By ALEXA WILLIAMS ’14
For a film that got worse reviews than “Spiderman 3,” “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” wasn’t as bad as it could have been. The second of the spidey reboots directed by the aptly named Marc Webb, “Spider-Man 2,” while fun and heart-warming at the start, quickly dissolves into a poorly handled mess. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are still leagues better than Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst ever were, but even the best acting cannot save a film insistent on sabotaging itself. As a warning, this review will contain spoilers, though many of them will not be shocking to those familiar with the comics.
I’ll admit, the first half of “Spider-Man 2” got my hopes up. After suffering through Maguire’s complete lack of charisma for three movies, Garfield’s Spider-Man is a constant breath of fresh air. He sasses bad guys in the middle of fights, juggles deadly toxins and saves civilians. Unlike the previous film, where we had to sit through yet another superhero origin story, seeing Peter actually get to be Spider-Man was refreshing. In one scene, probably my favorite from any of the recent strain of superhero movies, Spider-Man stops a group of children from bullying another child. He picks up this child’s destroyed science project — a wind turbine — and marvels over it, telling the kid how cool it is and how proud of it he should be. He then fixes the broken turbine with some web, and walks the child to school. Showing Spider-Man genuinely care for the people of New York was something the previous Spiderman films hadn’t managed to nail down, and Garfield hits it every time. His chemistry with Stone, who plays girlfriend and scientist Gwen Stacy, adds an almost rom-com touch to all the teen angst.
In a similar vein, Jamie Foxx and Dane DeHaan’s performances as Max Dillon/Electro and Harry Osborn/The Green Goblin respectively were equally strong. I felt for both villains as we saw them lose control over their sanity. Dillon’s co-workers hardly notice him, forcing him to work on his birthday while they all head out together. When Spider-Man rescues and offers him words of encouragement, he forms an unhealthy obsession towards the webslinger. Osborn, living in the shadow of his father and dying of the same illness that killed him, feels betrayed when Spider-Man refuses to give Osborn what he views as the only thing that could cure him. However, as soon as the pair actually became supervillains, their motivations seem to degenerate into nothing but “I want kill Spider-Man because he was mean to me that one time.” Gone are the insecurities and social anxieties we saw set up in the first half, inexplicably replaced by generic villain catchphrases and pretty CGI rampages.
Similarly poorly handled was the “Chosen One” plot that seems to come from left field. One of the reasons Spider-Man became so popular when he premiered in 1962 was that he was so normal. He wasn’t a billionaire or an alien, nor was he a sidekick like many of the teenage heroes of his time. He was the everyman, with many of the same worries as the teenagers reading comic books at the time, who just happened to be bitten by a radioactive spider and used his special powers the best he could. In “Spider-Man 2,” we learn that Peter’s father implanted his DNA into the spiders he was working on, meaning that had the spider bitten anyone else, they would have died. In “Spider-Man 2,” Peter is special. His powers aren’t accidental. This “Chosen One” plot is so overused in superhero movies that to force it onto one of the few characters that eschews it seems a disservice to viewers.
But it gets worse. Anyone who has picked up a Spider-Man comic before knows that Gwen Stacy dies. Near the end of the film, when Stone waltzes out in the same outfit that Gwen dies in in the comics, astute viewers know what’s coming. Less astute viewers could possibly infer what’s coming based on the graduation speech she gives at the start of the movie, which practically screams “make me a sound clip that you play over a sad montage of me after my passing.” As much as I hate when female characters are killed for the sake of man-pain, if that’s the direction you want to go, then go there. One of the things that made Gwen’s original death so shocking was because a superhero had never messed up so badly before. Peter killed her through his carelessness, and he struggles over whether he could have done something different to prevent her death, to which the answer is yes.
In “Spider-Man 2,” all of this ambiguity is taken away. During a lengthy fight scene, Gwen repeatedly falls, and we watch Peter catch her over and over again. Since we know Gwen is going to die, this comes off as cruel rather than tense, and when she finally falls to her death, there is no blame left on Peter. He couldn’t have done anything more. Though we learn that Peter quits being Spider-Man for a few months, the montage lasts only a few minutes on screen, and in the end, after listening to Gwen’s graduation speech, he decides to return to the job. In a forced attempt to end the movie on a positive note, Webb reduces Gwen’s death to nothing but shock value, though part of me thinks that Sony had more to do with wanting a happy ending than anyone else did.
If you liked “The Amazing Spider-Man,” you’ll like “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” It’s fun and exciting, if not a little too exciting, and if you can ignore the fact that the plot is trying to do too many things for its own good you’ll have a pleasant experience. One can only hope that the inevitable Amazing Spider-Man 3 will find its focus and maybe treat Mary Jane a little better than they did Gwen Stacy.