Director: Marc Webb
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan
Rating: 4 out of 5 webs. No, this is not a perfect film, hence why I’m not giving it a perfect score. However, its flaws were fairly inconsequential for me personally. This review may read at times like an essay because I feel it is my charge somehow to defend the film’s strengths in lieu of the specific weaknesses that have been cited by so many critics in reviewing this film: bloated/convoluted plot with too many villains, uneven pacing in which some things happened too fast and with little explanation or motivation, etc. While I agree that these flaws may have been present, I actually think the film was more entertaining and more emotional than the first of Webb’s installments; perhaps I was straining so hard to see the film’s flaws, that I lowered expectations without even realizing it. But, I think my true reasoning is that the things about the film which may have bothered many critics simply didn’t bother me despite my acknowledging their validity here. This is a rare manipulation of my own rating system: I took off one point not because there were barely any shortcomings, but rather, I will hold firmly to my opinion that those shortcomings did not distract or detract from the enjoyment of this movie whatsoever.
Before transitioning to a more traditional review structure, even though I did after all predict that this may read like an essay at times, I’d like to say also that this film made me really think about film criticism. Is it acceptable for me, in other words, to look past a movie’s flaws for the sake of enjoying it fully or does this make me a bad critic somehow? I think the answer to this depends in part at least on the specific film and the severity of its flaws, and that latter facet is something that will always vary from person to person– and critic to critic. Many may also say I have a bias, or that I am a “fangirl” when it comes to Spider-Man. However, shouldn’t that make me more critical, more discerning and more disappointed should the film not fulfill my expectations? This movie has already proven somewhat polarizing– some people hated it, others (like myself) loved it, and others thought it was mediocre at best and at worst. I think this is a film that can easily be ripped apart even by those who loved it– I will say that loving this movie is not without its conditions, and admitting to the things that were wrong with it only strengthened my feelings about all the things that were right about it.
This sequel once again follows Garfield’s Peter Parker and Stone’s Gwen Stacy. Many critics have said their love story is the film’s main strength. I agree that their chemistry and the scenes between them are wonderful, albeit a little melodramatic in the best possible way. In general, the human dimension of Webb’s take on Spidey is arguably so solid because that is what Webb has always known and done best; the scenes between Peter and Gwen are funny, heartfelt and they seem to be the most real and raw elements of the narrative, providing a really strong foundation for the superheroics to ensue.
I will say that when the film began, I was doubtful that it would be able to sustain and weave together its abundance of storylines in any kind of cohesive manner; to put it simply, there was undoubtedly a lot going on here. But, I do think the film managed to negotiate it all in a way that made sense and felt natural and logical. For some, the too-many-storylines issue was glaring; the pacing buckled under the weight of juggling the romance, the mystery and history of Peter’s father and Oscorp, and of course, the multiple villains. I will agree that the tonal shifts had the potential to be jarring, but something about Webb’s direction, the seamless editing, and the performances seemed to do enough overtime work to smooth out the edges and bumps created from biting off more than the film could seemingly chew. In particular, I would argue that the villain problem was treated pretty well. While Spider-Man 3 of Sam Raimi’s trilogy seemed like a messy and mismatched hodgepodge of villains, this film links Foxx’s Electro and DeHaan’s Green Goblin in a way that makes sense, so their presence never felt random.
Another complaint I have heard which I can somewhat see is that the villains had the thinnest of motivations, thereby making their villainy a confusing and campy shift. Foxx’s Electro, or Max, is proven to be pretty mentally unstable, though, becoming obsessed with Spider-Man after being saved by him in an early sequence. Max is clearly lonely, insecure and disturbed by his loneliness and insecurity, so his turn from worshiping Spider-Man to abhorring him happens fast, yes, but it doesn’t happen for no discernible reason either; I understood his motivations enough based on what was given to suspend my doubt so I could sit back and just enjoy the ride. Dehaan plays Harry/Green Goblin with a giddiness that is chilling and effective. His villainy is tacked on towards the end but in a way that sets up the third film so we can forgive the film for rushing, I think, in that instance. I think the fact that we hadn’t heard about his and Peter’s friendship before is a little jarring as well maybe, but it is explained by Harry’s being sent away to boarding school eight years prior. Again, I think these are the kinds of things that I could personally look past because the overall experience of the film overshadows them enough.
So, again, whether that proves a kind of willful ignorance on my part, I cannot say for sure. I do know I’m not the only person who loved this film, but for some reason, the negative feedback is slowly eclipsing the positive feedback, at least from what I can tell. And I think that’s really unfortunate. On the whole, I thought this film was more satisfying than its predecessor on a number of levels. First of all, it had even more humor and even more emotional weight. The villains may not have been perfectly developed, but the fight scenes, action sequences and special effects were particularly noteworthy, breathtaking and overall just impeccably well-handled– I often found myself gasping, mesmerized and fully invested. Also, while some things happened quickly even within the 2 and a half hour run time, I think the film moved more fluidly than the first film, perhaps because we didn’t need to waste any time on the origin story. I will say that there were complaints about the film’s ending that were not unfounded: adding in a third villain momentarily, continuing the set up for the third film. I think it’s valid to feel that this wasn’t necessary and that Peter’s emotional turnaround (from a tragic event that happens in the third act, during which I cried copious tears) happens too soon, in terms of both real and filmic time. But, this ending was also triumphant in a lot of other ways that shouldn’t be discredited, adding a sense of hope and happiness to the film’s conclusion that could have been alluded to sufficiently, sure, but showing it was just as satisfying, if not more so in my opinion. Again, the performances were amazing, and Garfield in particular is increasingly successful as the web-slinging hero– sassy and silly and brave and conflicted all at once. Basically, I thought this film was engaging and fun and deeply moving at times, despite the flaws it may have had. Hopefully, by admitting to their existence, I am still doing my duty as a would-be film critic. But as a viewer, I cannot honestly say that those flaws negatively altered my overall experience of the film.