I think it’s fair to say that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a contentious movie. Spider-Man fans are pretty evenly divided on it, some claiming that it’s the best Spidey movie to date and some claiming pretty much the exact opposite (including high profile voices like MovieBob, Devin Faraci, and Film Crit Hulk). Its lackluster box office returns and disastrous production (you’d think Sony would learn to stop meddling with their directors) led to the Amazing series being canned and Spidey getting a new start over at Marvel Studios in their Cinematic Universe.
Pair all that with my own lukewarm reception to the first Amazing Spider-Man and I wasn’t expecting to have a good time with The Amazing Spider-Man 2. But by the time Electro was blowing up Times Square and Dane DeHaan was sleazing around Oscorp I was on board with Amazing Spider-Man 2. It’s not a great movie (maybe even not a good one) and unlike the Sam Raimi movies it doesn’t really have any goal or arc for Peter Parker besides “have stuff happen to him,” but, to its credit, it tries to fix what ASM1 did to Peter Parker (albeit unsuccessfully), the villains are fun to watch, and it has a couple of legitimately great action scenes to keep it afloat.
Okay, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. And, to be fair, there is a lot about this movie that doesn’t work. The resolution of the mystery surrounding Peter’s missing parents turns out to be just as uninteresting as the setup in Amazing Spider-Man 1 implied it would be. Richard Parker was doing a thing with science, Norman Osborn wanted to use it for evil, Richard didn’t, Norman framed him for treason, Richard and Mary Parker tried to run, they were killed. It doesn’t have any bearing on anything in the movie, it doesn’t affect Peter in any real, meaningful way, and it’s just dull. The reveal in this movie makes it even more obvious that Peter’s parents were just added to the first movie to pretend like they were doing something new and different from Raimi’s trilogy. It was a gimmick and it failed to pay off.
But even worse than that, by focusing so much time and energy on Peter’s parents both Amazing movies lose sight of just how important Uncle Ben and Aunt May are to Peter’s story. Uncle Ben’s death is meaningless in the first film and his lesson of “great power, great responsibility” is given to Richard Parker. Instead of being Peter’s moral center, Aunt May just serves as some comedic relief and to complain about Peter being busy all the time. ASM2 tries to address the shift away from Ben and May with the “You’re my boy” scene but it’s just lip service. Neither movie knows what to do with them and so two of the most important characters in the Spider-Man mythos go to waste.
But, above all that, there’s one element in The Amazing Spider-Man series that splits fans more than any other: Peter Parker. I (along with many, many others) have said before that I don’t like Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-Man and I stand by that. Amazing Spider-Man 2‘s writers, the director Marc Webb, and Andrew Garfield were all clearly well aware of that frosty reception and a lot of ASM2 is spent trying to fix the mistakes of ASM1. For starters, the movie almost immediately backpedals on ASM1‘s horrendous final line wherein Peter told a girl who’s father just died that he wasn’t going to honor his final wish because promises that you can’t keep are “the best kind.” Peter begins having doubts about dating Gwen Stacy against her father’s wishes and their on-again, off-again relationship in this movie comes as a result of him deciding that, no, promises you can’t keep are in fact not the best kind. It wasn’t exactly motivated by their own artistic vision but the “promises” line is such a huge, egregious error that I’m just glad the filmmakers worked to correct it at all.
That being said, Peter Parker is still kind of a broken mess in this movie too. The first thing we see Peter do (as Peter Parker, not Spider-Man) is hop on stage at his graduation, grab his diploma, and kiss the gorgeous valedictorian to thunderous applause from the crowd. The only way he could act like more of a cocky jerk and less like Peter Parker was if he skateboarded off stage while playing an electric guitar and setting off fireworks. But then the movie shifts gears. Peter and Gwen have graduated, so Pete’s cool, loner teen angst is mostly left behind, and Pete and Gwen break up. But instead of using their breakup as a way of scaling back Peter’s cockiness, smug charm, and ballooning self-confidence, the filmmakers instead decided to make him a creep.
Peter’s stalking of Gwen (and it is literally and unequivocally stalking) is weird and creepy, and, worst of all, the movie expects us to find it endearing. Right before the Times Square battle, Peter and Gwen meet up again for the first time after their breakup and while they’re being cute and charming with each other, Pete lets it slip that he had been following her. But, instead of dropping her ice cream and heading in the immediate opposite direction, Gwen just accepts it and the movie plays out like Pete had done something terribly romantic and cute. Maybe after the atrocious “promises” line I shouldn’t be surprised at what these writers, director, and actors find romantic or morally appropriate, but Peter’s stalking is not cute; stalking is creepy, weird, and disgusting behavior. And to add on to that, Peter used his Spider-Man powers in order to stalk her, powers, I might add, that came with a great responsibility, not added freedom to be a skeevy weirdo.
You know, the more I write about these movies, the more I’m surprised that I don’t hate them. Both Amazing Spider-Man 1 and 2 are broken at their very center with one of the most bafflingly written protagonists in any major Hollywood movie and yet, at least in the case of ASM2, I came away having genuinely enjoyed the experience. In ASM2‘s case, Garfield pretty much nails the Spider-Man persona (after the first scene Spidey stops feeling like the bully he was in ASM1), there’s some great action scenes, Emma Stone is charming as Gwen Stacy, and some entertainingly cartoony villains spice up the proceedings. It all makes for a movie that’s hard not to just sit back and enjoy.
Jamie Foxx’s Max Dillon is basically a cartoon character. He’s broad and goofy in ways that absolutely shouldn’t work as well as they do. Max Dillon is basically a caricature of a science nerd (if you tasked the writers behind ASM to write the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man, this is probably what you would get) and his heel turn as Electro is rather sudden, but Foxx is charming as always and he gives Spider-Man enough interesting things to do during their fights to make him worthwhile. Their confrontation in Times Square is the movie’s standout action scene, building tension off of Dillon’s instability and growing powers.
DeHaan’s Harry is a little less broad courtesy of having a grounded and compelling backstory motivating him. Thanks to an emotionally reserved and abusive father as well as a whole lot of money, Harry has grown into a swaggering, smug, confident jerk with a mean self-loathing streak, a desire to prove himself, and a real fear of the life-threatening disease he’s inherited from his father. He’s such a sad, broken person that seeing him turn more and more evil as he desperately tries to ward off his inevitable fate is downright tragic. DeHaan’s Green Goblin, on the other hand, is downright terrible. The suit is ugly, the makeup and hair look like a bad Halloween costume, and the voice is way too silly for how serious he’s supposed to be taken. Thankfully, the Goblin is in only one scene and not a long one at that.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 does a lot of little things that I couldn’t help but appreciate, especially in contrast to the first. Leaving behind the dreary, night-drenched world of the first movie, ASM2 has so much more color and life in every frame. It’s also vastly improved Spidey’s outfit. This is basically as close to comic accurate as any Spidey suit could get, with bright reds and blues, raised webbing, and big white eyes. Spidey’s webslinging has been revamped too, marking the first radical change to the look and style of it since the original Spider-Man in 2002. More attention has been paid to how his weight and momentum would really work in tandem with gravity and his webs, giving him unique little tricks to do and adding style to his movement.
If I had to choose between getting a rebooted Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe or continuing with The Amazing Spider-Man franchise, I’d pick MCU Spidey every time. But I had fun with The Amazing Spider-Man 2. It recognized the problems that were in ASM1 and did its best at fixing them. It doesn’t always succeed, and its Peter Parker is as untrue to the spirit of the character as possible, but it’s got enough pure entertainment and charm to stand on its own two feet.
Next on the schedule: not writing 1500 word essays for every movie I watch. And maybe some X-Men.