by Thom Yee
“I hate Spider-Man.”
That might be a popular sentiment in a place like the (no-doubt continually shrinking) Daily Bugle offices and from its often-tyrannical editor-in-chief, but I actually heard that from the owner of Edmonton’s biggest and most popular comicbook store. “If [he] wasn’t so whiny all the time, I’d probably enjoy him,” he finishes telling me.
It’s always been my contention, given what we know and can reasonably assume about society, that Spider-Man has the best overall powerset for the real world. Flight’s always been a popular choice, speaking to our fundamental need for freedom, but it’s also a power you’d have to be really careful with. Just like Pa Kent contends in last year’s Man of Steel, if people found out there are people with powers, that there are people who can fly, it would change everything. And I wouldn’t really want to do that. Super-speed’s another good one, but that’s the kind of power that would eventually leave you bored, with nothing else to do most of the time, as well as feeling massively impatient as you wait for the world to catch up to you. I already get mad enough waiting for all the slowbros in traffic. But Spider-Man’s powers aren’t so profound or world-shattering — he’s basically just noticeably stronger and more coordinated than everyone else, and he always knows when there’s something dangerous around. Those aren’t powers that are all that great, they’d just enhance your life and let you know that no matter how good any man or woman can naturally be, you’re always going to be better.
So yeah, in real life, I’d choose Spider-Man’s powers. But I wouldn’t choose his life. Given what seems to happen most of the time, and especially in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, he has every right to complain.
Even if it all sounds a little whiny sometimes.
I usually try to steer clear of major spoilers in my movie reviews, but there’s just about no way to talk about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 without talking about the ending. So spoilers ahead. Obviously.
Years later (one maybe… but probably not two), Peter and Gwen have graduated from high school and are moving on with the complicated business of growing into adults even as they grapple with the price of super-heroics. Though somewhat misunderstood, Spider-Man has become a hero to the people of New York, while Gwen has had so much scholastic success that she may be moving to London to attend the fabled University of Oxford (whither Columbia, Cornell and NYU?). Then Electro shows up and makes trouble for Spider-Man. Then Harry Osborn shows up and makes trouble for Peter and Spider-Man and is a bit of a dick. Oh, and we learn more about Peter’s parents’ mysterious disappearance, all of which is stuff that nobody seems to care about, that serves the plot without feeling necessary, and is pretty much exactly what you’d expect given what we’ve seen, so no major revelations. FYI, they’re both dead now. It’s really too bad that that mystery falls so flat, because it did have potential and it is something that had a clear effect on this version of Peter Parker. The writers are at least canny enough to draw out a parental moment between Aunt May and Peter that’s stronger than anything we’ve seen from Aunt May in a Spider-Man movie before.
The Peter-Gwen relationship is really the foundation of this iteration of Spider-Man, and Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone deserve a lot of credit for making this relationship something we actually want to see. Unfortunately, the two spend most of the movie in a broken up-then friends-then-back-together circle jerk that just kind of left me bored and slightly annoyed (two things I don’t usually feel about most circle jerks… not that I have a lot of thoughts or experience with those kinds of things). Sure, relationships are complicated, and I don’t blame the two characters for not always knowing where they stand, but I expect the producers to tell a clear story that entertains more than bothers. That’s the difference between fiction and real life — you’re supposed to pick out the annoying parts that don’t serve the themes or arc when you’re telling a story.
On the Spider-Man side of things, it’s nice to see the way the city embraces Spider-Man, and a lot of the non sequitur moments really give the impression that Spider-Man actually does a lot of things during the day, many of them mundane. Scenes like sick Spider-Man in winter vest, scarf and toque buying cold medication at a convenience store are funny and handled well, and seeing Spider-Man help a science-nerd kid with his bullies by walking him home and encouraging the model turbine he built for class is a genuinely endearing moment. The writers allow us to spend enough time with our hero that we actually like him in a way that we never cared for Tobey Maguire (regardless of the inherent Tobey-Maguire-ness of that portrayal).
In a way, we should’ve all seen the end coming when we first heard Gwen’s valedictorian speech about mortality. What she speaks about in her speech — that the reason that life can get so bad sometimes is so that everything we do has meaning — is one of the few thoughts that I truly draw comfort from in life, but at the same time it was a pretty obvious omen, pointing to the fact that we might not nave that much time left with our favourite lead actress in a Spider-Man movie series. After all, Gwen Stacy is arguably most famous for being the Spider-Man girlfriend who died, and even though there are three designated villains throughout the movie, the broad idea that Gwen has to die in this movie is really the only true villain, marking its time and hovering over everything else that’s happening. With the way things are handled, that it turns out to be Harry Osborn’s Green Goblin that delivers the killing stroke is pretty much meaningless, with Gwen having no ties to Harry and Harry’s relationship to Peter a more obligatory element of their shared past.
Speaking of villains, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 handicaps itself right out of the gate, in a way we’ve seen time-and-again in superhero movies. Be it Batman Returns’ Catwoman and Penguin or Spider-Man 3’s Venom, Sandman and Green Goblin II, the producers assume that double (or triple) the villains equals double (or triple) the fun. But Electro, as the first villain that easily overpowers Spider-Man, would be enough to carry his own movie. And Green Goblin, as a villain that Spider-Man was friends with as Peter, would be enough to carry his own movie. Rather than tell villainous origin stories in a meaningful or cogent manner, our diabolical duo’s dual presences eat away at each others’ screen time, truncate their arcs, and counteract any sympathy we might have for them.
Electro winds up being a cartoony, one-dimensional Spider-Man fetishist after one chance meeting with the hero, and his eventual turn against Spider-Man is still something that I don’t get. It makes sense that Electro revels in the attention he receives given his previous civilian life, it makes sense that he’s mad at his eventual Oscorp captors, but his hatred for Spider-Man is more than just a little forced. His main set piece in Times Square gives you a true sense of the potential horror of a villain with his level of power, but the character as a super villain is ill-defined and a waste of Jamie Foxx.
Harry Osborn, meanwhile, is just a rich, self-involved prick from the start, and you don’t once feel sorry for the guy, genetic disease inherited from his father that he’s trying to cure or not. He’s already a dick on the verge of full supervillainy, and even if his system could handle the goblin née spider-formula he injects himself with, he literally rolls into the Goblin suit and glider in such a specific manner that the Green Goblin transformation comes off more as fulfilling a forced destiny rather than the natural outcome of a series of unfortunate events.
As for the Rhino, we’ll mostly have to wait and see as Paul Giamatti’s role winds up being little more than a set of cameos that book-end the movie. While I have no major problems with the portrayal itself, it’s brevity is indicative of how much this movie would rather set up its Sinister Six than get its own villains right.
The spectre of Gwen Stacy looms large over The Amazing Spider-Man 2, moreso than the character herself is allowed to at times, and given that this series’ greatest strength stems from the onscreen chemistry of Garfield’s Peter Parker and Stone’s Gwen Stacy, it’s pretty much a travesty that Gwen dies so early in a series that we already know will extend to at least four movies. In the comics biz, we all kind of associate Gwen’s ultimate destiny, her raison d’être if you’re one of those people, with Spider-Man’s greatest failing, but there’s no reason she should’ve died so early other than if Emma Stone would only sign a two-picture contract. She’s absolutely perfect as Gwen Stacy and brings almost none of the annoying, vapid, damsel-in-distress-edness of Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane. Her early death speaks to a lack of confidence on the part of producers who are no doubt counting on the strength of the original story to shine through, and it leaves a vacuum that I have almost no confidence the talent involved will be able to fill. In my mind, they’ve already twice lost the battle for a good superhero movie, but at least we had a good Peter and a good Gwen and a good Peter and Gwen movie. This movie robs us of that way too early for the series, and frankly, the more I think about it, the more it makes me mad, both as a writer (if I can call myself that) and as a viewer. I will admit, though, that the movie does generate a lot of emotional resonance out of the image of Peter metaphorically (but literally as presented onscreen) standing by Gwen’s grave site as time and seasons pass. It’s a truly touching shot, but it’s in a movie and series that hasn’t earned it yet.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a pretty big disappointment. More than that, it’s a movie that leaves a bad taste in your mouth, with a conclusion that destroys the series’ greatest strength as well as its prospects going forward. Maybe the producers thought so much of the original stories that they wanted to go this way, and maybe they were too eager to introduce a new Mary Jane, but it really feels like a series that would’ve benefitted from Gwen surviving for at least one more movie. It’s not a complete waste of time and its strongest scenes are very, very strong, but those moments are few and far between in a movie that takes on way too much and concludes on a huge downer, and it’s all enough to really make me hope that Sony just lets the movie rights lapse back into Marvel’s hands on the next go-round.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 final score: 5.5
On the Edge
-So we’re still not using the good Sony phones yet. Just those old U and P series phones. Where are the Z’s?
-Sony phones, Sony TVs, Sony laptops, but when it really counts, Peter Parker chooses Canon cameras for his paying work.