'The Amazing Spider-Man 2' spoiler discussion
If you saw ASM2 this weekend, scroll ahead. If not, feel free to see yourself out.
Now, let's get to brass tacks. Forgive me if this rambles a bit.
I can't help but feel really disappointed by this film. After reading so many mixed-to-negative reviews, I still wanted it all to work because I actually rather enjoyed the first film. But from beginning to end, there was just a boatload of things it just failed to execute on. There are moments where I enjoyed the action and character relationships, but things just felt unfocused throughout in a way that undid the good Webb and company pulled off.
In terms of the good, there was plenty. The standouts for me were crucial because they really got to the heart of what Spider-Man basically is. For one, I honestly feel like Webb just gets the thrill of web-swinging. There was none of the ridiculous swinging from clouds in Raimi's work that looks so crazy a decade out. There was thought put into the fact that the web needs to go somewhere for Spidey to really move, and the acrobatics that followed in the early "Let's just see what this guy can do" scenes really work. While I do think they were maybe a little too polished, they felt grounded in some sense of reality — which is saying something. Beyond that, the moments where Peter's just saving people to the point of exhaustion was great. Those moments let New York shine, which is key since New York itself is part and parcel of Spidey himself. He's a kid from Queens. He makes runs down to the bodega when he needs cold medicine. He hangs out in Union Square.
For my money, the little scene when he saves the kid with the science project and just walks him home is the most important scene of the entire film. Really. More than being a superhero, he's a guy who wants to do the right thing because he feels good doing it. And it feels good watching him on a fundamental, visceral level. It's the other side of the coin that comes with the heavy burden that is "With great power comes great responsibility," something that Gwen touches on in her valedictorian speech. After all, even if he fails, what else would Spider-Man even think to do? That doing good is good unto itself adds gravitas to his utter failure in saving her, and makes his return to form at the end poignant if still pretty cheesy.
Gwen and Peter's relationship is a standout for me, too. Yes, it plods on with its whole will-they-won't-they teenage indecisiveness schtick. Yes, their hardly ever knowing what to say to each other up until the climax does grate. But Garfield and Stone's chemistry really is palpable, and they do make clear that they need each other (or really that Peter needs her since he's a well-meaning idiot). They're the true focus of the film, and you really want them to be together by the time they resolve to go to England. As a comic fan, it's taken me time to come around to this modern fascination with Gwen Stacy's importance in the Spidey mythos after years of Mary Jane being written as Peter's one-and-only. That said, Gwen is the quintessential tragic love interest and is all the more defining. I even think Webb almost gets away with fridging her by giving her agency. She wanted to help Peter be Spider-Man, and she was frankly better at it than he was save for her lack of powers.
And then there's Denis Leary in his silent performance as the slain Capt. Stacy. You don't need anything else from the man, but his presence is so perfect and necessary.
As for what're wrong with the film, it's just about everything else to varying degrees. I tend to agree with Charlie-Jane Anders over at io9 and think that this is a decent movie that's weighed down by a lot of crap. There's just so much of it, with whole subplots that could have been trimmed down or excised altogether to make for a better movie. But, apart from Electro reaching Schumacher levels of cartoonishness set to dubstep, I think my main issue with the film is that it so early on becomes a story about Oscorp instead of Spider-Man. Oscorp serves as the main hub from which all the bad in New York pours forth, and all the subplots hinge on us knowing that this company is Evil. Peter's parents' deaths, the Lizard, Electro, Harry Osborn, the Sinister Six, even Spider-Man existing at all. All of this connects back to Oscorp, and puts the company on equal footing with Spider-Man as a focal point. This fact breaks the movie, because Webb seems more invested in fleshing out Oscorp as an arch corporate entity than in making us care about Peter Parker. Hence the overload that is having Electro's epic meltdown, Harry's rise and fall from power, and Peter uncovering his father's past. All because Oscorp is bad.
There's more of course. Questions like, if Peter's such a genius, why can't he figure out electromagnetism? Doesn't Spidey's return at the end smack a little too much of triumph and glory? Gwen died minutes beforehand, dude. But in the end, all of this speaks to Sony's need and desire to create a new franchise for this character to compete with what Marvel Studios has done with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In this way, Oscorp is a darker version of SHIELD (the events in Captain America: The Winter Soldier notwithstanding). The problem is this formula — this going so big so soon — makes Spidey's world feel really small and crowded, let alone the fact that Sony hasn't invested the time to really sell the conceit.
It's usually a bad sign when you leave the theater wanting to rewrite the movie, but I felt that way. If I had my druthers, I'd cut out Electro and focus squarely on Peter's relationships with Gwen, Harry, and New York. Peter's parents could be a small but crucial subplot that would need to accentuate Peter's own feelings about his powers and his own agency, but that's it. I'd be ok with that. But that isn't what we got. Instead we got two hours of muddled plotting, pyrotechnics, and not enough of what makes Spider-Man a great character to begin with. What do you guys think? Did I miss anything?