’re killed off.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is jumbled and messy and should have prioritized certain plot lines while saving others for future installments. Sony should not have tried to have their cake and eat it. But the end result still has enough merit to make it worthwhile. All we can do now is wait for The Amazing Spider-Man 3 and see if they can fix their mistakes or simply make even bigger ones. I will go and see it and I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
What do you think? Leave a comment.