A Look at The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Maybe it’s me, but looking at a work that’s inspired by a comic series where I’m heavily familiar with the source material, as is currently the case with AMC’s The Walking Dead, or in this case, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I find myself looking at this from two viewpoints: as a comic book fan and a guy who is aspiring to be an aspiring critic.  Or just a guy with an opinion on film, really.

I don’t think I’ve seen such polarizing opinions on a Spider-Man film since Spider-Man 3, but man, people are divided on this film.

Some believe it’s a great film, some call it their favorite Spider-Man or even Marvel film, and some call it the best superhero film of the year so far.  Given how barren the field is so far this year, that’s not saying much.  On the opposite spectrum, some hate the film for reasons such as a shoddy script and weak character motivations.

For me, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, at times, is a fun film with plenty of emotional drama, laughs and the pain that is living out a normal double life in New York City.  Such is the life of Peter Parker.  Like most sequels, the world established in the previous film feels bigger.  In this case, there’s a lot of setup for future films and villains.  The movie takes what the reboot established and builds on the complexities of interpersonal relationships, with mixed results.

As is always the case with Peter Parker, his inability to let go of people he loves clouds his judgment.  This all comes at a price of some awkward storytelling and, I’ll admit, some not too interesting or well thought out character motivations.  The movie has some great action set pieces and emphasizes how one person can put on a suit to inspire people.  This is what makes Spider-Man who he is and how he’s seen as a symbol of hope.

Let’s dive right in.  The film begins in the past, where Richard Parker makes a video that explains his disappearance and what people will say about him when he’s gone.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Richard Parker fights with pilot

On a plane ride later, Richard and Mary are ambushed by a man sent to assassinate Richard.  A fight breaks out and Mary is shot and killed in the process.  Though Richard gets to upload his video before more disaster can strike, no one is safe when the pilot is killed and the plane prepares for a crash landing.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Paul Giamatti as Aleksei Sytsevich

We then cut to the present, where Spider-Man does what a Spider-Man does best: chase after a stolen Oscorp truck filled with plutonium.  The hijacker himself is Aleksei Sytsevich, played by…Paul Giamatti of all people.  Really, Giamatti?  You had nothing else to do?

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Spidey saves Max Dillon, played by Jamie Foxx

During the chase, meek scientist Max Dillon, played by Jamie Foxx, is almost injured, but he’s saved by Spidey.  Hence forth, Dillon is Spidey’s eyes and ears.  What a perfect present.

Except Peter has somewhere else to be, like his own graduation.  Valedictorian Gwen Stacy delivers her address of living in the moment to the graduates.  Luckily, Peter shows up just in time, but the ghost of Denis Leary- I mean, Captain Stacy- haunts Peter, reminding him of his promise to leave Gwen alone.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Peter and Gwen break up

Peter tells Gwen about how hard it is for him to stay away from the girl he promised that he’d stay away from.  He’d want nothing more than to be with her, but he can’t because he doesn’t want something terrible to come her way.  We call that foreshadowing.  Gwen still loves Peter, but he won’t break his promise to Ghost Stacy, so the two break up.  For now, anyway.

After Aunt May reminds Peter that they don’t have a chimney, Peter finds his father’s briefcase, but tosses it instead of doing anything with it for the time being.  Plant that scene in the back of your mind.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Max Dillon's shrine to Spider-Man

Max Dillon, enthralled that he’s been saved by the one and only Spider Man, creates a shrine to the wall crawler.  So did Dillon just already have these photos of Spider-Man around or did he do some major clipping in a short amount of time?

On his way to work at Oscorp, the bumbling Dillon is ignored by almost everyone but Gwen Stacy, who must now lend her ears when Dillon expresses his admiration for Spider-Man.  Heck, at this point, Dillon’s just glad that Gwen remembered his name.  Max is very difficult to remember, don’t you know?

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Harry talks to a dying Norman Osborn

Elsewhere, a dying Norman Osborn, played by Chris Cooper, gets a visit from his son, Harry, played by Dane DeHaan.  They…don’t get along at all and the feeling is mutual all the way.  Norman insists that Harry threw away hiss potential, but it doesn’t help that he sent Harry to boarding school at the ripe age of 11.  What a dick.  Norman doesn’t expect Harry to forgive him, but to see the bigger picture: Harry’s childhood was sacrificed for something much greater.

At this point, Harry notices a twitching sensation in his hand.  He has the same genetic disease that’s currently killing Norman.  Norman does leave his son with a flash drive full of his life’s work.  Hey, any consolation prize will do.

Soon after, Norman Osborn passes.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Max Dillon about to tempt fate

Back at Oscorn, there’s a circuitry issue, but the technical operations employee can’t shut off the power.  Therefore, Max Dillon tries to reconnect the cords himself.  He does, but rather than something happening immediately after, it happens a few seconds after.  Dillon, for lack of better words, gets a shock and falls into a vat of eels.

Harry, now head of Oscorp, learns from the other higher-ups that because of Curt Connors’ incident, Oscorp is under heavy scrutiny- scrutiny that may fall onto Harry even though he’s unfamiliar with all of the details at this point.  Harry does know that he probably can’t trust any of his father’s workers, save for one, a young assistant named Felicia, played by Felicity Jones.  I don’t believe she’s given a last name in the film, but if it happens to be Hardy, I will be one very happy boy.  And I guess that means everyone in the world works at Oscorp

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Harry and Peter reconnect

Anyway, Harry leaves the meeting when he receives word that Peter Parker has arrived.  Indeed, Peter came to see how Harry was coping after Norman’s death.  Their talk is a bit awkward, given how it’s been eight years since they last met, but in no time at all, they’re talking like old friends and reconnect.  The two talk of their current situations: Peter is in a complicated situation with a girl, while Harry tried to forget everything about New York when he was sent away.

Dillon, meanwhile, springs back to life and leaves Oscorp.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Gwen and Peter try to be friends

Having spent his time with Harry, Peter meets up with Gwen, who has recently received a phone call from the scholars program at Oxford.  The two accept that they probably can’t be together, so they try to be friends instead.  Peter admits that he’s been following her when he patrols the city, as he can’t stand not being with her.  We call that stalking, Peter.  However, the two newly minted friends don’t get much time to reconnect, as Peter senses something amiss in the distance.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Max Dillon's transformation

Dillon makes his way through New York, trying to remain as incognito as possible while also setting off car alarms by his presence alone.  He eventually heads to Times Square and feeds off of the electricity, causing lights to go haywire.  Dillon’s now blue, Dr. Manhattan face appears all over nearby screens- he’s finally received the attention he craved.

He even attracts Spider-Man’s attention, though Spidey isn’t quick to remember who he assigned to be his eyes and ears.  Spidey tries to rationalize with Dillon, as he knows Dillon isn’t out to bring anyone harm.  However, when police officers open fire, Dillon lashes back in a rage, eventually short circuiting all of Times Square.  A battle ensues that ends with Spider-Man spraying Dillon with a hose.

After the battle, a fatigued Peter heads home and tosses his costume atop his father’s briefcase.  Then, for some strange reason, he decides to open it up and do some research on Roosevelt Station.  Why?  We’ll think about that later.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Irritation on Harry's neck

Harry, meanwhile, notices a growing irritation on his neck.  As he goes to scratch it, he drops Norman’s USB drive, which opens to reveal Easter eggs for future film installments-I mean information regarding Oscorp’s projects, including a video featuring both Richard Parker and Norman Osborn.

With his equipment mangled after the Times Square battle, Peter sets to work on fixing his web shooters.  In fact, he spends a good while repairing them when, the next day, he receives a phone call from Harry, who has also been up all night.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Harry tells Peter that he needs Spider-Man's blood

Harry is dying, but feels that Peter can save his life.  The spider blood that Richard and Norman worked on?  There’s a possibility that it could help cure diseases.  Granted, Richard and Norman never made it to human trials, but if the spider that bit the man who became Spider-Man worked wonders, there’s a chance that it could do the same for Harry.  He needs Spider-Man’s blood.  And Peter, being the man who takes pictures of Spider-Man, is just the guy who can help bring Spidey to Harry.  Will he?

Well, see the film and find out for yourself, because that’s where we’ll stop with the plot.

Again, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is very ambitious with what it wants to do.  The film has some substance and good character moments, primarily helped, again, through great performances by Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone.  The production and tone of the film are a lot more vibrant and New York feels livelier than the previous movie, as if we’re getting a glimpse of what the city is like with Spider-Man around to give people hope.

Peter’s life is busier than before and while the score does help portray that busyness, I personally don’t find the score as memorable as Danny Elfman’s work.  That’s not to say the score in this film is bad, but I certainly can’t recall any memorable pieces of music.

Peter’s character arc builds on where he ended up at the end of the first film, promising Captain Stacy that he would leave Gwen out of his life to ensure her safety.  While I wish the film had picked a better way to portray this instead of coming across as heavy handed, I did like seeing Peter frustrated with the fact that he couldn’t be with the woman he loved.

He resists being with her at first, yet he’s always watching her from afar, which shows his inability to remove himself from her life.  He wants her away because horrible things could happen to her, because Peter Parker’s friends and family end up paying the price for being associated with him, whether in the comics, films, television shows or any other medium.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Aunt May and Peter at graduation

I enjoyed Peter’s relationship with Aunt May.  I like Sally Field as an actress, but, and I hate that I’m constantly comparing this to the Raimi series, but I think Rosemary Harris had the more memorable performance.  Field doesn’t do a bad job.  In fact, she’s playing an Aunt May that’s close to her Ultimate counterpart, whereas Harris’ Aunt May was more traditional.  She’s given some great banter moments with Peter, like when she tells Peter that they don’t have a chimney that he just cleaned or when Peter calls her the Laundry Sheriff when she won’t let him do his laundry at that particular time.  I understand May’s reasoning for withholding information from Peter: she’s his boy now and only his.  She’s overprotective because she cares.  I just wish the information she kept from him was more interesting, but I’ll get into that later.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Max Dillon in elevator with Gwen Stacy

Jamie Foxx does a good job with some of the material he’s given, though I can’t sympathize with him as a character.  He wants to be recognized in a world that treats him as invisible and he idolizes the man who he’ll soon come to hate.

Jim Carrey as Edward Nygma

All the reviews I’ve read and seen that compared this version of Max Dillon to Jim Carrey’s Edward Nygma from Batman Forever aren’t too far off.

Batman Forever- Riddler's Lair

Hell, Dillon’s shrine to Spider-Man is even similar looking to Nygma’s lair.  But I personally don’t sympathize with a character just because they’re an introvert that craves attention.  Also, he goes from wanting attention to wanting a world without Spider-Man just because Spidey didn’t remember his name?  Kind of a lame motivator, Dillon.

I’m also not a fan of the contrived way Dillon ends up in the vat of eels.  It felt too reminiscent of the accident that turned Victor Fries into Mr. Freeze in Batman and Robin. Luckily, the only cornball line I could remember is when Dillon talked about wanting to light his candles.  I do wish the writers had a better way for Dillon to land on the name “Electro,” but it’s not a major problem since the name isn’t used all that often after that.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Electro in suit

Foxx plays it straight despite the goofiness of the role and looks great when he becomes Electro, butI just wish I had a better understanding of his motivation.  He thinks Spider-Man lied to him and intentionally forgot his name, but just before that, he was willing to listen to reason and talk things out.

I suppose his anger is justified if it’s directed at the people at Ravencroft trying to control him, but his anger goes beyond that because, again, he wants a world without Spider-Man.  Dillon had the potential to be a larger threat, but the film demanded more than that.  As such, he goes from becoming the main threat to a mid level boss that exists as Harry’s flunkie.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborn

And this is where I segue onto Harry Osborn himself.  Dane DeHaan himself also gives a fine performance.  It shares some similarities with what James Franco did with the role, in that he still has issues with a negligent father.  Harry’s motivation is desperation: he’s dying and will do anything to survive.  When Harry speaks to Norman about his lost childhood, it felt like he Norman threw him under the bus for his own purposes.

I’m not a giant fan of the fact that we as an audience should just accept that Harry and Peter have been friends for a long time, even though Harry, I believe, was not referenced at all in the last film.  Yet I find their friendship believable.  They reminisce about old times like they really have been separated for years.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Harry at secret projects zone

Harry’s desperation clouds his judgment.  When he chooses to use the spider venom on himself, he’s taking his life in his own hands, damn the consequences.  Not a smart choice, but hey, I give him points for trying.  Harry’s problem is that he has few people on his side: aside from Felicia, he can’t trust almost anyone at Oscorp and if the company’s secrets got out, he’d be blamed since he’s the face of Oscrop.  And now that he and Peter know each other’s identities, that sets them up for clashes down the road if Harry is still able to transform, but I’ll get into that later.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Peter and Gwen hide in closet

The almost universal positive I’ve heard about this film involves the performances by the leads, and I can’t argue against that.  From the ways they look at each other to pointing out each other’s little ticks, or how they agree that hiding in a closet is cliché, Peter and Gwen are as charming together as they were in the first film.

Sure, being a real life couple could play a part in that, but Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone just come off as genuine through their performances, almost as if they aren’t acting, but being a couple.  Their chemistry really is the strongest part of this film.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy

Peter and Gwen’s desire to be together is their undoing.  Gwen took a chance to leave Peter’s life by accepting the offer at Oxford, but she’s blinded by her love for Peter.  That’s not out of character, but it’s indicative of how these two don’t grasp how dangerous their lives will be as long as they are together.  They choose each other, but troubles will also choose the two of them.

Spider-Man 2- Peter tells Mary Jane that he doesn't love her

I’m reminded of the café scene in Spider-Man 2 where Peter told Mary Jane that he didn’t love her.  He lied, but he did it to keep her safe.  In the end, Mary Jane chose to be with him despite the consequences.  Gwen Stacy does the same here because she can’t live that kind of ‘will they, won’t they’ life.  Thank the heavens, because the audience can only stomach that for so long.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Valedictorian Gwen Stacy

I liked seeing Gwen grow from the previous film to this one, such as her being selected to attend Oxford.  Emma Stone gives Gwen Stacy a great personality: she’s confident and intelligent, but she’s also there when Peter needs emotional support.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Crispy Peter Parker

Then there’s Peter, who is charming both in and out of the costume.  Andrew Garfield has really grown into the role and feels very comfortable as Spider-Man.  He’s jokey and making more quips during battle.  Not a lot, but it’s a small step up from the last film.  Not at the level of, say, Spectacular Spider-Man yet.  One example: after Electro proclaims he’ll be a god, Peter replies “A god named Sparkles?”

I had as much fun watching Spider-Man swing through the city as I did with Tobey Maguire in the Raimi films.  Spider-Man is seen as a real hero to the people because he gives them hope.  More than that, this is a Peter Parker who feels more involved than the previous one.

The key word is proactive.  One criticism I’ve had with the Raimi films, and I know I’m not alone on this, is how Peter Parker didn’t do a lot of investigation when looking into his foes.  I get that Spider-Man isn’t Batman, but some effort goes into being a superhero.  You can’t just expect the villains to come to you.  The scripts for the Raimi films didn’t make Peter all that hands-on, but that’s not Tobey Maguire’s fault.

But the writers here have a clear grasp of how to make Peter Parker proactive.  We see him doing things like working on his web shooters, researching Roosevelt Station and actually meeting Harry Osborn in costume to warn him about the spider-venom.  He gets involved because he knows his enemies will come after him.  Like in Spider-Man 2, we see how hectic his life has become.

Well, not really.  We hear of it, but I’ll address that later, as this film more about Peter’s interpersonal relationships than it is about trying to maintain a balance between hero and student.  But the little things, like rescuing a bullied school student and hearing how divided the public is on Spider-Man shows that, despite the backlash he receives, he’s still able to inspire hope.

So now I’ll get into my issues with the film, and this is where we delve into spoiler territory.  First off, the matter of Peter’s parents: the flashback we get at the beginning of the film and Aunt May telling Peter about how people planned to slander Richard’s name, those scenes I have no issue with.  It’s Peter’s lack of motivation for doing research on his parents that I take issue with.  Why does he?  For the longest time he pushes Richard’s briefcase about in lieu of other matters, but all of a sudden, after his first battle with Electro, for no reason whatsoever, Peter starts looking into the mystery of his parents.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Peter in secret lab in Roosevelt Station

Furthermore, Richard Parker’s video, uploaded to Oscorp’s own server, just happened to go unnoticed all this time?  Given the lengths Oscorp went to wipe out Max Dillon’s existence to save its own butt, I find it difficult to swallow the idea that they somehow missed the video that Richard Parker made about Oscorp’s secrets.

And how did Oscorp forget about Roosevelt Station?  They built the damn hidden facility, but forgot about it?  No explanation given for that one.  And Oscorp is always very meticulous when it comes to safeguarding its secrets, so I can’t just chalk this one up to an oversight.  And most of what we learn isn’t all that revealing except for what happened with Parker’s blood.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Harry as Green Goblin

I personally don’t have as big of an issue as some do with Harry becoming the Green Goblin before his father, but it does really feel like an afterthought.  Harry literally swoops in at the last moment after Electro’s defeat.  I mean, I understand if you wanted to have the Goblin to carry out Gwen’s symbolic death, but I just felt it was a bit too early.

Have Harry established in this film and still show he’s dying, but then leave the door open for him to become the Green Goblin later.  I do wonder if Norman’s really dead, though.  I mean, the venom did do something for Harry, and I don’t think Norman would just sit around and let himself expire without doing something to save himself.

Plus, we saw funerals for both Captain and Gwen Stacy, but nothing for Norman.  I could be speculating, but we’ll see in the next film how this plays out.

During the battle with Electro, Gwen aids Peter because she knows about the grid.  All right, what the actual hell?  I get that Gwen is valedictorian-level smart and works at Oscorp, but how would she possibly know that?  She’s just a student.  I imagine there are probably some folks at Oscorp who probably don’t even know that.  It felt like a way just to get Gwen to Peter to set up their final moment.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Emma Stone wearing same outfit that Gwen died in

And then we’ve got the big moment.  Coming into this film, it was clear that Gwen Stacy was on her way out.  This is one of Peter’s main problems in any medium: he makes the wrong decisions at the wrong times, so someone he loves will suffer for it.

However, the film gave no indication that it would be a direct translation of Amazing Spider-Man #121, so you’re left wondering how this would play out.  However, the fact that Emma Stone in the movie is wearing pretty much the same outfit that Gwen wore when she died in the comics hinted that her end was near.

As Gwen is on her way out, she sees that Peter has webbed “I Love You” on the bridge and makes her way back to him.  After his promise to Captain Stacy, Peter could just not leave well enough alone and let Gwen leave his life.  His love for her proves to lead to her downfall.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Harry arrives between Peter and Gwen

So after Electro is beaten, Peter and Gwen reunite, but in comes Harry.  One look at the two and Goblin has it all figured out.  So, he takes Gwen, but it still looks like Peter could still save Gwen.  She’s falling through the clock tower that reminded me too much of Tick Tock Clock from Super Mario 64.  So she’s falling, falling, Peter sends webs after her, and the moment the gear spins one more time and we enter slow motion, we know that we’re about to experience The Night Gwen Stacy Died.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Gwen hanging onto webbing

And when Gwen’s body hits the ground and you hear that ‘thud,’ you know it’s over.  And outside, the clock reads 1:21.  Nice touch.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Peter at Gwen's grave

Peter standing outside Gwen’s grave for days at a time was a great image.  Like the death of Uncle Ben, Gwen Stacy’s death in the comics was a big deal because, at the time, it was unheard of to kill off such a key character, especially the main character’s love interest.  Here, Peter’s special lady died because, even though Captain Stacy told him not to, he wanted to keep Gwen in his life, despite the dangers.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Hall of Secret Projects

Then there’s this moment, where the mystery man walks through the hall of Easter eggs-I mean, hall of secret projects.  Here’s a difference between Marvel films like Spider-Man, X-Men and Fantastic Four compared to Marvel Studios’ films, from Iron Man to Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  Spider-Man exists in his own universe, so the only winks and nods can be related to this particular franchise, as far as I know.  It’s harder to surprise anyone compared to the Marvel Studios’ films since they can grab from different properties that are a part of their shared universe.

Sinister Six

This is from a marketing point of view, but I feel this scene shouldn’t have been in the trailer or shown at all during the actual film.  Set-up for a Sinister Six film, showing things like Vulture’s wings or Doctor Octopus’ arms, those are the things best kept secret.  Don’t show that in the trailer and make it part of the film.

Keep it hidden as a post-credits scene.  Give viewers an incentive to stick around instead of giving us an unnecessary teaser of X-Men: Days of Future Past, especially since, at least when I saw the film, we already got a trailer for Days of Future Past.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Gwen Stacy Falls

All of this setup comes at a price of a somewhat clunky story.  We know Peter is a college student, but we don’t see him in class.  Peter works for the Daily Bugle, but we never see him there.  We know J. Jonah Jameson at least exists, so there’s that.  Also, we know that Shailene Woodley was originally cast to appear in this film as Mary Jane, but was cut from the film, so there’s a lot of missing bits.

Again, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is an ambitious film.  There are some great action scenes and the movie has a better sense of who Peter Parker is.  The biggest strength comes from the performances by Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone- they had me believe in their characters and the love they had for each other.  We see how Spider-Man gives people hope and, like previous installments, how he comes to terms with the fact that his decision making will ultimately doom the people he loves.

What the film does right, it does very well.  Where it stumbles is in some shoddy storytelling, uninspired and unexplained motivations and trying to set up too much instead of focusing on what we had with this film.  Looking at this as a comic book and Spider-Man fan, there’s much to enjoy.  Looking at this as a film, however, there are story issues that I can’t help but point out.  A good film, but not great.  Should you see it, you’ll be in for a fun, but sometimes frustrating time.

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