The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man seemed to most like an unnecessary reboot. The train fell off the tracks in Sam Raimi’s third Spider-Man movie, and Sony chose to reboot. I think The Amazing Sider-Man got a lot of things right, but had its flaws as well. Andrew Garfield is well cast as Spidey, but I’m not convinced that he is a great Peter Parker. He just seems to have so much going for him. I don’t see him as the unpopular kid in school. All that aside, the movie was a victim of unfortunate timing. It was sandwiched between The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. If thats not a recipe for fatigue, I’m not sure what is. The sequel is timed a bit better, early in the summer. I’m not sure they planned on Captain America doing so well, but it was still the web crawler’s job to open the summer blockbuster season.

So how did he do?

Warning: What followed is a spoiler-filled post on The Amazing Spider-Man 2. If you haven’t it yet, you probably should. 

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Its a flawed movie, but it isn’t terrible. Its fun, and an improvement from the last movie.

I believe that people are facing the challenge of watching The Amazing Spider-Man 2 without thinking of the outside context it lives in. First, people are having a hard time with the quick reboot from a very successful franchise.  Second, hard-core fans want Spider-Man to be included in the Marvel cinematic universe. Many fans believe that Marvel's historically popular characters that should be hanging out with The Avengers. Additionally, Marvel Studios has changed what people look for in a big-budget superhero movie. The bar has been raised, and movies outside of that universe have had trouble connecting with audiences. Lastly, as I often do, I think the marketing of The Amazing Sider-Man 2 did more harm than good. Why did the creators let fans get so worked up about three villains in the movie when Rhino and Green Goblin were hardly in it? Too many villains often leads to a bad super hero movie, so why not downplay the additional characters? We know that Harry Osborn will go green eventually, there is no need to point it out so clearly. 

Speaking of Harry, the usage of the Osborn family in this movie makes little sense to me. Why kill off Norman Osborn so early? We really don’t get to know this version of the character. Of course, we don’t get to know Harry very well either. He’s quickly introduced here, leading his relationship with Peter to feel forced. As the story unfolds, I don’t feel the betrayal between the two characters. It feels like the writers decided to hit fast forward on the series, attempting to fit two movie’s worth of development into one. Also, isn’t is strange that Oscorp seems to be the root of all evil, but the Osborns seem to have so little control over it? I get the sense that the creators are trying so hard not to repeat anything from the first trilogy that they are cutting every connection they can. I can understand that to a degree, but it seems unnecessary. 

One of the new elements that has been added to this series is a focus on Peter’s parents. We get plenty new pieces to the puzzle that was introduce in the first movie. I think this has been an interesting mystery to tie in, but what is with Peter’s fluctuating interest in his parents? Why is he only obsessed with his dad? Its as if losing Uncle Ben means nothing to this version of our hero. The role of Uncle Ben is so critical for this character, and he seems to be left behind. Peter also seems to be done searching for Uncle Ben’s killer (unless we are supposed to forget about him until he shows up as The Vulture, or some other member of the Sinister Six). I was very interested when Peter found his dad’s secret lab, but it seems wasted. Peter finds the last video from his father, but then seems satisfied and never explores everything else in the lab. He has no use for his fathers files, especially that one from the last movie that was thrown back in his closet.

One of the strengths of this new franchise is the casting, and Sally Field as Aunt May is no exception. I just wish that the writers had a better idea of what do with her character.  I keep going back and forth as to whether or not Aunt May knows about Peter’s extracurricular activities. Its seems like there was a silent agreement between the two a the end of the last movie, but then she seems oblivious again. She seemed to know again at the end of this movie (“people sure miss that spider-guy…”, but then seems to be oblivious Is Aunt May frustrated in this movie because she feels like she isn't enough for Peter, or because she has no clue where Peter disappears to all the time? She never tries to get his laundry out of the closet? Really? I’m happy to suspend my disbelief, but it feels like the creators are trying to make Aunt May look stupid. Kudos to Sally Field for doing a great job as the character, making due with what she’s given.

For all of its problems, and there are many, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 contains some great web slinging action. Its clearly some of the best  detailed web slinging that we’ve seen. Electro’s confrontation in Times Square was quite fantastic. While Electro as a character seemed a bit thin, the effects looked great. Electro borrows a bit to Dr. Manhattan, and it works. It seems that the creators put time into the mechanics of each action scene. We saw an interesting variation of the Spider-Man’s age-old problem of running out of webs (or in this case, a busted web shooter). Bullet-time slow motion is quite overused these days, but it works well as a ways to show off our hero’s spider-sense as he saves a dozen people from electrocution on the stairway. 

Furthermore, I think this movie includes great treatments of elements beyond action. The relationship between Peter and Gwen felt real. One could nitpick elements, but the characters worked well together. I love that not only did Peter use science to beat Electro, he needed Gwen’s help from time to time (she was the valedictorian, after all). I also love Spider-Man’s relationship with New York. Yes, that shot of him wearing a fireman’s hat is cheesy, but there are some great moments that show our hero connecting with the people of the city. The final scene where Spider-Man thanks the boy for standing in for him turned out to be the strong feel-good moment we needed to end this story. 

What I can’t make up my mind on, is what I feel about Gwen Stacy’s death.

While the scene was dramatic, it felt a bit forced. The Green Goblin origin felt a bit rushed, and Gwen just barely made it across town in enough time to press that one button, and then stand in that perfect spot where she could be picked up. But thats ok, I can work with that. I knew what was coming, and our director, Mark Webb, knew that many of us were aware of the endgame. So he did a great job of building tension in a moment where comic-book fans knew the ending. This is where I have trouble. Were we being shown that Peter was doing everything he could to fight Harry and save Gwen, or were we being toyed with? Gwen fell, but was saved. She fell, only to be saved again. It built tension, but it I’m not sure that we needed it. We had invested enough time in the character, and there had been plenty of foreshadowing to build up the importance of that moment. 

I'm also torn about whether or not this movie is good for kids. I seen this advertised as kid-friendly, and I saw this on a Sunday night with a number of families in the audience. There were some great moments in the movie for young fans. I love how much Spider-Man interacted with kids, encouraging them to be great. He was clearly inspiring. This Spider-Man is a role model (usually). However, it's always hard for me to completely back something for kids when it has a gruesome death it. Maybe it's a good thing that the kids are exposed to a movie with a little bit of death but doesn't dwell on it. It may be worse to include glorified bloodless violence where people just disappear. Perhaps it's okay if Bambi's mom dies every once in a while. This just felt a little weird, perhaps a little too real. I don't know if  Gwen hitting her head on the concrete floor was better or worse than having her neck break. I don't know. What I do know, is that this is a defining story for Spider-man. It's good that they brought this to the big screen.

As morbid as it sounds, perhaps the death of Gwen Stacy will fix one of the overall problems I’ve had with this version of Peter Parker. Peter does’t seem to be weighed down by his problems. I’m missing that version of Spider-Man that just can’t win for losing. There are moments that support this character trait in the movie, but I just don’t feel like they’ve captured it. Perhaps I just miss having an inner-monalog to help me understand what our hero is thinking. Unfortunately, I fear that we will see more villains and plot points crammed in the third installment. Time will tell. I hope its good. We seem to be headed in the right general direction.

By the way, whats up with that X-Men clip in the end credits. X-Men and Spider-Man don’t live in the same cinematic universe? I thought the rights-holders of Marvel content weren’t willing to play in each others’ sandboxes. Will we see Sony and Fox team up to fight Disney? Likely not. Perhaps Sony made a deal to slap the scene on the end of the movie when they realized fans would expect a stinger. 

In the end, the creators did a great job in ending the movie exactly where it needed to. The world needs Spider-Man. We need the movie and on a high note. Sure, Peter’s live takes dark turns and he has rough times, but he gets through it. It's never long until we see Spider-Man swing into the air smiling, since you can never seem to keep him down for too long. Spider-Man laughs, he jokes. He isn't Batman. This movie got a lot right. It was supposed to be fun, and I believe that it was. Now, if only we could slow things down a bit. Here’s hoping that the series continues to improve (or the franchise returns to better caretakers).