Watching Amazing Spider-Man 2, it’s not hard to believe that Peter Parker AKA Spider-Man and Gwen Stacy are really in love. Well, okay, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are really dating, and their chemistry gives the second (of what we can only assume will at least be another trilogy) the heart it needs. Sure, Jamie Foxx has an electric turn (see what I did there?) as Electro, and Paul Giamatti settles in as a tough supporting role as Rhino, and the special effects that Marc Webb works in are tremendous. But without the Peter/Gwen romance, this one falters in a place that Tobey Maguire’s Spidey didn’t (it was the third round that squashed him). Still, this is the work of the (500) Days of Summer director, so what exactly were we expecting?
The quick review: The second feature is not as good as the first, but still better than most of Maguire’s work. There are a few too many things going on for it to stay focused and the middle third gets a little long. But all of that can’t detract from a powerful finale act that finds us dealing with Peter’s love for Gwen and her history that Spidey fans are well aware of.
We were introduced to a new mythos in the first of Webb’s Spider-Man movies: Peter’s father was an OsCorp employee who developed radioactive spiders, which were used to weaponize people. In this sequel, we have the “where’d he go?” and “will Peter find out?” wrapped up. But somehow, that spirited piece ends up being too much, when we mix in the overall development of Spider-Man’s main villain, Electro, the building tension between Peter and Gwen (over his promise to her father), the growing tension between Peter and Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan, playing marvelously), and Marvel’s obsession with building toward a Sinister Six. It’s unfortunate, because having seen Spider-Man 3, I’m aware that too many villains can spoil the party: we want to know their backstory, their animosity toward our hero, etc. Here, three villains proves to make the movie feel too long in the development, even if we do see that they’re driven to madness by the way they’re rejected by their families/society.
That said, the rapport between Garfield and Stone is terrific. The stylized Manhattan is epic, and the (copied from Spider-Man 2) sentiment revolving around a kid and his hero is enough to make you cheer. [It goes without saying that this is the kind of hero mantra being preached in places around the world, none more than NYC post-9/11 and Boston post-Marathon bombing.] I didn’t see it in 3D ($17.50, really?) but the action pops off the screen anyway, and I thought one of Spidey’s leaps down off a building might make me motion sick. It’s actually quite fun.
But, true to Spider-Man lore, we’ve got to kiss Gwen goodbye, and we find that while she provided the grounding for his decision-making, we’re up against it now. Now, he has to step out of the shadows on his own: Aunt May (Sally Field) can’t carry his emotional load, Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and his parents are gone, and Gwen can’t help. Except for what might as well have been a time-released video note, reminding Peter that “we have to be greater than what we suffer” in a scene that hammers home the power of hope.
In Romans 5:3-5, Paul says, ” We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” It’s almost as if the thesis statement of the movie was ripped from the Bible, and Peter’s future is tied to how well he internalizes his muse’s encouragement. We’ll have to wait until 2016 to see how that plays out, and whether the Garfield/Stone pairing can survive.
For now, we hope.