...shining light on the media, one review at a time
Most of us as kids or secretly as adults have dreamed of having some super power or actually being a superhero. Usually, the thinking is that if we could have such exceptional powers and strength, our lives would be much better. Sure, super powers are cool, but the best superhero stories show the reality that with great power comes great responsibility and great burdens to match.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is one such tale. While living up to the first installment (The Amazing Spider-Man) in its emphasis on positive values and true heroism, this film exceeds its predecessor in thematic depth and complexity. Heavy doses of violence mar the film, but the combination of staggering special effects with a singular pairing of lead actors and a gripping story that teaches positive messages means that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is still pretty amazing.
No longer the young high school student with brand new superpowers, Peter Parker (a.k.a. Spider-Man) is in full command of his Spidey abilities and about to graduate from college with girlfriend Gwen Stacy at his side. Life is good, except for the nagging memory of Gwen’s father, to whom Peter gave the promise that he wouldn’t see Gwen again because of the dangers he might bring her way.
Guilt over breaking that promise grows stronger for Peter, making him question his own honor in still pursuing a relationship with Gwen, even as he himself fears her father is right that she will be endangered by her closeness to Peter. Gwen, however, wants to make her own choices and fights to keep their relationship together.
Meanwhile, Harry Osborne returns home to take over Oscorp from his dying father. Peter and Harry reunite, recalling the childhood memories and history of abandonment they share. Harry’s return only serves as an additional reminder to Peter of another issue that has been haunting him—his parents. The fact that they left him as a child with Uncle Ben and Aunt Mae gnaws at him now more than ever before. He has so many questions, but doesn’t know where to find the answers.
Life only gets more complicated when a new villain appears, one that is even more powerful than Spider-Man. Peter is used to fighting bad guys, but this one is different. This time, the battle is tied up in a web of mystery so tangled, even a spider can’t find its way out. His friendship with Harry and his relationship with Gwen on the line, Peter will need more courage, love, and honesty than he knew he had. But the cost of doing the right thing might be more than he’s willing to pay.
Unlike some superhero sequels, which endlessly repeat the same themes and lessons that had been supposedly learned in previous installments, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a smart and pleasing follow-up that honors the first film while giving viewers an exciting continuation of the story that takes them forward to the next stages of the character’s journey.
Though the picture begins by showing Peter making light of his confrontations with villains with jocularity, viewers see as the movie continues that he has obviously matured since the first film—a progression that nicely emphasizes his greater age (this story takes place four years after the first installment) and the lessons he learned the first time around. Rather than disregarding Peter’s growth from immature boy into admirable hero, the film maintains that change in Peter and introduces new themes to explore.
Here, Peter is the hero viewers watched him become in the first installment. He not only protects the innocent to the best of his abilities, but he makes a point of personally connecting with people he rescues and, at times, with the villains themselves. He even engages in conversation with villains, preferring to talk and listen to a dangerous person who is initially a reluctant adversary, rather than ignore or insult him. Peter says at one point that he believes Spider-Man brings people hope. Not just pretty words for Peter—he lives them out every time he puts on his Spidey suit.
Like Peter, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is more mature than the first of this series. The story takes viewers, along with Peter, into more complex and challenging dilemmas, exploring situations in which the right answer is not always clear and stakes are higher. Viewers see Peter experiencing the demands of adulthood in a world that involves pain, loss, grief, and love. Peter has to comfort those who used to comfort him, while he fluctuates between pushing away and hanging on to the people he loves most.
In this film, choices have consequences and, even when those choices are the right ones, the results can be bitterly painful. Out of the complexities and trials of this tale, Peter emerges as the hero viewers came to love in the first film, but more grown-up. Though not at all perfect, Peter starts out having many heroic qualities, and grows to have more by the end of the film. Ultimately, he exemplifies a passionate desire to do what is right, the courage to fight evil no matter the cost, loyalty with wisdom, and sacrificial love.
Through Peter and other characters, the story also explores themes of integrity, pride, kindness, self-obsession, humility, and honesty. Familial love also plays a crucial role in the picture, as viewers see the difference Peter’s adoptive family makes in his life as opposed to his foil, Harry, who had no substitute for the father who rejected him.
The growth in the writing and characters is paralleled by a growth in filmmaking prowess, as well. While the start of this series featured excellent special effects that were on-par with the CGI of its time, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 reflects all the improvements made to the craft in the two years that have passed. Every superhero movie made in the last couple years seems to one-up the films that came before, and this picture raises the bar even higher.
Fast-paced fight and chase sequences punctuate scenes of Spider-Man flying through the air with his webs that are breathtaking at first, but so realistically rendered that, if not for their artistic composition, one could begin to take them for granted. Not content with the usual demands of Spider-Man movies, the filmmakers take on other tremendous special effects challenges like complicated plane crashes, exploding structures, giant clock mechanisms, etc. The sets and locations, those digital and real, are astounding in their detail and complexity, adding an authenticity that makes this fantasy story believable.
At the heart of this film, however, are the characters and the actors who play them. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has an advantage in the magical pairing of Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Whatever their acting skills may be separately (Stone stands out as an especially authentic presence), these two are better together.
Their chemistry makes the romantic scenes, which otherwise might bore some viewers, a joy to watch because of the humor and incredibly natural rapport these players share. They sell every moment with their realism as individuals and engagement with each other, ensuring that viewers care about this crucial part of Spider-Man’s story.
All the positives of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 are sadly not undamaged by negative content. Mild offensive language spots the film, as “d--n,” “h---,” and “p---ed” are said two times each, while God’s name is misused a few times.
Violence leaps to the forefront of concerns, maintaining or even exceeding the regrettable level of such content present in the series’ first installment. The most disturbing of the violent moments involve several “transformation” sequences, as well as somewhat brief torture scenes, that show screaming victims in obvious pain. One of these moments happens because of a tragic accident, another is intentionally self-inflicted, and the others are executed for purposes of sadism or revenge.
A plethora of fight sequences take up a bulk of the screen time, mostly between superhero and villains, but at least once between normal “civilians,” as well. The civilian violence scene is actually one of the most violent, featuring strangulation, bloody violence, punching, and shooting.
Some of the violent deaths are treated appropriately in the film, emphasizing the tragedy and wrong in such deaths, but others, at best, are ignored and, at worst, seem almost to invite viewer support of the violence.
As an admirable superhero, Spider-Man stands out as the character who avoids hurting those he’s fighting as much as possible and does not intentionally kill anyone. Still, even Spidey is guilty of sometimes taking his use of force too lightly. In one scene, for example, he uses his webbing to pull down a villain’s pants (revealing boxers) for no purpose beyond adding humiliation to the man’s capture.
Other than that one instance, crude or bathroom humor is tastefully absent from The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Sexual content is also kept almost completely out of the picture. One exception comes when Gwen tells Peter she’s going to do her graduation speech for him “all night,” suggesting the two of them have a sexually intimate relationship. They don’t actually fulfill this promise, however, and still live in separate homes. They do kiss passionately numerous times throughout the movie and Gwen sports super short skirts, but these concerns are mild for the usual PG-13 fare.
For mature teens and adults who choose to tackle the violence and mild language, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 offers the complete package of an inspiring, surprisingly moving story with positive messages and the best of big-budget filmmaking polish. Oh, and it’s pretty amazing fun, too.