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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Review: Breaking the Formula
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is kind of a mess. It’s way too long, much of the dialogue is a bit stilted and melodramatic, too many sub-plots give the story some major lag, many of the characters feel like they’ve been reduced to cartoon archetypes, and it can often be ham-fisted and corny in a way that can only be described as cringeworthy.
But I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a ton of fun.
In The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) finds himself in an odd position: he’s graduated high school, and now faces the awful realities of being a young adult trying to find his way around the world. His girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) is pursuing her own dreams, he’s haunted by visions of her dying father, and still wrestling with the grief he carries from his parents abandoning him as a child.
Only to add more stress to his already maxed-out adolescent troubles, he’s also facing the threat of a supercharged electric madman named Electro, whose recent acquisition of electric powers and bottled-up rage has boiled over into a vicious quest of revenge the likes of which only Spider-Man could ever thwart. And, behind all the madness, Norman Osborn’s son Harry (Dane DeHaan) has taken ill and has only one simple request: the self-healing abilities found in Spider-Man’s DNA.
Sounds like a lot? It is, and often to the film’s detriment. The movie is a bloated mess of sub-plots, many of which never successfully pan out. Certainly, it would have been a much, much tighter narrative had the script stuck to one villain and allowed some time for the audience to fully understand each character and their individual motivations. Instead, we’re left with cartoon-y characters whose motivations are completely binary: Peter is good because he believes in hope and justice, Harry goes crazy in order to preserve his well-being, OSCORP is run by a suspect-looking old white man in a business suit with a cold demeanor, and Electro is an ex-nerd who only ever wanted to be noticed.
There are trace amounts of decent characterization to be found everywhere in the story, but they all get so overblown and exaggerated that they feel forced and shallow. It certainly doesn’t help that the film has so much going on at once that we’re never allowed to fully explore a character’s internal struggles and see how their trials shape them.
Relationships in particular fail because of this. Both Gwen and Peter have decent chemistry on-screen, but the reasons for their on-again, off-again relationship never really make sense. And no, despite the characters referring to their relationship numerous times as “complicated,” things are never explained to a satisfying degree.
Harry and Peter are meant to be friends, but aside from the two spending one afternoon together walking around New York and skipping rocks on the water, they never really show us what has connected the two, and why they’re so close. Sure, they’ve both been through a lot by way of being abandoned and losing their parents, but a serious connection between the two that would justify their calling each other “best friends” is never really seen nor felt.
Despite its numerous faults, however, I found The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to be very enjoyable. Being someone who is fairly critical of the entertainment I consume, I considered why this might be while I was sitting in the theater. By all accounts, I should hate it. So, what was it that made it so fun?
For one, the film keeps up a consistent and satisfying tone throughout. From the shot framing to the story cadence, it feels like a comic book. It goes some dark places, and it goes some light places, but it finds a good balance between the two that allows you to buy into the wackiness of this fantasy universe.
Although they’re sometimes reduced to caricatures, it’s hard not to like many of the leading characters. Aunt May has her own poignant moment that, although slightly contrived, has some definite heart to it. Peter’s internal struggles come across powerfully a handful of times, and Gwen’s character is by far one of the best female leads I’ve ever seen in a superhero film. Yes, she has her damsel-in-distress moments, but she’s not without gusto and never needs Peter to tell her what to do or what to think. It’s pathetic to say, but finally, we’ve seen a decent female character in a superhero film who actually has a firm grip on herself and doesn’t need her superhero beau to save her from everything all the time.
I suppose the one thing that really resonated with me, however, was how much fun the movie was. It has its serious moments, and at one point, it takes things to a dark place where few superhero movies would dare go. But at times, the movie is a pure joy ride, beautifully shot and a complete and total thrill to take in. Spider-Man’s sarcastic quips are funny, there’s actual weight and risk involved in each character’s actions, action sequences are interesting and well-choreographed, and it never reduces itself to being dark and gritty. It may not be perfect…but it serves as a nice template that finally breaks the nonsensical formula to which too many Marvel films adhere.