Back in 2012, I was disheartened to find the critical community united in its disdain for The Amazing Spider-Man. As reviewers from the four corners of the Web all complained that this new version of our hero didn’t match the previous movies’, I couldn’t help but think, “No kidding. Wasn’t that the point?” Sam Raimi did a great job capturing Stan Lee’s original comics in the sixties, distilling the idea of a responsible young adult for a prepubescent audience. Marc Webb’s take has got more to do with Michael J. Bendis’ current run on The Ultimate Spider-Man, which targets an older demographic looking back at adolescence. His Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) is younger, messier, more confused, more damaged, more compromised, and, in my eyes, perfect.
Consider the opening chase in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, wherein Spidey stops an incompetent robber (Paul Giamatti) from inadvertently dropping nuclear canisters all over New York City. The single best action sequence in any Spider-Man motion picture, the set piece brims with joy, emphasising our hero’s love for the people he protects. Screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner finally nail the character’s masked persona, from his trademark wisecracks to the dynamic way he tackles even the most mundane of criminals. Ironically, none of the spectacular fight scenes with our main villain, Electro (Jamie Foxx), display as much energy.
The sequences dealing with our hero’s home life however do. I adore, for instance, Aunt May’s intensely human reaction when he asks her about his parents, how it accounts for her own grieving process, allowing Sally Field to express at once every emotion known to man: love, hurt, compassion, fear, jealousy, sadness, worry… I practically bawled my eyes out. Also of note in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is Peter’s friendship with Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan), who returns from boarding school to discover he’s dying from the same illness that killed his father (Chris Cooper). I find it astounding how much affection the two teens convey for one another in just a handful of scenes.
Harry’s growing desperation for a cure eventually ties into the creation of the Green Goblin along with Spider-Man’s own origin, resolving once and for all the subplot regarding Richard (Campbell Scott) and Mary Parker’s (Embeth Davidtz) disappearance at the beginning of the previous film. In the age of bloated blockbuster trilogies, I’d have expected Sony to stretch out this mystery for at least one more chapter, but The Amazing Spider-Man 2 makes a point of cramming as much plot as humanly possible in under two hours and forty minutes. The result proves disorienting at times, yet strangely exhilarating, sort of like that moment in The Dark Knight (2008) when we all realised we’d no idea where the story was headed.
Some will criticise The Amazing Spider-Man 2 for short-changing its baddies, most notably the Rhino and Electro. The first, I don’t consider a character so much as an enhanced version of those faceless burglars a super-hero has to fight at the start and end of every movie to confirm the status quo. The second, on the other hand, does feel underdeveloped, though I suspect that’s got less to do with screen time than the simplistic nature of his arc, sort of like the Lizard in The Amazing Spider-Man. In fairness, this villain looks way cooler, borrowing his appearance from The Ultimate Spider-Man comics series, and I like what his motives communicate about our celebrity culture, the way we, as a mass, confuse fame with validation.
For my money, Webb puts the focus exactly where needed, which is to say on our hero’s romance with Gwen Stacy. I love Emma Stone’s on-screen chemistry with Andrew Garfield, the incredible warmth and wit they bring to their characters’ on-and-off relationship. Haunted by his parents’ absence, the murder of Uncle Ben, and the spectre of Captain Stacy (Denis Leary), Peter keeps letting his fear of abandonment get in the way, but, instead of suffering his commitment issues like a helpless twit (I’m looking at you, Mary Jane Watson), Gwen positions herself as an equal partner in crime and reminds us that she alone is responsible for her destiny. This leads to some of the most hilarious scenes in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and also its most heartrending.
“It’s easy to have hope on a beautiful day like this, but dark days will come,” Gwen explains, outlining the film’s central theme. Indeed, Harry and Electro start off relatively cheery, but, their backs against the wall, one quickly loses his moral compass, and the other his sanity, setting the stage for Peter’s own tragic challenge. I admire The Amazing Spider-Man 2 for depicting both the sunny days and stormy nights in Peter’s life. Some comic book heroes operate in the light, others in darkness, but Spidey has always melded the two as part of his naturalistic hook. As such, I can’t understand anyone still hung up on Webb not being the same director as Raimi. Who cares? This, to me, is the one true Spider-Man.