The Amazing Spider-Man 2 finally puts to screen the all-time most shocking and tragic moment in comics…to varying results.
If you haven’t heard yet, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 exists mainly to introduce the Sinister Six storyline in an attempt for Marvel’s prodigal son to compete with its father company. For those not in the know, the Sinister Six is a kind of dark Avengers, villains who team up to take down Spider-Man; the film (or films if the idea sticks) will be directed by Drew Goddard of Cabin in the Woods and Cloverfield fame. The overwhelming negative critique of this film, therefore, notes the crowded slate of villains, but I disagree whole-heartedly. I felt both Jamie Foxx’s Electro and Dane DeHaan’s Green Goblin’s motives were clear, believable, and presented with time to breathe. The characters were fully formed, albeit a bit expository in the Goblin’s case. We’ll get to all that.
But that is not the whole story, not even close. When early photos from the set leaked, something that made comic book fans like myself squee with delight was images that appeared to mirror those from my favorite comic of all time: (click link at your own risk. SPOILERS) The Amazing Spider-Man #121-122 . It is difficult to discuss the storyline that jumped from page to screen without spoiling plot points, but it is important to note why the film is not being rewarded for handling so masterfully this epic moment in comics…Because they can’t. Not without spoiling the ending.
In the current incarnation’s second installment, we find Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield, charmingly amusing and adorable as always) graduating high school and juggling his Spidey responsibilities with living his life. He yearns so much to devote time to the love of his life Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone, equally adorable and abundantly talented), but is haunted by the promise he made to her father to leave her out of the crime life, to keep her safe. To make matters worse, Peter is learning increasingly appalling details about his father’s life and subsequent disappearance, and the public is increasingly annoyed by what they perceive as Spider-Man’s interference with police policy. Peter’s childhood best friend Harry Osborn returns home just in time to watch his absent father die, and the two rekindle their friendship among this unfortunate similarity. When an accident at Oscorp turns Spider-Man’s biggest stalker fan Max Dillon into Electro, resulting in a battle in the middle of Times Square, public sentiment shifts in favor of the red and blue crusader — but all that exposure just might spell his doom.
Director Marc Webb weaves a myriad of storylines into a (forgive me) web of a decent film. The performances – particularly those by Sally Field’s Aunt May, Garfield’s Parker, and Emma Stone’s Gwen – are first rate, and the addition of Dane DaHaan as Osborn was an inspired casting choice…Dude looks the part. All of the scenes with Field and Garfield sharing space in a house of heartbreaking memories are handled expertly. Perhaps the real relationship between Stone and her leading man add to the believability of real love between Gwen and Peter, but whenever they are on screen, the chemistry is palpable. Jamie Foxx is over-the-top, scoring less Michelle Pfeiffer Catwoman and more Jim Carrey Riddler, but given the source material, I would say his performance is apropos. The Amazing Spider-Man has always been a light-hearted comic with punny dialogue and silly villains on the surface, but dig a little deeper, and you find great emotional depth and human consequences.
Those “human consequences” supply the main antagonist in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 as Peter is forced to deal with everything his powers cannot defeat. The very thing that protects the city, that makes him special, alienates him from those he loves. It is an intriguing exploration of the byline “with great power comes great responsibility,” and for the most part, the relationships explored in the film are done well. The first half hour is full of wasted expository moments, everyone saying exactly what they feel, what they need, what happened to them, but Alex Kurtzman’s screenplay relaxes into subtlety and nice story arcs. Point: When Harry confronts his father (Chris Cooper) who lays dying of a genetic illness, the scene would have been better handled with little dialogue. Instead, we are given heavy-handed “You never loved me, Daddy!” laziness. Later, a similar scene between Peter and Aunt May is delicate and heart-wrenching and far superior. Spider-Man certainly has his hands full with keeping-losing-saving Gwen, but she is the one person to whom he can pour everything out. It reads as a real relationship, even through the high-concept, where one person is so wrapped up in themselves, they cannot see the true problem in front of them. As for the many bad guys, what might appear muddled to some, was quite easy to follow for a comicbook-phile like me. And that’s the point. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a true comic book movie for comic book fans…of the The Amazing Spider-Man specifically.
Other than the exposition-laden opening, the amount of tears and serious moments so outweighed the light comedy and sweet scenes that the tragic climax was nearly spoiled. The comic handled it with a sharp turn, and I missed that a bit in the film, but I understand the need for reality. That being said, I still cried like a little baby, regardless of the soft shock value. It was my childhood laid out on screen, and a moment I thought I’d honestly never see on film. It was brave and could reignite the franchise, and there has been very little discussion about that fact. Most critics were underwhelmed by the film, but it wasn’t for them. And if you’re not a comic book fan, this film is not for you…but for those who know all about this:
Feel free to squee.
Final Grade: B-