I didn’t get much into superheroes (though I absolutely love them now) until Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and the recent Marvel boom, so I wasn’t particularly impressed with 2012’s The Amazing Spider-man. I wanted to like it, but the acting, graphics, and production weren’t enough to carry the movie. I’m quite in agreement with Steven Greydanus that Spiderman’s moral character is lost, at least as compared with the Sam Raimi Spiderman films–Uncle Ben’s death doesn’t have an important impact on Peter Parker’s development (if he even really develops at all). The second movie, on the other hand is much better. The script was a bit rough n places, but character-wise it’s a bit better, and the acting remains fairly good, especially with the addition of Jamie Foxx and Dane DeHaan (*cough* who has absolutely beautiful eyes *cough*).
Before I talk about what was good about it, let me mention the bad. Uncle Ben’s lesson about power and responsibility, which wasn’t even put in those terms to begin with, never sticks with Peter. The young man does grow and change more in this film: he begins to have qualms about his relationship with Gwen, haunted as he is by visions of Gwen’s dead father and the promise Peter made him to stay away from her. At the end of The Amazing Spider-man, Peter essentially said promise be hanged, but his second thoughts cause a rift in their relationship. Unfortunately, the selfishness he didn’t unlearn in the first movie never quite disappears, and the sense of responsibility he should have developed doesn’t appear.
This is tied into what some critics on RottenTomatoes point out: the film doesn’t focus. Maybe it’s because it was a 10:15pm showing and I’d turned in the last final of my undergraduate career so I was on a bit of a high, but the movie didn’t seem to have an apparent climax. The two story lines within it–that of Peter and Gwen’s relationship and that of the villains’ development–intersect, but almost as an afterthought in some respects. Peter and Harry Osborn’s relationship isn’t elaborated on, and the two meet very few times. Only three times, actually: when Peter comes to give Harry his condolences and the two spend some time on a walk; when Harry asks Peter to find Spiderman; and when Peter as Spiderman tells Harry he won’t give him the blood. These interactions are short and not particularly meaningful except as they move the plot forward. It would’ve been nice to see Harry run into Peter after the talk with Spiderman, to better establish the animosity he displays at the end as the Green Goblin.
The Gwen part of the story also doesn’t connect with the Harry-Max part much at all until the end. The one connection Gwen has is her job at OSCORP, and the fact that she meets Max Dillon who becomes Electro. She searches the OSCORP database for Max’s info after his electrification, and almost gets caught by some OSCORP employees, but with Peter’s help she escapes them and doesn’t come back into the picture until the grand finale. This connection could have served as an important plot point–besides Harry, Gwen was the only person to remember Max’s name, and I’m surprised he didn’t recognize her in some capacity. His desire to be needed and seen is the chink in Electro’s armor, and Gwen got through it without even realizing it.
I believe this lack of focus most bothers me because it further emphasizes Peter’s selfishness: so much of Harry and Max’s storyline goes on under Peter’s nose, and he doesn’t notice it. Sure, he comes into contact with Harry and Electro, but once he’s finished with them he goes back to Gwen. As I mentioned before, Peter’s meetings with Harry are usually short and just move the plot along: there’s no sense that he plans to help cure his friend after their initial interactions about Spiderman. Instead, Peter selfishly concentrates on Gwen and the mystery surrounding his parents. He does try to talk to Gwen about it, mentioning his fears about the dangers of helping Harry with the blood, but all that gets lost in the shuffle of her interview with Oxford. All of these things eventually intersect, but because they only intersect at the end, it makes the movie seem as if it contains two stories instead of just one. And quite frankly, I found Harry and Max’s transformations into villains much more interesting than Peter’s strained relationship with Gwen.
By now you’re probably asking, then what the heck was good about it, Nami? Why was it “Surprisingly Somewhat Amazing?” Well, because for all it emphasized Peter’s selfishness, in the end his selfishness had consequences. From the beginning of the movie we find Peter flip-flopping on whether to stay in a relationship with Gwen or not. After their high school graduation, when he goes to join her family for some dim-sum, Peter says he can’t continue doing “this” because of his promise to her father. He never explicitly says he wants to break-up, though: it’s Gwen who insists, “I break up with you.” He also stalks her around town everyday. Obviously not the actions of a man resolved to let go. At the end, he finally breaks and says he’s “so tired” of his promise and everything keeping them from being together that he’s choosing her, that they’re just going to make it work. Then Electro makes an appearance, and Peter tricks Gwen into staying behind out of danger–though she just ends up following him anyway. And partly because she ends up following him, Gwen dies. Her death is not Peter’s fault, but his selfishness in worrying so much about keeping her safe and his not losing her, instead of letting her make her own choices, in addition to his neglect of his friend Harry, all contribute to bring about the situation that makes her death possible.
And that’s another area where the film does well: with the villains. There are plenty of Face-Heel Turn stories out there, where good guys become bad guys, but when viewed in light of Peter’s inattention to much beyond Gwen, their presence in The Amazing Spider-man 2 makes quite a bit of sense. Both Max Dillon and Harry Osborn are characters who have been ignored for much of their lives: Max by everyone, and Harry by his father. Neither character starts out evil: Max is a lowly, slightly mentally unstable OSCORP employee who gets pushed around. Harry is a rich, self-absorbed prep school kid who was blatantly, intentionally rejected by his father, which only furthers his angst and self-absorption. Both are further neglected not merely by Peter but by everyone else. Peter tries to help in Electro’s case, but the human fear of the unknown causes the police to shoot at Electro instead of letting Peter talk to him–an occurrence which pushes Electro over the edge.
A certain amount of Harry’s descent into villainy, however, is due to Peter Parker’s neglect. Caught up in his own problems, Peter only meets with his friend once as Spiderman, and never does a follow up as Peter: he simply tells Harry, “I can’t give you my blood, it might kill you,” then leaves. Peter saw how desperate Harry was to cure himself, so he could’ve explained his situation better, or at least pointed out some alternatives, and he most certainly could have interacted more with Harry. But he didn’t, so Harry took matters into his own hands. Are either of these situations completely, or even mostly and directly, Peter’s fault? No. It’s not as if he knew exactly what would happen, so in that sense it wasn’t his responsibility. But Max and Harry’s tragic stories highlight the enormity of what happens if no one takes responsibility for other people, if no one reaches out to them and tries to help. We can continually say, “But it’s not my responsibility!” But soon enough everyone shirks the responsibility, and these people are left helpless. Even Max and Harry are responsible for their own choices, but their situations are such that a helping hand might have nudged them in the right direction.
There is one other part of the Amazing Spider-man 2 that I particularly liked, but I’ll wait to write about that, since this review is already so long. So, in short, Peter doesn’t develop as much as I would like to have seen through the course of the movie, but the story itself highlights his lack of development and sets him up for development in a sequel. This makes The Amazing Spider-man 2 an enjoyable watch all in all, even if not a great film–and it’s quite an improvement on its predecessor.