On seeing the trailer for the first time last December, I wrote a piece about how totally unexcited I was about The Amazing Spider Man 2. I did not go to see the film when it was released in the Summer but, now that it has come out for home viewing, a blend of curiosity and convenience has led me to watch it.
I had three concerns on seeing that early promo. The first problem was that it looked like we were going to get multiple villains. Following the success of The Avengers, genre film makers have been fooled into thinking that ensemble casts are an easy thing to manage but too many characters almost killed this franchise seven years ago with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 and it seemed as though this may happen again.
Secondly it seemed as though we were going to get another movie where the hero battles against someone in a big robot suit. I know it can be tricky to come up with a bad guy strong enough to threaten a superhero but putting someone in a big mechanised outfit is just not original anymore. Once again this is probably down to the Marvel Studios films and even they couldn’t sustain it for more than one Iron Man movie. It isn’t as though the comic books don’t already present a list of more interesting megalomaniacs to choose from either.
Finally, Spider Man’s nemesis the Goblin just looked a bit rubbish.
Well, now that I am able to judge the film on its entire running time rather than a couple of minutes of clips, I have to say, it’s not as bad as I feared. There are things I don’t like but there is one big aspect that I like very very much.
There are three baddies in the film, which is two too many but it could have been worse. The shots of Doctor Octopus and Vulture’s paraphernalia seen in the trailer were clearly there to set up a later movie that has now been confirmed with the announcement of a Sinister Six film. (The Sinister Six is a group of super villains in the comics who, like The Avengers and The Guardians of the Galaxy, has had various different compositions over the years.)
Of the three villains that do appear, Rhino (he of the robotic battle armour) is also only really in one scene so that’s good. Also, as it happens, it’s one of the best bits of the film.
The other two, Electro and Goblin, are far more significant but unfortunately they are both under served and under written. Jamie Foxx’s charisma-less Electro is not so much a character as a special effect surrounded by special effects. He isn’t half as engaging as Rhys Ifan’s Lizard from the last movie who in turn wasn’t anywhere near as good as Green Goblin, Doc Oc, Sandman or even Venom from the Toby Maquire flicks.
The manner in which Electro becomes super charged is pretty stupid as well. I think they must have come came up with it using a chart that helps you generate origin stories for super heroes/villains: Pick one option from each column, mild mannered… social misfit… is hurt in a science experiment gone wrong… when he falls into a vat of toxic goo….. and is bitten by… radioactive… electric eels.
Dane DeHaan is interesting as Harry Osborn, the guy who is apparently Peter Parker’s best friend even though they’ve not seen each other for almost a decade. Regrettably his turn to the dark side is no less clichéd than that of his kilowatt compadre and his demonic Peter Pan outfit does look a bit rubbish.
The thing is though, alongside all the standard superhero shenanigans, there is a whole other part to this film that didn’t really feature in that uninspiring trailer. As well as having explosions, flying gymnastics, shady corporations and the unsurprising truth about Peter’s parents, this movie also has at its heart a sweetly romantic and tragic love story.
The relationship between Peter and Gwen Stacey in this film is heartrending. They are so convincingly in love yet cannot be together. He promised her dying father he’d stay away from her and knows she’ll never be safe around him. She in turn has a fantastic opportunity abroad she’d be foolish to miss. I genuinely found their relationship more moving than that of the couple in The Fault in Our Stars and it is by far the best part of the movie.
A lot of it is in the writing. Clearly theirs are not the problems of normal teenagers but their situation is somehow believable and engaging. You don’t doubt for a second the depth of genuine feeling between these two and this is largely down to the way it is wonderfully played by Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone.
There is one very simple scene where they meet up after a months apart montage and talk about still being friends. They begin to suggest the need for ground rules if this is going to work and what proceeds is a lovely exchange where they list the things they find adorable about one another that they have to stop doing. On paper it sounds like the worst kind of Hollywood scripting but in fact it is quite the opposite. It is flirty and clumsy in the way young love can be and it feels very real.
The other thing about Gwen Stacey is that she is so much more than the damsel in distress which makes her relationship with Peter Parker seem so much more equal, even if he does have super strength, hyper agility and mega healing powers.
Interestingly, this is one thing they haven’t got right in the Marvel Cinematic Universe yet. Pepper Potts and Jane Foster are feisty and empowered women for sure but they can’t really keep up with their respective boyfriends Iron Man and Thor in any way.
If you consider the criteria by which portrayals of women in film are often measured, Gwen Stacey comes out well. She certainly does not exist only to define or motivate a man. Peter’s love for Gwen is not the thing that drives him on as the hero, in fact he is not able to reconcile the one with the other. Similarly Gwen is not defined by Peter or her own unrealistic powers. She is strong willed, brave and smart and yet doesn’t seem to know any martial arts whatsoever. She is beautiful without being objectified and her presence is not a token one.
I refer to this as The Ripley Factor on my blog but this does not seem to quite apply in this here. Katniss Everdeen has The Ripley Factor but Gwen Stacey has something altogether more realistic. She shows a resourcefulness that doesn’t actually seem beyond that of normal people and this is actually typical of the parts Emma Stone chooses to play. Perhaps it should be called the Skeeter Scale.
The Amazing Spider Man 2 then is really just another overblown and flawed action film as I’d feared but it is also one of the most touchingly romantic movies I have seen in a very long time.
Is this one for the kids?
The last Spider Man 2 was the first film to he given the 12A certificate and since then we’ve seen a fairly standard level of violence in superhero films with this rating. You know you’ll see some pain inflicted but it’s all bloodless. If anything this film is a little lighter on the punches and puncture wounds although there is one death that is potentially a little upsetting.