When ever I want to know anything about comic books I call on one person – Dr Batman, aka Luke Halsall (@LJHalsall). But after reading the following we might have to change his name to Dr Spider-Man. Check out his review of The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
To anyone that knows me they are aware that I am a huge comics fan and one character – Spider-Man. When I was a child I loved Superman and Batman; I adored Wolverine, Gambit, Rogue and Magneto – but it was Spider-Man who plugged me in, never to leave again. Spider-Man, especially Peter Parker means a lot to me. He is like my fictional best friend and I think for this reason I put a lot of depictions of Spider-Man under a very critical light. Unlike Batman and other characters I never felt that Spidey had the perfect film. In fact for the past decade I felt in both comic and film, he was not the wall crawler I loved as a child. I had actually started to wonder whether I had a vision of Spider-Man that was different to most people that just didn’t fit. Thankfully, that has all changed with The Amazing Spider-Man 2. It was like meeting up with an old friend who you had lost touch with and somehow you connected in away that you never thought you would again.
I think it is important to note that I appreciate The Amazing Spider-Man 2 won’t work for everybody. Ironically before the film came out I was worried I would be one of those people. The trailer looked like Sony had completely misunderstood what was special about the character of Spider-Man. After the success of The Avengers and the Marvel cinematic universe, it looked like Sony felt the best way for Spidey was to do the same: go epic. And yet that is not what makes Spider-Man work. In all honestly Spider-Man is not what makes Spider-Man special: it is Peter Parker. It is all about the characters that are part of this world. We care more about Peter and his troubles, his ailing Aunt May and his love life more than we do about him getting even with Doctor Octopus. Peter and the people around him is what matters and thankfully we got that in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Looking at the trailer for this film the CGI looked horrendous, tacky and fake. It made me cringe to think what we were getting. Yet on the big screen the CGI works well, showing Spidey in his most liberated fashion.
The story revolves around Peter Parker graduating from school and heading to college. He is still dating Gwen Stacy, even after he promised her father on his deathbed to break it off. Max Dillon, a seemingly normal electrician for Oscorp is turned into Electro, who has the ability to control electricity. Meanwhile, Peter’s long term friend Harry Osborn returns to New York to see his father, Norman, before he dies of a genetic illness. Can Harry save himself before he falls to the same fate as his father? Will Aunt May be able to cope with paying for Peter’s college fees? Will Peter be able to beat Electro, save the city and, with a good heart, be able to continue to date Gwen?
First things first, as stated earlier, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is likely to split the audience: you will either love it or hate it. This, at its core, is a film that is a comic book, not a comic book film. You might think that I am going mad and saying the same thing twice but I think there is a subtle difference. Most, if not all superheroes adapted to the screen, are comic book films: they are comics that have been developed for the film audience. Whereas The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a film that is a comic book: a film that feels like a couple of comic book issues interlinked together to complete a story arc. Everything about it feels like you are turning a page from one scene to the next even with the ending feeling more like it should have a snappy one liner stating: tune in next month to find out how Spidey will get out of this battle. In my opinion this is what will split the audience. Fans of the comic medium will love this film, whereas fans who started with the films might find it slightly off, maybe even disjointed.
Linked to this is the idea of ‘tell not show’. Often it is better to show not tell but here I think tell not show works far better. Like in the horror genre where it is better to leave things to the imagination, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 does the same in particular with Harry Osborn and his relationship with Peter. I liked the original films and the first Amazing Spider-Man but nothing was completely right for me. Little changes bugged me. With The Amazing Spider-Man 2 we get the opposite, allowing us as viewers to fill the gaps. Harry mentions that his father bought him scotch for a birthday present when he turned sixteen. We also find out that he is only twenty and is seen drinking in the morning. This is enough for fans to illustrate he is an addict. We don’t need this explained to us and in fact this adds greater depth: it shows how little Norman cares for his son. Even Harry and Mary Jane’s relationship is mentioned with a fleeting about Harry dating a model. Yes this doesn’t exactly state it is Mary Jane but it is enough for a comic fan to put the pieces together.
Again if you do not know all the little bits that go hand in hand with the Spider-Man universe this might have passed you by and therefore it feels rushed.
Dane DeHann should be applauded for his portrayal of Harry. He steals every scene he’s in, with a desperation and arrogance flowing through his performance.
Although we only see it once, the heart felt conversation between Aunt May and Peter illustrating that they see each other more like mother and son is so beautifully portrayed that we don’t need this to be shown again and again, over egging the pudding. Interwoven with this was Peter hiding his secret identity from his Aunt. There are some lovely comical moments where Peter has to think quickly why all their clothes turn out red and blue after washing and the like.
But maybe best of all is the portrayal of J Jonah Jameson. The creators of the reboot quite rightly felt that JK Simmons did such an iconic version of the character in the original trilogy that no-one else could take his place. His presence was something that I felt was greatly missed from the first Amazing Spider-Man as his character adds so much to Peter Parker and Spider-Man’s lives. In The Amazing Spider-Man 2 we still do not see him but Peter receives many emails from him, perfectly portraying the kind of thing that Jameson would say to Peter. Here we don’t want another actor turning up pretending to be Jameson. We instead get an image in our heads of JK Simmons iconic version of the character having Jameson there almost in spirit.
Garfield must get credit for producing a phenomenal Peter Parker. He feels uncomfortable in his own skin and yet right at home as Spider-Man. He cares for the people he loves and worries about the little things. This is in essence Peter Parker in the same way that Christopher Nolan perfectly understood Batman. Further he plays off beautifully with Emma Stone, making their love feel so real and right.
However exciting and fan pleasing this film is, the most important thing that Amazing Spider-Man 2 does differently to its four predecessors is that Spidey does not take off his mask when fighting. In the original trilogy it had become laughable that he still wore a mask as Spidey stripped it from his face every minute he got, seeming to do it more than ever when there was a big crowd. He would eventually save the day with the crowd all agreeing as one they would never tell the world his secret. The fact by the end of Spider-Man 3 everyone in New York must have known who Spider-Man was devalued the character who cares more about his secret identity than many if not all other superheroes. It was saddening to see this train of thought continue in Amazing Spider-Man and what seemed to go hand in hand with this was that the New Yorkers loved Spider-Man. Spidey is hated by his public in the comics, something that makes Peter question what he does even more so. Although I would not state this hate was as strongly shown as it could have been the fact that Peter actually kept the mask on was so refreshing.
Something that the original trilogy missed out on was that Peter Parker is a great scientist. We saw this slightly in Amazing Spider-Man but here we saw it used to great effect as he busily worked on new webbing for his shooters to help take down Electro and even working out how to battle when his webshooters were broken. All of this adds much to the character that we lost in the original trilogy, making battles more difficult with Peter often having to work out what to do using his brain instead of his brawn.
This film is a huge homage to the comic readers going all the way back to the beginning with lots of lovely moments such as when Peter has a cold and has to wear his warm hat and scarf when out webslinging. It only lasted a few minutes but it left me with a huge grin on my face. As well as this, the film hints at what is coming in future films from the big hitters to The Sinister Six to (for me personally) the more exciting film debuts of Smythe (whether this is Spencer or his son we are still unsure but seeing the spider slayers in a future film would make me delighted) and Felicia Hardy AKA The Black Cat.
All in all The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is an incredibly fun film. If you have always loved the comic books, there is so much in this that you will adore. For others it might feel slightly disjointed or overcrowded. It is not as good a film as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but far more fun and is the perfect depiction of Spider-Man yet.