Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

We all know that Peter Parker never has much luck with the ladies, but on the big screen, his love is smoldering! Who would have guessed that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a romantic comedy? The second entry in Sony Pictures’ second Spider-Man series is all about the love shared between an arachnid boy and his high school sweetheart. Sure there are a couple of super-villains thrown in for good measure, but that’s just what you have to deal with when you’re dating the Amazing Spider-Man!

Movie Rating: 8/10 – Very Good.

I don’t mind at all that Sony Pictures wants to make a mega-franchise out of their Amazing Spider-Verse. As far as I’m concerned, director Mark Webb and actor Andrew Garfield absolutely get Spider-Man. They get the humanity. They get the drama. They get the pure thrill of being Spider-Man. They seem awkwardly obsessed with Peter Parker’s dad, but that can be forgiven when the rest of their movies are so good!

I loved the first Amazing Spider-Man movie, and praised it for the nuanced, personable portrayal of Peter Parker. The same focus on Peter returns for the sequel, and once again I have to point out that the young Andrew Garfield is light years beyond Tobey Maguire in not just his skill as an actor, and his range, but just in how he embodies the character. Garfield easily carries the film, injecting Peter and Spidey with the right amount of humor and love for his family and fellow man. He’s joined by a returning Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, who just lights up the whole film whenever she’s on screen. The chemistry between the two actors is some of the best I have ever seen in film or television, and they really do make this movie into more of a love story than a superhero flick.

But it’s also, definitely, a superhero movie. And while those elements aren’t the strongest part of the film, they are still highly enjoyable. Like I said, Garfield is fantastic as Spider-Man, especially in costume. Not only is he legitimately funny, but he has such a great rapport with pretty much everyone he meets. The special effects are also top notch. The web-slinging is wildly fun and the fight scenes are pretty epic, but I would have to say that the movie’s trio of new villains – Electro, Green Goblin and Rhino – don’t live up to expectations. All three are solidly portrayed and fulfill their roles in the film, but they never amount to much themselves beyond giving Spidey something to do in costume.

But even if the villains are kind of clunky, and even if this film uses one of my most hated fiction tropes of all time, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 succeeds on the strengths of Spidey and his love story alone. Who would have thunk it?

Join me after the jump for the full review! I will try to keep SPOILERS to a minimum!

The new film opens some time after the first one left off, with Spider-Man now an established fixture in New York City. The Daily Bugle thinks he’s a menace, but a lot of people in the Big Apple love the wall-crawler, including the police. When he’s not out web-slinging, Peter Parker mostly spends his time fretting over his relationship with Gwen Stacy. They’re madly in love with each other, but the promise Peter made to her dad in the last movie – to keep her safe by staying away from her – still haunts him.

And therein lies the crux of the film. Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a love story, and that aspect of the film is great. Garfield and Stone have the most fantastic chemistry!

And he’s only slightly smarmy about it

They were great together in the first film, and they flawlessly carry that over into this sequel. Their back and forth, “complicated” relationship just gets more and more adorable with each scene they share. Whoever wrote their dialogue deserves some kind of special recognition. It sounds so natural coming from the two of them. It probably helps that they’re a real couple in real life. Garfield and Stone just work together. It’s a thing of beauty. And they work together to save the day too. Unlike Mary Jane in the first trilogy, Gwen Stacy isn’t just a damsel in distress. She gets her hands dirty and actually lends Spider-Man a hand. I thought that was a fantastic role for her to play. Gwen gets involved, and you can’t help but fall in love with Stone. She’s a dream. Her charm, wit and intelligence are on full display. Stone’s Gwen Stacy is just such a fully realized character. She may be the best female lead in any superhero film I’ve seen.

Take that, Dr. Chase Meridian!

I think Andrew Garfield’s performance is my favorite part of the movie, both as Peter Parker and Spider-Man. He just has such an amazing rapport with everyone in the film. His relationship with Gwen carries the movie, but he also does a great job as best pal to Harry Osborn, and there are several really strong scenes with Aunt May. Garfield can be both playfully humorous and touchingly tender. Tobey Maguire never had nearly this kind of range. Garfield also does a great job as Spider-Man, something I never thought Maguire pulled off. Garfield’s Spidey is funnier, friendlier and more in touch with the common man. He gets along well with the police, he legitimately tries to be pals with Elector and talk him down when they first meet, and there are a couple of scenes with a cute kid that really warmed my heart.

I’m happy to say that Garfield and Stone carry the movie with ease. It’s a delightful film because of the two of them.

But there are some parts of it that I didn’t care for, the biggest of which is the completely unnecessary mystery about Peter Parker’s father. Webb tried to tease the developments in the first film, and they were dumb. Well now Peter learns all of Richard Parker’s secrets, and they encompass one of my most hated fiction tropes of all time. I will be SPOILING this, so be careful.

Peter finds out that his father invented the spider experiment that gave Peter his powers. And Richard Parker fiddled with the human/spider hybrid DNA so that the experiment would only work on himself or someone of his bloodline. So Peter Parker, the common man hero who stumbled into his super-powers, was always pre-determined to become Spider-Man through no action of his own. I hate this trope.

Don’t thank me, thank my dad!

They did it in the TV show Chuck. They’re going to do it in How to Train Your Dragon 2. It’s infuriating. These shows and movies start with a main character who is supposed to represent the common everyman, and this person gains powers or skills that they then put to good use. That’s a great story. But then the writers decide that apparently it’s not good enough, and they retcon the origin so that the main character’s parents somehow had a hand in giving them the power or skill. Why can’t the main character stand on his or her own? Why can’t their decisions be their own? Why can’t the thing that makes them special – be it spider-powers or dragon-riding – be their own, unique thing?

When you alter their origin so that their parents gave them their powers or skills, then the main character is no longer the common everyman. They are now a legacy, and the thing that makes them special, the whole reason we want to watch them, is no longer their own.

In the case of Spider-Man specifically, suddenly the story is all about how Peter Parker got his powers, not so much what he does with them. But how Peter Parker got his powers doesn’t matter. He could get them in a cereal box for all it really matters. What’s important in the story of Peter Parker is that he uses them to become Spider-Man and help people. That’s why we watch. Not to uncover his father’s unnecessary hidden past.

It’s kind of telling that Uncle Ben doesn’t appear in Amazing Spider-Man 2 and only really gets mentioned once. But now that I’ve given it some thought, I think it’s for the best. The first Spider-Man trilogy focused really hard on Uncle Ben, the Daily Bugle and Peter’s poor study habits in college. This new franchise mentions all of those things, but only in passing. I think that was a smart move so that this new franchise doesn’t dwell on the same subjects as the old one…but at the same time, that’s why we have this storyline with Peter’s dad. Webb wanted something new, but he ended up muddying the waters.

Alright, enough about all of that stuff. What about the bad guys?

Let’s get the Rhino out of the way first. Forget whatever expectations you may have had for the Rhino based on the movie’s marketing. The Rhino’s role is about equal to that of the Underminer in The Incredibles. In fact, if you’ve seen the trailer that heavily features the Rhino, then you’ve pretty much seen his entire part. But that’s not a bad thing. Some critics might say that Amazing Spider-Man 2 is overloaded with villains, but I actually think this was the absolute most perfect way to use the Rhino. Spider-Man has a whole laundry list of B and C-list villains who could never hold an entire film of their own, but would be perfect to spice up a fight scene or two.

Want a big action set piece to start your movie but don’t want to use your main villain yet? Throw in the Shocker or Boomerang or Rhino. It expands the movie’s roster of available villains and gives the fans another fun cameo.

He’s a hungry, hungry rhino

Of course, this minor role is an absolute waste of actor Paul Giamatti. When I heard he’d been cast as the Rhino, I was very excited, because he’s a great actor and I thought the film might try to give the Rhino some depth. Nope! Giamatti does little more than shout threats in an over-the-top Russian accent while Spider-Man beats him up. Though I will say that the Rhino’s big scene is probably my favorite scene from the movie, in the way it uses the Rhino to showcase Spider-Man’s effect on the people of New York. As often repeated throughout the film, Spidey brings people hope, and in this instance, it’s the hope that somebody will stop the rampaging, rhinoceros robot!

Spidey also has to stop the giant, electrical man too. And the Green Goblin. Admittedly, there are a lot of villains in this film, but I don’t think they overwhelm the movie at all. They each serve a specific purpose, and they serve it well. We have been conditioned to believe that, in superhero movies, the villain makes the movie. And while that is certainly true in a lot of instances, it’s not the case in these Amazing Spider-Man flicks.

These movies are about Spider-Man. And that’s exactly how it should be.

Glory hog

In fact, this movie treats its villains more like the Spider-Man comics than any Spidey movie so far. So what the heck are we complaining about? In the comics, Spidey has this big pool of villains who pop in and out of his life depending on the story. Every once and awhile, the story is about the villain, and those have been some very good stories. But the comics are about Spider-Man. The villains are often interchangeable. There’s a whole mess of them available to the writers, and not all of them have some grand, personal relationship to the Web-slinger. And that’s kind of the feeling I got from this new movie.

Electro is, arguably, the big marquee villain of this film. He was the one they announced at the very beginning, and he’s gotten most of the press. But Electro is probably going to be the least memorable villain in any of these Spidey films. Electro doesn’t really have any connection to Spider-Man or Peter Parker. He doesn’t have any lessons to teach the Wall-Crawler. He’s just the bad guy, and he does bad things, and Spider-Man has to stop him. Like I said earlier, Electro and his bad guy status exist to remind Peter and Gwen that he’s got to do his superhero thing every once and awhile.

Electro: Moment Killer

If Rhino is like the Underminer, then Electro is like the Riddler in Batman Forever…but that’s not as bad as it sounds. Jamie Foxx plays Max Dillon as a caricature of a science dweeb, right down to the thick glasses, pocket protector and combover. It’s just like Jim Carrey’s overly dorky Edward Nygma. Then, just like in Batman Forever, Max has an unfortunate, rather cartoony accident and he becomes a super-villain. The comparisons stop after that, though. Whereas Carrey went off the rails zany, Foxx’s Electro is dark and menacing throughout. Foxx’s Max Dillon is a little silly, but he is a real threat as Electro. They try to give him some motivation about no longer wanting to be ignored, but it’s not important. Electro is Electro and he does bad guy things, and he does them well.

Electro actually kind of serves as the muscle for Harry Osborn, the Green Goblin. And he definitely works in that role.

Harry’s Green Goblin is a little underdeveloped for my tastes. Or maybe he was too quickly developed. I think he would have benefited from debuting in the first film in a small role as Peter’s best friend, only to emerge as the villain in this sequel. As it stands, Harry Osborn just shows up in the movie, reconnects for a scene or two with his pal, Peter Parker, and then is almost immediately set on the course to become the Green Goblin. His eventual villainous turn is obvious from the get-go, because actor Dane DeHaan is sickeningly creepy and sinister from the very first moment you see him.

Maybe it just comes naturally to him

The emotional connection that should exist from Spider-Man battling his best friend is never really established. And the journey to becoming the Green Goblin takes most of the film, so when he does appear at the end in full costume, it’s kind of sudden and rushed. There isn’t enough time to appreciate the transformation or his turn into a costumed villain, let alone the general coolness of his Goblin Glider.

Remember that quick scene in the trailer where we saw Doctor Octopus’ tentacles and the Vulture’s wing suit in some secret Oscorp lab? Yeah, right next to those is both the Green Goblin armor/glider and the Rhino suit. So basically, all of these super-villains are pre-made. There’s nothing really interesting about how or why they get their costumes/weapons. They’re all just kind of sitting there in a closet waiting to be put on. It makes Harry’s transformation into the Green Goblin less interesting because the armor, the glider and the weaponry is all just something he thought looked cool in the Oscrop files. All of this should at least make the Sinister Six movie easier to pull off – and yes, the movie does end with a teaser towards that film. No word on Venom yet.

Like I said above, I have no problem with Sony trying to turn Spider-Man into a bigger franchise. There are a lot of critics out there who didn’t like this film, but as a die-hard Spider-Man and comic book fan, I loved it. I think Garfield’s Spider-Man is leaps and bounds better than Tobey Maguire’s. I love the realism injected into this new franchise. But this isn’t a grittier or darker set of movies. It was a little bit in the first film, but that has been replaced in the sequel with a lighter, almost cartoony touch, which has the added benefit of transforming the movies into a closer representation of the comic books.

Not every movie villain has to be some epic, tragic story that ties nicely into that of the heroes. Sometimes Spider-Man just has to fight guys who are evil jerks. That’s why Spider-Man does what he does, because the world is full of evil jerks. The new Amazing Spider-Man franchise succeeds because it puts the focus firmly on Peter Parker. He is the star of these films, not the latest villain of the week.

Making Peter Parker the focus is exactly why the character of Spider-Man is so beloved, and why his comics have stood the test of time. And now it’s also the reason why this new movie franchise is so amazing.

——————–

What did you henchmen and henchmen think of the movie? Are you loving the new franchise? Hating it? Do you wish Tobey Maguire would just come back? Let me know in the comments! And try to avoid spoilers if you can!

About Sean Ian Mills

Hello, this is Sean, the Henchman-4-Hire! By day I am a mild-mannered newspaper reporter in Central New York, and by the rest of the day I'm a pretty big geek when it comes to video games, comic books, movies, cartoons and more.

Posted on May 4, 2014, in Marvel, Movies, Reviews, Spider-Man and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Was more of a 6.5 for me.

    • That’s fair. What didn’t you like about it?

      • How they used Rhino, since he was in the poster and I thought he’d be really cool but he turned out to be an idiot with a terrible accent. I think they could have done Emma’s death better, and the Goblin was lame after he transformed. Electro was meh, and his superpower origin could have been better. (Electric eels? Really?) Should ahve been called ”Spidey and his Underdeveloped villains”
        I liked Emma Stone as Gwen though, thought she did a great job.

      • I’ll admit the Rhino was a blithering idiot…but I rather liked how small his role turned out to be. Spidey has a ton of villains who could be used in such small roles.

  2. The music was the best part. When you watch it again at some point, pay attention to the music. They do amazing things with it.

    • Oh yeah, I definitely noticed. Some really good tracks in there. I especially liked Elector’s Itsy Bitsy Spider moment in the big climactic battle. And some good stuff while Peter was putting his diorama together.

  3. The film wasn’t painful to watch. But what did it mean? Where was the theme? It was a good, action-packed story with much spidey-love and brilliant chemistry between Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield, but was it a good movie?

    I’d hold this film up against Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man 2 for the sake of the argument. Spider-Man 2 boasted smaller names: J.K. Simmons, Alfred Molina and Rosemary Harris as the supporting characters; versus Jaime Fox and Sally Field.

    Molina was hammy as a villain, at points both absurdly silly and altogether dangerous. But his character remained relatable, and even likeable compared to Fox’s overarching, under-characterized menace as Electro.

    I like Sally Field as a skilled character actress, but she never served any purpose in the film other than to take care of Garfield’s Peter Parker and to illuminate some of the mystery behind his parents’ disappearance. Rosemary Harris went far deeper than that, her Aunt May bearing the guilt of Ben’s death almost as much as Peter did. She was a deep, complex character who not only gave wonderful monologues, but also acted as Peter’s rock. In an uncertain world, she was perhaps the only person who would always be there for Peter, no matter what.

    What do we actually know about any of the characters’ personal lives in this new Spider-Man? We know that Peter’s parents died as the victims of an Oscorp conspiracy, but what else?

    Tobey’s Peter was so relatable in Spider-Man 2 not because he was handsome or charming or charismatic: It was because, outside of the costume, life was hard. Garfield’s typical teenage flamboyance doen’t apply in a world of bills, rent and the constant job in-security that Spider-Man’s crime-fighting life presented.

    All we really know about Garfield’s Spider-Man is that he lives with his aunt and has no job. He can afford to spend his time chasing criminals, and it isn’t as big an effort for him as it was for Maguire’s Peter Parker.

    This is where I come back to theme. What was Amazing Spider-Man 2 about? The film was so rushed that you never really got a sense for it; except perhaps the old, familiar themes that “you can’t outrun your past,” and that there is a heavy price to pay for being Spider-Man.

    Maguire’s Spider-Man 2 had one central theme: Dual identities, living two lives, and the monumental decision as to which one the hero should keep, and which should be abandoned. There were real stakes in this philosophical question, and the film handled it monumentally well.

    To sum up, I think that the Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a very fun film with a lot of great things going for it. But was it a good film, or even the best Spider-Man film in terms of layering and deeper meaning for the character? I would have to say that it wasn’t.

    • No one is saying it was the best Spider-Man film. But I would argue that at least one of the theme of Amazing Spider-Man 2 was about the sacrifices one makes for love. Peter had to learn what he was willing to sacrifice for a future of loving Gwen Stacy. I guess…huh, now that I think about it, maybe that wasn’t such a big theme.

      Still, I would definitely say this movie chose not to focus on Peter’s job/rent problems because the first films had already done so. This new trilogy is trying to find new things to talk about instead of just retreading the same beats and themes of the last trilogy. I can’t fault them for that, even if it does take away key Spider-Man themes like the guilt over Uncle Ben or his crappy luck and living conditions.

  1. Pingback: Despite the Mockery, I Stand By My Enjoyment of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 | Henchman-4-Hire

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: