Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

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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.

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9 thoughts on “Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

  1. Great review. I loved the film and thought the new lighter more comic book feel of the film made Spider-man finally feel like Spider-man.

    Very much looking forward to the next one, BRING ON SINISTER SIX! 😀

  2. Great review, Sara. One of my biggest fears I had about this movie when I saw the trailers was Webb was going to do too much, but I’d say he did a good job of balancing everything. He also did a great job of keeping Peter’s humor all through the movie, even when things got serious, much like the comic version of him.

    To comment on looking past a movie’s flaws for enjoyment, personally I do my ratings based on how much I enjoyed the film. I consider myself a reviewer, not a critic (I feel there is a difference between the two), so I’m very informal about my writing. I don’t think looking past flaws if you had fun with the film makes you a bad critic, it makes you a movie lover. Keep up the good work!

    • Thank you so much for this comment (and my apologies for taking so long to reply!)
      I’m glad you agree in terms of how Webb balanced everything, not to mention my favorite aspect of his take on the character: that he is so much more humorous and in line with the comic’s representation of him. That’s really interesting that there may be a difference between a reviewer and a critic– something I may have to consider more often from now on when I write about films. I agree too that it may make you nothing more than a movie lover, so I’ll definitely keep it in mind, very good advice indeed. Thank you again!

  3. Very polarizing views of this film- probably the most polarized I’ve seen since Spider-Man 3. Film was good and Garfield’s chemistry with Stone is as good as it was in the previous film. Maybe being a real life couple helps in that regard, but that was the best part of the film. Also helps that Marc Webb knows how to write romance. My issues dealt with clunky storytelling: Peter, for no real reason, suddenly researching his parents after not wanting to at all, Oscorp supposedly not knowing about the secret lab in Roosevelt Station- and that Richard Parker uploaded a video to THEIR server- despite the fact that they built the damn facility, Max Dillon coming off a bit like Jim Carrey’s Edward Nygma in Batman Forever and Harry becoming the Goblin in this film. I don’t have an issue with Harry becoming the Green Goblin before Norman does, as I don’t think Norman is dead, but it felt a bit tacked-on just so the film could have A Goblin carry out Gwen’s symbolic death from issue #121. The movie is ambitious, yes, and there’s fun to be had, but the clunky factors are still there.

    • I totally agree about the clunky storytelling; a lot of things felt tacked on without enough time (ironic given the length of the film) or care given to smoothing out any kind of bumps or addressing any awkwardness that those components caused, if that makes sense. I was able to look past the clunky factors for the sake of fun, but I wholeheartedly agree that they’re there. I also agree that the chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone is the best aspect of the movie! I wonder how much my love for them as a real-life couple sort of biased me going into this film, though… Oh well! I had fun with this imperfect film nonetheless.

      • I agree. Like Days of Future Past, I only notice those certain nitpicks because of being a comic book fan. What Amazing Spider-Man 2 gets right, it really gets right and Garfield has grown into the role very well, both in and out of costume. I sometimes wonder if I’d enjoy comic book films more if I didn’t read comics.

      • Yeah I totally get that; I mean, that’s a really interesting thing to consider. Because at the same time, I wonder if your appreciation level for those things that these kinds of films do get right is higher or deeper or something. It’s a really interesting question, for sure. I do think Garfield has grown into the role well also! I loved Raimi’s trilogy but there are aspects of Webb’s films that I like better whether I can justify them or not, one of them may be Garfield himself. Thanks for your commenting by the way! With all the comic book franchise installments that come out in the summer, these are really interesting things to talk about.

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