Last time, I took it upon myself to come to the defense of 2007’s Spider-Man 3 — a movie that I have a long relationship with and have loved for as long as I can remember. That is NOT the case with the next movie I’m here to defend: 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2. That’s not to say that I don’t have any nostalgia for it, because I do. I can vividly remember being excited to watch this movie at my grandma’s house that summer and trying so desperately to get ahold of any clips from the movie I could get my grubby little hands on. I think I watched the trailer on my phone about 100 times. I loved it, but for some reason, I feel like I went a long time without actually watching the movie. I think along the way I just adopted the same opinion as everyone else: that it was bad. I don’t even remember the first time I finally saw it. I do, however, know that I just got done watching it about an hour before writing this. I’ve come to a conclusion: this movie is nearly GREAT.
The Anchor Holding This Movie Down
When watching this movie, it becomes abundantly clear that they had a lot of ideas. I want to address the worst among them right off the bat. The choice to have Robert Parker play a “major role” in this story is awful. I put “major role” in quotations and say that it was an awful choice for the same reasons: it isn’t a major role. But, for some reason, Robert Parker keeps showing up on the screen. Over the course of the runtime, Peter becomes more and more interested in his parents and is wondering why they had to abandon him. But, every time they cut to this subplot, it brings the natural flow of the story to a screeching halt and ruins whatever is currently happening. At one point, May and Peter are having this beautiful moment. May had stumbled into Peter’s room and found his wall of research regarding his dad. May kind of breaks down and reveals her insecurities to Peter. She wants nothing more than to be enough for him. It’s an incredibly heartfelt scene where Andrew Garfield and Sally Field give great performances as May just pleads “You’re MY boy, you’re MY boy.” It almost brought tears to my eyes… until they immediately changed the subject to a flashback where some secret agents show up at May’s house and ask about something regarding Robert Parker. I can’t stress this enough: I don’t really care. And the movie doesn’t do the work to make me care. I know that most people throw up the comics as a defense for why this storyline sucks, but that’s unnecessary. The movie itself doesn’t believe enough in this plotline to do the work to make it feel impactful, but they apparently believed in it enough to leave it in the script. I am going to make a brave assumption and statement: I think that if they cut this plotline, this movie would go up by like 10-15% on Rotten Tomatoes. I might even take it upon myself to learn to edit and then edit this film into the “Minus Robert Parker cut,” where it’s the exact same movie without Robert Parker involved at all.
Peter & Gwen
I think that most people who have seen The Amazing Spider-Man films would agree that Peter and Gwen’s relationship is at the heart of those films. Of course, the real-life relationship of stars Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield helped ignite the chemistry that is just overflowing every scene. They are just so delightful to watch together, and at one point, the chemistry and tension were so palpable and the couple was so cute to watch that my eyes genuinely started to water. Even the way that the movie decided to approach their relationship was really interesting. At the end of the previous film, Peter makes a promise to Gwen’s father that he would stay away from Gwen in order to keep her safe. Right before the credits roll, Peter makes it clear to Gwen that he intends to continue dating her and not let her father dictate her life. It seems like a sweet enough moment, but this movie decides to make Peter face the consequences of that choice. From the very first action sequence, we see that Peter is having strange hallucinations of Captain Stacy, almost as if he’s haunting Peter. The reality of it is that Peter’s choice is haunting him, and it’s been personified by this completely imagined Captain Stacy ghost. It leads to a really well-acted moment where Peter shows up to dinner with Gwen’s family and they have a conversation, eventually resulting in Gwen breaking up with Peter. It’s a really tragic storyline, where Peter struggles with his choices, and then through the runtime, continuing to struggle with the choice of wanting to get BACK with Gwen. They make it so clear how much Peter loves Gwen and wants her to be safe, but it’s not so easy to let someone go, and I think the movie works this angle very well. Their entire relationship slowly hits hills and valleys over the course of the film, eventually leading to Gwen’s tragic death. There is so much genuine emotion in the death of Gwen Stacy, and I think the end is partially why the entire movie works so well for me. We see Peter stand at Gwen’s gravestone as seasons abruptly pass behind him. By the end, we learn that Peter had spiraled into depression and Spider-Man hadn’t made an appearance for 5 months. It’s something that is so depressingly realistic and relatable for a lot of people who have gone through such devastating loss. Peter makes it clear throughout the film that he can’t do this without her, and he wants to keep her safe. But in the end, it’s Gwen’s independent decision to help Peter that results in her death. It’s so heartbreaking to see Peter holding Gwen’s lifeless body as he just helplessly begs, “stay with me.” It’s not perfectly clear, but after turning on the subtitles, you can hear Peter concede saying “I can’t do this without you.” It’s that admission of failure to keep her safe and failure to keep his promise that makes me feel so sure that this movie isn’t ALL BAD. It can’t be. Peter and Gwen’s relationship feels so human and real that you can’t help but feel for Peter when he loses her.
Rhino & Electro & Goblins, Oh My!
When people criticize this movie, I often hear the same thing that I hear about Spider-Man 3, in that it’s “too bloated.’’ That the people making the film had too many characters and they weren’t able to put the focus where it matters, and I tend to disagree. While I think that the Richard Parker subplot is too much, it’s purely because it doesn’t have any real point. There’s nothing that connects that subplot to the rest of the movie. Honestly, I think that was just created because they realized that their main character didn’t have a story outside of Gwen, and they should have kept it that way. As I said, their relationship makes this movie work. But the other half of this movie consists of side characters that fill up Spider-Man lore to the brim. While watching I had totally forgotten that Felicia Hardy and Spencer Smythe are named characters, and both of them have weird moments that drastically move the plot along. But at the end of the day, all they are are side characters. At no point do I feel like “we are spending too much time with Felicia,” or “why do we keep coming back to Spencer.” If anything, they are just fun little Easter eggs for people who recognize the names to point and go “oh, cool” at. That’s when it comes down to the villain situation, which is strange, to say the least. I will get to Max and Harry in a second, but the inclusion of Rhino is a strange one. He does allow for fun bookend vignettes for the movie, but they heavily advertised this man for the film, and even have him all over every piece of marketing, and I think that was a huge mistake. It almost gives the notion that it should be bloated when the reality is that the character is just a cameo that has cool action scenes.
I said it last time and I’m going to say it again: Harry Osborn is an enigma. I think that Dane DeHaan gets a lot of flack for this movie when I actually believe that he was perfectly cast for the role. Peter and Harry’s relationship is a super interesting one, that involves childhood best friends not having seen each other for 11 years, and then one of them asking for the other to get a superhero to give the other one blood. I mean the majority of this movie is just Harry slowly losing his mind, and I think for that approach, DeHaan works perfectly. I think there are some things I would change, especially including Harry’s foil in this movie. For the majority of the runtime, Harry is pit against a boardroom of nameless executives. I think it would be more interesting if Harry is at odds with his own father. The boring executive’s angle doesn’t work at all, and I think having Norman there would be interesting and even add some emotional baggage for Harry. I think that Harry is super fun to watch in this movie though, and his having been sent away for 11 years actually adds some layers to his character. You kind of get the sense watching him that he isn’t sure how to act, or is at least acting in a way that is unnatural for him. Especially in the scene where Harry and Gwen meet in the elevator, he says some things that are kind of creepy. At first, I figured that was just some heavy-handed foreshadowing when Harry pointed out how important Gwen is to Peter, but I think that Harry seriously has some developmental issues that weigh into the way they wrote and acted this character. I do wish we could get more time in this universe with this character because I would love to see it play out.
Max Dillon is so much fun to watch. Jamie Foxx played this character with such earnestness, that you can’t help but root for him. Every single time he is on screen he is either obsessing over someone who was just barely nice to him, or he is actively being wronged by someone else. All the way up until the scene where he gets his powers, you are basically put through the wringer and we see just how cruel this world is to him, and it makes you kind of cringe. To the point where someone won’t even do the courtesy of shutting off the power so he doesn’t get hurt, just because they want to go home. So while Max is singing Happy Birthday to himself and doing his job on overtime, he dies. He falls into a pit of electric eels with thick wires in his hands and dies. While it seems like it should be tragic, the movie makes it very clear how seriously we should take this character when the electric charge fixes the gap in his teeth. It’s a funny moment that really sets the tone for the rest of his character. In his first scene with powers, he stumbles into Times Square and they have a beat where they do a bit of Frankenstein’s Monster; he’s just a mistaken guy who is accidentally hurting people, but the anger and aggression of the people around him turn him evil. Again, the scene is almost tragic, but then the movie makes it very clear how it’s supposed to be interpreted when Spider-Man blows him away with a hose while wearing a fireman’s helmet.
Now before I move on to my next point, I want to address the action in this movie. The action is a lot of fun. The movie is self-aware enough to recognize that the fast-paced action might be too much to keep up with, so they use slow motion in a very tasteful way. They only use slow motion on quick moments that reflect something that might be inside of a comic book panel. All of the individual action scenes in this movie are a lot of fun to watch, in particular the action sequences in the third act. The fight between Spider-Man and Electro is a lot of fun with the way that they swing through the city and then swing into the power grid. All the while Electro is coming in and out of his physical form as Peter just destroys everything he can see. It’s a lot of fun. The action in this movie is worth the watch in and of itself.
Amazing Spider-Man 2 & Joel Schumacher’s Batman
Here and there, I’ve kind of referenced the tone that the movie sets for itself. I think that the way that a movie views itself is very important, and a lot of the time it’s the difference between a parody and a flat-out bad movie. That’s part of the issue that I have with the Robert Parker plot. This movie goes out of its way time and time again to show that this is a brightly colored, fantastical, fun Spider-Man story — not dissimilar to that of Joel Schumacher’s Batman films. But the way that the Robert Parker scenes are shot is completely out of tone and feels fake and out of place, almost like a joke that you would see in a parody film. Batman Forever is something that I think I relate very closely to this movie (maybe I’ll cover it someday), and I think there are a lot of reasons for that. The Batman and Spider-Man films that came before these were very dark and mysterious. They felt more grounded in reality. These subsequent films took it up to 11. You look around Gotham City in Batman Forever and you see Titan-sized statues, you see giant railroads, and the buildings are so tall you can’t even see where they end. You look around The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s New York City, and it’s not all that different. The city is sprawling, the colors are gorgeous, the villains are delightfully simple, the heroes have fun doing their jobs. I wonder how that team felt about Batman Forever because it certainly seems like these movies are very closely related, and I love them both all the more for it.
“Too Much On Its Plate?”
When critiquing this movie, I feel like a lot of people’s criticism might come down to the fact that they think this movie tried to do too much. I can understand why someone might say that, and maybe I’m inclined to agree. Maybe the crew got far too comfortable and trusted that if they just jammed a plot about Richard Parker in there the audience would just care regardless. I love this movie, I really do, but I believe if they had reigned it in just a touch, this movie could be so much better. I said it before if this movie had cut out that single subplot, it would automatically be so much better. I watched it again and took notes just before writing this article, and every single time that one subplot was on screen I checked my phone. It got to the point where every time I saw Richard Parker’s face I just subconsciously checked out, and it’s a shame. When this movie gets down to it, it’s a lot of fun. Just the way it opens, with the horns and the symbol on Spider-Man’s back — it’s beautiful. Maybe this is a really great movie, that just slightly overstepped its bounds. Either way, I’m going to watch it again sometime. I think you should, too.