Super-heroes are grounded firmly in fantasy, but even they sometimes need to wake up to reality. Flying through the air, hi-tech gadgets, superhuman strength, foiling criminals, rescuing women and children’it all seems quite glamorous and fun until someone gets hurt. That’s one of the ideas explored in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and it’s an idea that the film handles quite adeptly, when’that is’the movie calms down enough to get a little introspective. With great power comes great responsibility, as famously said to Peter Parker before he decided to put on the spandex to climb walls, spin webs, and fight crime.
Maybe the filmmakers should have taken heed and been more responsible with their storytelling power.
Disney/Marvel have created a massive, self-contained universe with their Avengers characters. Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow Hawkeye and Captain America all live and exist in the same cinematic universe. They cross over into each other’s movies with relative ease. The actors have been carefully chosen for these roles. Story threads dropped in one movie are picked up in another. As guided by Marvel Studios (and it’s parent company, Walt Disney), the Avengers universe is established and’best of all’growing. Non-Disney Marvel characters such as Spider-Man (who did interact with the Avengers in the comics) end up getting the short end of the stick. The makers of The Amazing Spider-Man franchise want a self-contained universe all their own, but they haven’t done the heavy lifting over a period of several films. A better route to go would be to simply tell a brand new Spider-Man story every few years. Unfortunately, instead of telling a self-contained story for this Spider-Man sequel, the filmmakers attempt to cram enough exposition to bleed over into an inevitable third installment. That’s good for those who just want to use The Amazing Spider-Man 2 as a stand-by until The Amazing Spider-Man 3 rolls around. That’s not so good for those of us who just want a good story, well told.
Sequels are already hard enough to pull off successfully. Reboots of previously successful franchises are even trickier. Not only is the original (and by original I mean the Spider-Man trilogy from the 2000s) Spider-Man 2 one of the best superhero movies ever made, but the original The Amazing Spider-Man reboot from 2012 was’in my opinion’a major let-down when compared to director Sam Raimi’s dazzling original. For The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the filmmakers needed to take their lead character’Peter Parker (still played with smart-aleck charm by Andrew Garfield)’in new, different and bold directions (see the original Spider-Man 2 for how to do that effectively). Instead, director Marc Webb (a guy named Webb directs two Spider-Man movies, go figure) and his writers resolve some dangling plot threads from the previous movie, introduce three’count em’three major villains, and try to move forward the blossoming romance between Parker and his high-school sweet-heart Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone, with plenty of spunk to spare). Given the several different story threads being followed at once’some of which don’t even get any resolution here’any character development gets smothered under all of the exposition. The Amazing Spider-Man 2‘in the end’is too plot-heavy for it’s own good. This is a rare occurrence in which another sequel is needed to make this one more tolerable.
On the plus side, some of the drama works. The inner turmoil experienced by our hero involves Parker’s promise to Gwen’s dying father in the first film. He vows to keep her safe by breaking off their relationship, but’young love being what it is and all’the two find it near-impossible to part ways. Garfield sells the conflicting emotions well, and with Stone he has an able foil (the two actors are romantically involved behind the cameras as well, and the chemistry manages to translate to the finished film well enough). Peter finally decides that he need not sacrifice his relationship with Gwen in order to carry on fighting crime. Being a super-hero means making enemies’LOTS of enemies, but it’s a reality that Gwen and Peter finally are at peace with. This decision carries with it some unintended consequences, ending the film on a dark yet hopeful note.
There are some positive messages that can be discerned amidst the flashy visuals and hyper-kinetic action. Peter’s relationship with his Aunt May (Sally Field) is given some nice moments. Peter’s father’seen here only in flashbacks and on recorded video’confesses his love and devotion to his son. Peter’s conflicting emotions always find a positive resolution; he stays the course even though the cost of doing the right thing ends up being much higher than he could ever have imagined. We like our heroes to not only remain steadfast and strong, but also sacrifice and’sometimes’even hurt. Whatever doesn’t kill Peter Parker ultimately makes him stronger, and more resolved. Thankfully, the film doesn’t let us forget why we like Peter in the first place. Sure, he’s young and occasionally cocky, but he has what many his age don’t have: integrity and character.
The best super-hero tales never get so fantastical as to make us forget about the characters. The derring-do is fun to watch and it’s obvious that Spider-Man’during those times’just loves being Spider-Man. Of course, being Spider-Man can also’at times’royally suck. Over the course of this sequel, it becomes obvious that when Peter Parker signed up to be a super-hero, nobody told him how much it might cost. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ends on that particular note, and that’s an unexpected maturing of Peter Parker and of the franchise in general. It’s a shame that everything leading up to the final third of the movie is so busy, frenetic, and haphazardly structured. While I would say it’s a (slight) improvement over the first The Amazing Spider-Man, this sequel ends up setting up a third movie much more effectively than it holds its own as an individual piece of entertainment.
For a different perspective on the film, read this review from Marcus Pittman.