Live Action Spider-Man Retrospective Review: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014)

( INTRODUCTION, SPIDER-MAN 1, SPIDER-MAN 2, SPIDER-MAN 3,
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2,
SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME)

Our Live-Action Retrospective Review proceeds to 2014 with the sequel to the first reboot: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014). The following is my review of this film. I am making my own observations and subjective impressions here. I am not remotely commenting on everything inside the film or making any final word here.

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) was mostly based on Ultimate Spider-Man but it’s main story idea was patterned on the Lee-Romita comic ‘The Death of Captain Stacy’, who dies at the end but not before asking Spider-Man to “Leave Gwen out of it” which Peter initially agrees to. He stays away from Captain Stacy’s funeral and “ghosts her” leaving Gwen confused and sad but she figures out that her father made him promise to keep away. At the climax of TASM-1, during the Creative Writing Class, riffing off the instructor’s remark, however Peter whispers to Gwen that promises one can’t keep are the best kinds.

As dialogue, it’s an example of millennial twee-ness, trying to sound smart for a few seconds, even if it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. On both a character and tonal level, it’s extremely odd for a movie to show a few scenes after a man dying heroically, to essentially go “LOL” on his final words. It’s a bit weird that Raimi’s Spider-Man 1 ended up giving more gravitas to Norman Osborn, terrorist mass-murderer, and his final words of “Don’t Tell Harry” than TASM-1 gave to George Stacy, heroic policeman who sacrificed his life for Peter. As a viewer I don’t mind because the movie makes you want to be with the couple and as a comics fan, they twisted Captain Stacy into something he’s not, so I’m on board with the cinematic equivalent of making out on someone’s grave (which yes happened in a comics storyline, not in Spider-Man, but look it up).

So where does The Amazing Spider-Man go from where the characters were last left off?

THE SEQUEL TO THE REBOOT

19 FAVORITE MOVIES ideas | favorite movies, movies, movie posters
Nolan’s The Dark Knight in fact had many cool posters.

Movie sequels are a management of expectations. When Spider-Man 2 came out it had to live up to the success and fame and popularity of the first film and double down on the things in SM1 (romance, action, drama) that seemed to work. Things changed when Nolan ended Batman Begins with a card for The Joker. He wasn’t setting up expectations for a sequel to merely live up to the first film, but to essentially deliver a very specific film. A sequel with The Joker, extra-diegetically known as Batman’s greatest enemy, last seen in a live-action feature way back in in 1989, nearly 20 years before the release of The Dark Knight. Nolan took a big gamble. Had The Dark Knight been a clunker, it might have retroactively diminished Batman Begins.

That’s the pitfalls of hyper-serialized franchises over the Burton and Raimi model of standalone single films. Film-makers limit themselves from making sequels that assess the strengths/weaknesses and instead locks down the story they promised to deliver without bothering to think if plans had changed by that point.

The wisdom of the great philosopher Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) from Jurassic Park wasn’t heeded. Obviously The Amazing Spider-Man movies were intended to tell the serialized story of Gwen Stacy’s death. We get to know her and Peter as a couple, and go through all the highs, so that when she dies, it would be a total heartbreak and shock heard ’round the world. At least in theory, that’s how it’s supposed to have played out. But the TASM movies were so preoccupied with getting viewers preoccupied with the “killing Gwen” stunt, that they never stopped to consider or think if they “should”.

The Dark Knight at the end of the day featured the arch-nemesis who brought personal stakes to the rivalry, which automatically made the sequel a more familiar Batman status-quo than the Far-East Cult stuff of Begins. So a tease there was a calculated risk. Whereas adapting The Night Gwen Stacy Died is going “all-in”.

CROSS-PURPOSES

At this point, we can see that the major problems with the TASM films is that the film-makers and producers were confused. They wanted to make Spider-Man into a serialized film franchise to counter the MCU, so they featured overplots, sequel teases, unresolved subplots, post-credits scenes. The intent was to adapt Bendis-Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man which featured Peter as a high school student who never grew up. These ideas seem to be odd with the decision of casting a 29 and 24 year old (Garfield and Stone respectively) to play high school seniors in TASM-1 in 2012. Both are older than Tobey Maguire (27) and Kirsten Dunst (19) at the time of Spider-Man 1, who were cast as characters who aged. By the time of the sequels, the actors would be older and less able to pass as seniors, and TASM-2 opens with their high school graduation which defeats the entire project of a slow-paced continuity.

There was obviously a desire for serialization and steady progression but at the same time the first film essentially made Gwen Stacy into the franchise co-lead and perfect love. It seems that Marc Webb wanted to do the grand romantic tragedy of Gwen Stacy’s death, while the film’s producers wanted to generate a franchise that could serially branch in many directions. These ideas are substantially at odds with another, especially with the film’s interpretation of the Gwen romance.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT GWEN STACY

Gwen Stacy was an obscure character in the Spider-Man media until the 2000s. Within comics, her death was a big deal in the 1970s, but after the initial backlash to her death, reader attrition and inertia led people to move on and events in the Spider-Man continuity afterwards took its own logic. Her posthumous fame comes thanks to two retrospective stories.

Amazon.com: Marvels: The Remastered Edition (Marvels, 1): 9781302913168:  Ross, Alex, Busiek, Kurt: Books
  • One is Marvels by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross, which examines events of the Marvel continuity from the perspective of an in-universe Daily Bugle reporter . The final issue features Gwen Stacy’s death and it’s treated like an “end of an age” and this comic contributed to the perception that Gwen Stacy’s death marked the end of the so-called “Silver Age” (a concept only arising in the 1990s or so, no one in the actual Golden/Silver/Bronze ages saw their context that way).

  • The second story is Spider-Man: Blue by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. Framed by Peter Parker narrating it in a tape-recorder via flashback his early meetings with both Gwen and Mary Jane. Blue is the story of romantic innocence, lost youth, and remembering loved ones who are dead. In narrative terms, Spider-Man:Blue retells the early years of the Lee-Romita year, and mostly the plot of ASM#47, though the story is quite incongruous with several scenes from the early Romita era.

Marvels for the purpose of its historicist approach, framed Gwen as the Death of the Silver Age, while Spider-Man: Blue framed her as this wonderful person whose life was cut short. Both are valid approaches from the perspectives of its story and the characters narrating them and in their respective contexts. The point is that both stories frame Gwen Stacy, not from her point of view but from the perspective of male narrators, who are essentially creating projections of her. These are male projections which frames Gwen as this perfect saintly woman.

As such it’s considerably odd that these two male projections of Gwen (published decades later) have overwritten the original in-continuity characterization of Gwen to the point that most adaptations of Gwen, seem to be based more on them than the original narrative material. This applies to The Amazing Spider-Man where the portrayal of Emma Stone’s Gwen when she’s not Mary Jane (616 and Ultimate), is in fact based on the Gwen of these two stories more than anything in the original continuity. Both comics created this idea of Gwen Stacy that was considerably at odds with her characterization when she was alive and in-continuity:

Gwen’s Stacy death made her the holy version…this ideal woman for Peter…People who say that weren’t around for the whole run. They’ve forgotten how nasty she was. She wasn’t the most stable. She’d be all lovey-dovey one moment, and then hands-off the next. She was very strange.

Roger Stern [1]

“Gwen was gorgeous but she didn’t have much of a personality. She was kind of an emotional cipher who just made [Peter] feel bad all the time. MJ may have been sort of ‘me me me’ all the time and it wasn’t the most pleasant personality, but it was a personality, so I was always rooting for her.”

Brian Michael Bendis, Wizard OMD Special [2]

As I mentioned in my review of TASM-1, Emma Stone’s Gwen had essentially all her character’s unsympathetic traits removed and transferred into the film’s version of George Stacy (namely her hatred for Spider-Man) and the result is a character that is now inverted from Bendis’ observation. Emma Stone’s Gwen now exists to make Peter feel good “all the time”

Is that valid as a choice of adaptation? I would say yes, on paper it’s valid. Provided one commits to the interpretation, what it implies, and what it necessarily excludes. In practice it leads to a romantic relationship that doesn’t have stakes and doesn’t seem likely to break up except by camp melodrama (incarnated in the film by Denis Leary’s phantom cameo as a memory of Captain Stacy that Peter hallucinates, to the point of losing all efficacy) and a conclusion and a denouement that is both unearned and poorly executed.

TASM-1 ends with Peter breaking his promise to the captain and continuing to seeing Gwen. TASM-2 opens with the graduation, and Peter kissing the class valedictorian to swooning crowds, and then invited over to dinner to the house of Gwen’s mom. Then Peter starts seeing the campy visions of Leary, and he decides that he must repeat the celibacy arc of Spider-Man 2. Where Spider-Man 2 ended by saying that Peter holding himself away from Mary Jane was wrong and self-destructive, the message of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems to be “yeah Peter should be a monk” which is funny since Andrew Garfield later played a monk in Martin Scorsese’s Silence (though that didn’t end well for his character there). For most of TASM-2, Garfield stays away from Gwen in the middle-act, and then they reunite for the final act, leading to Gwen’s death.

Emma Stone’s performance as Gwen is fun because she brings her considerable charm and comedic timing to a character who otherwise isn’t especially well-written or has any dramatic stakes. So it’s like watching an opera singer trill notes endlessly, vocalise as its called, and as a singing exercise it’s watchable, but as a character it’s not compelling dramatically nor does it have depth or nuance. Fundamentally the movies are not about her the way the Raimi films were about MJ.

SELECTIVE ADAPTATION:
WITHOUT MARY JANE WATSON

Leaked photos of Shailene Woodley as Mary Jane in the Amazing Spiderman -  Is real o fake?
Production shots featuring Shailene Woodley and Andrew Garfield.

Peter/MJ/Gwen had a love triangle in the early Lee-Romita era. Issue #3 of Spider-Man: Blue has Peter reflect that: “You really can’t tell the story of how Gwen Stacy and I fell in love without talking about Mary Jane Watson”.

The TASM movies set about doing just that, at least at first. Since producers were committed to serializing the character over time, they did plan to reboot Mary Jane. Shailene Woodley was cast and her scenes were cut and removed before release. This deleted footage isn’t anywhere, it only exists in production stills. Marc Webb decided to have Mary Jane removed, intending to introduce her after Gwen died. In the grand scheme of things (i.e. the film’s failure and series cancellation) it was or the best. There was no way for any actress to effectively rival and counter Emma Stone’s Gwen and offer a viable alternative to make a love triangle work. The problem in comics was that Mary Jane was the character that was popular, who readers preferred, and Stan Lee struggled to make Gwen win over the readership as testified by Bendis. Emma Stone’s Gwen won over the crowd with the first film through a composite characterization, and any potential MJ cast would not be competing with Gwen but with a chimera combining Gwen and herself.

15 BILLY ZANE ideas | billy zane, zane, titanic movie
Billy Zane lost Kate Winslet to DiCaprio because he’s evil, not because DiCaprio is DiCaprio and Zane is Zane, lol.

Even aside from all that, love triangles in movies are extremely hard to achieve for a variety of reasons, mostly because of movie star politics. Usually, the way out is to make one actor evil or otherwise in a negative role, so for instance Billy Zane in Titanic, or Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, the love triangle of Bruce/Selina/Talia ends because while both of them are villainous, one is a redeemable crook and the other is a terrorist (as Grant Morrison noted, Batman tends to be attracted to villainesses). James L. Brooks in his 1987 film Broadcast News had Holly Hunter navigate a love triangle between two guys and the movie ends with them all settling with other people because Brooks realized that he had written himself into a corner where it didn’t make sense with either character to “win”.

https://scatteredquotes.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Star-Wars-Quotes-Return-of-the-Jedi-6.jpg
Han thinking out loud: “What am I marrying into?”

Serialized stories usually short-circuit love triangles by giving everyone “a win”. In Star Wars, there seemed to be a love triangle between Han/Luke/Leia for the first two OT films, but much like Mary Jane, audiences gravitated to Han Solo, and Lucas not wanting to end the main trio on a sour note — decided to make Luke and Leia brother and sister, which caused some visible hiccups, but was absolutely essential to preserve the main bond the three had over the trilogy. The Harry Potter books avoided this with the main hero settling for his sidekick’s sister while the sidekick ended up with the most prominent female character. The movie adaptations ran into problems because as the cast aged it turned out that the actors who had chemistry (Radcliffe’s Harry and Emma Watson’s Hermione) ended up with actors who they don’t have chemistry with.

In the case of Spider-Man’s love triangle, the solution to Peter/MJ/Gwen was elegant in its simplicity.

Kill Gwen Stacy.

SELECTIVE ADAPTATION:
THE NIGHT GWEN STACY DIED

The most famous story Gwen Stacy is a part of, is a misnomer on two fronts:

  • It doesn’t take place at night. Green Goblin kills her in broad daylight in full public view.

  • It’s not really a story about Gwen Stacy despite her being in the title and dying.

The Death of Captain Stacy in ASM#88-90 was about Captain Stacy, it brought his character to a culmination and he died entirely in keeping with his character. The Death of Harry Osborn in Spider-Man 3, and the original source comics, was about his character as well. But Gwen dies randomly in her most famous story, no final words, no catharsis. She died without Peter telling her his identity, without having closure about her father’s death, or anything. The most significant female character in the story of Gwen Stacy’s death is in fact Mary Jane Watson who dominates the final scene.

Telling the story of Gwen and Peter’s love story without Mary Jane is a risk but a reasonable one. Doing her death without MJ is asking for trouble. Understanding comics stories, can be hard because the surface content of a story is often at odds with the latent content. On the surface, The Night Gwen Stacy Died is a romantic tragedy of the hero losing the love of his life. But the latent content is simply resolving the love triangle in favor of the true love story of the franchise but in a manner that allows fans of the other pair a certain dignity (i.e. a belief that Gwen was the perfect love story too good to be true) and stature (a landmark shock story):

By the mid-1970s Spider-Man’s great plot-lines – The Death of Gwen Stacy, Peter Parker’s ethereal blonde girlfriend, who would haunt him as Kim Novak haunts James Stewart in Vertigo…were well behind him. And Peter Parker had settled for what seemed to us a second-best girlfriend, the dark-haired ‘girl next door’, Mary Jane Watson….This was a retrospective fiction, I now see. Gwen Stacy was dead before I met her…the halcyon past is not always what it is cracked up to be. My researches unearthed this horrible fact –- the Marvel scripters who followed Stan Lee on the job killed off Gwen Stacy because they found her unworkably dull, a cold fish. Red-haired Mary Jane was more approachable … If I’d known sooner I might have been spared some pining.

Jonathan Lethem, [3]
The old lady throwing the heart of the ocean into the sea (Titanic) -  YouTube

In a non-serialized romantic tragedy, a story about a character losing the love of their lives, creates lasting changes and ruptures. Romeo and Juliet simply had to end with both of them dead, even if the healthy thing would be for Juliet on seeing Romeo make a fool of himself, get over him. Titanic does tell a story of a woman losing the love of her life and the famous overexposed song was about her ‘heart will go on’ but the actual story is about her heart not doing that. It’s entirely about her memory and nostalgia with the final scenes of her dropping the necklace and hinted at death-and-afterlife reunion a romantic summation of her entire story. It wouldn’t work if you actually focused on Rose in flashbacks after survival making a name for herself as “Rose Dawson” and “going on” or alternatively have her lose Jack and go back to marrying Billy Zane, rather than abandoning her social class altogether.

With Spider-Man in continuity, after Gwen died, in about 20 issues he was kissing Mary Jane Watson and dating her, and then after they broke up, he moved on to Felicia Hardy before coming back to MJ. In short, Gwen’s death didn’t fundamentally change his serialized story or put him beyond a point he can’t function in his default: as a jokey, quippy, adventure hero with romantic possibilities. The story of Gwen’s death was written in a way to play for big stakes but also to set Peter back on a path to recovery. A Spider-Man forever pining and scarred by Gwen Stacy’s death, would realistically give up other relationships because of what happened to her, or quit crimefighting over trauma.

The TASM movies had a Gwen Stacy bereft of any rough edges, appropriate aspects of Mary Jane Watson, and work as a sidekick, who Peter can make out with. Upon her death, Peter quits being Spider-Man for months, which doesn’t feel heroic but it’s absolutely plausible as a viewer. The problem is then the film’s closing shots has him face Rhino with a quipping personality and cheering crowds and the film’s credits hit with upbeat pop music, which is a jarring tonal shift for a film to end with a character losing the love of his life and continuing with the same personality he had at the start of the film.

It’s impossible to accept Garfield’s Spider-Man with a default personality in a continuity after the death of Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy. Garfield tries his best to sell it but it’s unconvincing. Introducing Mary Jane after this Gwen died would simply never have worked. In the comics, Gwen died without knowing his identity or what was at stake in their relationship. So in the comics at least serially there was a possibility for Peter to keep his loved ones safe by involving them more in his life. But in the film, she died knowing all of that, and him still failing, which feels like something insurmountable for the character.

The actual staging of Gwen Stacy’s death in the film is lame. A death by clocktower feels too claustrophobic compared to being dropped from a giant suspension bridge. The lack of publicity and public shame over her death removes the sting. In the comic, the scene was somewhat parodic in that you are expected to believe until the last possible moment that Spider-Man saved her, and Spidey quipping after snagging her and reeling her in gives the sense he saved her at first. In the film it’s all predetermined and sentimentalized, which ruins the effect of the scene.

CASTING AND CHARACTERIZATION:
UNDERRATED BAD GUYS

I will say that Jamie Foxx’s Electro is a better villain than Haden Church’s Sandman and Topher Grace’s Venom, and I am happy that he gets to return in Spider-Man: No Way Home. As an actor Foxx is “way too good for this” and is wasted in the film. Unfortunately the visual design of his Electro is plainly too much like Dr. Manhattan from the 2009 Watchmen movie. The concept of a “blue electro” actually dates to John Byrne’s Chapter One and was featured in MTV Spider-Man but the yellow sparks Electro (which is what the redesign in NWH emphasizes) would be better. Optically there’s something suspect about an African-American villain getting a blue reskin in his villain form that would feature in action figures and posters.

The characterization of Foxx’s Max Dillon is that of a stalker-fan of Spider-Man who works at Oscorp until landing in a container of electric eels. Some have compared him to Jim Carrey’s Riddler in Batman Forever. Dillon’s Electro is unique for being a Spider-Man movie villain who ends the film without learning Spider-Man’s identity or for that matter, barely meeting Peter out of costume. So yeah it can be done. The problem with Electro is similar to Sandman. He has powers that make him a great threat but his comics personality whether in Ultimate or 616 lacks an effective psychology to make him work. He’s a thug with superpowers. When you cast Jamie Foxx to play a character way below his level, you have to reinterpret and realign him to better suit his capabilities.

The movies threaded the needle with making Max sympathetic but not too cloying in making his villain turn bathetic (the way Haden Church’s “i have a daughter” excuse ended up being). So those aren’t bad choices in theory. The main cause of regret is that Foxx’s Electro doesn’t get to be the main villain of the movie. That goes to Harry Osborn by Dane DeHaan and the plot revolves on Harry Osborn using Electro as a “heavy” who is defeated by Peter and Gwen using basic electromagnetism from grade school. I feel that’s a disservice to Foxx as an actor, and it’s not fair that when you cast a major African-American as a supervillain he doesn’t get cool and entertaining moments like Dafoe and Molina did. From a star perspective, it’s a bit odd to see a young actor like Dane DeHaan be a senior over an established star like Foxx.

Dane DeHaan’s Harry Osborn is especially underrated as well. The movie’s use of Harry Osborn in the story and plot is weird and nonsensical, and the climax does come out of nowhere but that’s the writing and not the actor. DeHaan’s Harry visually looks far more like the comics character then Franco’s Harry did. DeHaan has a face much like Joseph Cotten, the actor most likely to have inspired Norman and by extension his son. The round head and small eyes, and him being shorter and less imposing than Peter is visually a lot more like their comics dynamic than the Raimi films.

Visually, Green Goblin is someone wearing a suit and costume and becoming a bad guy. The movie, presumably bullied by people making fun of the Goblin mask online, decided to get away from the mask by making Harry physically grotesque and gremlin-like, which is an approach I suppose. But then in the finale, we have DeHaan’s Harry looking normal again and it’s waved away by him saying “It comes and goes”. Which is convenient. Having Harry Osborn kill Gwen Stacy rather than Norman, or having Harry be the prime Green Goblin, just doesn’t sit right. After killing Gwen, there’s no confrontation with Harry or catharsis unlike with the fight with Norman in ASM#122. The fact that Harry started out as Peter’s friend and then killed the love of his life and is set in the finale as a big-bad who sends villains into town, feels incongruous with what we see leading up to it. It feels like the film-makers trying to change things to make it unexpected. But in the process they end up botching their major chance at doing the iconic version of an iconic story.

Paul Giamatti having fun and yet not having enough fun at the same time.

I’d say Foxx and DeHaan are underrated. That doesn’t apply to the third villain: Paul Giamatti’s Rhino (lol, it’s funny just typing that). Let me say it’s in the mold of Rhys Ifans’ Lizard, a fine actor known for comedic turns or dramatic-comedic turns, suddenly being cast in a part that calls for a certain menace. It’s possible, on paper, but not with what we see in the film. The movie also gives us a rebooted Norman Osborn, played by Chris Cooper in the grand “death of a great man” scene with DeHaan blathering about cursed blood and cryptic connections. Obviously having to compete with Dafoe’s Norman was a difficult proposition for anyone but Chris Cooper while a good actor, is too “normal” to play Norman. One needs an actor with the wild invention of Dafoe, someone like Nicolas Cage or Christopher Walken, to come close.

SERIALIZATION: MIXED MESSAGES AND CORPORATE SHENANIGANS

  • The TASM movies were ideally suited to being slow and steady low-stakes stories that progressively built up but that went against Marc Webb’s vision of doing the Gwen Stacy tragedy in two films. The producers clearly wanted this continuity to sprout and plant seeds. These movies were associated with a range of casting announcements and press announcements for franchises that rather spectacularly imploded.
  • Oscorp in this film has a division called “Special Projects” that stores the gimmicks and tools with all the major Spider-Man rogues, including a rebooted Doctor Octopus’ arms. This might on paper be “realistic” but at the end of the day, it has the effect of the world feeling small and insular. It makes every villain origin and concept feel similar, and hit the same emotional beats. In the comics, a fight with Lizard felt different from a fight with Electro, and both different from Rhino and Goblin, in this movie all are Oscorp employees and it doesn’t feel differentiated. Villains coming from different walks of life introduce new themes, backdrops, and conflicts.

Peter Parker and the Chamber of Secrets.
  • Likewise, Peter’s father is introduced as a colleague of Norman himself and the family-romance worldbuilding tied with him makes little sense. One scene of Peter discovering clues leading to an underground subway tunnel activated by elaborate mechanisms is “jumping the shark” in terms of Peter Parker becoming Harry Potter tracing secrets of his parents.

Because quiet office assistant is exactly how one imagines seeing Felicia Hardy.
  • Felicity Jones plays Felicia an Oscorp assistant who DeHaan’s Franco randomly hires as his first point of contact. She’s supposed to be, or supposed to have become, Felicia Hardy/Black Cat. I think it’s questionable to introduce an iconic Spider-Man character in such a threadbare form. Admittedly, Felicia Hardy’s similarities to the far more iconic Selina Kyle has always been a problem for her to get over in terms of adaptations. The TASM films could have made her work in theory. But not in such a random throwaway manner, in a character who doesn’t resemble any version of who she’s based on in either design or personality.

MISCELLANEOUS OBSERVATIONS

Things I like

  • The Spider-Man costume in TASM-2 is obviously a huge improvement over the basketball leather ensemble from the first film. We also see Garfield’s Peter wear the mask more often this time. Some have argued that the TASM-2 is the best Spider-Man costume and the truest to the comics. To which I say which artist/which inker/which colorist because the costume in comics has changed over time? Still this is a very good looking costume and if it’s not an aesthetic delight, like the Sam Raimi costume’s with its hot colors and shiny reflective weblines, this is still among the best Spider-Man costumes designed for movies. Some of the effects and action beats like Spider-Man juggling vials from the truck at the start do feel neat.
  • Garfield’s performance is still the most interesting part of these films. The scene where he and DeHaan go for a walk in public and behave like regular people is an example of Garfield’s interpretation bearing fruit, he sells the idea of a “lived-in” Peter who could be a real person, the gestures and body language feels and looks like the kind of real people make when hanging out with pals. The scene where he throws stones at park is a good example of that.

  • Garfield’s exaggerated emoting and physicality as Peter Parker also works when he’s fully costumed. Through the body language we can often tell when it’s him behind the mask, and we can sense the emotion and gestures underneath a non-expressive mask. So quite obviously it’s an example of a performance that’s really thought-through far more than many have given it credit.

  • The shtick of Garfield as both genius and DIY guy seems less because the movie focuses on Gwen being smarter than him explicitly shown as stupid to prop her up. Still , while Garfield is stuck picking basic stuff at home, on the internet, some of the gags are funny even if it doesn’t make sense.

Stuff I’m iffy about:

  • TASM-1 had the charm of Spider-Man, in the early sections as an anti-authoritarian hero chased by the cops. That’s gone in the sequel. Throughout the film, Spider-Man’s assisting first responders and after he quits when Gwen dies, the police on TV make calls for him to return.

  • Garfield’s Peter acts rather overtly dickish more than a few times. Like at the graduation with Aunt May in attendance his reference to “All my folks” seems rather cutting and rude to his Aunt. The entire plot of Harry needing Peter’s blood and Peter refusing to hand it, doesn’t seem to make too much sense. I guess Peter feels guilty about being semi-involved with Lizard’s transformation but that had nothing to do with his blood. Him refusing the first time is fine, but then coming back as Spider-Man to personally tell Harry no, feels cruel.

  • My biggest objection to TASM-2 is the treatment of mental health with Ravencroft. In Marvel, Ravencroft is an institute of mental health which is Marvel’s analogue to Arkham Asylum but on account of the Marvel Universe being grounded, was a functional mental health clinic rather than some gothic hellscape of 18th Century wellness. The head of Ravencroft in comics is Dr. Ashley Kafka who is among the few psychologists in superhero fiction who isn’t outright evil or mad (at least at the time of the film’s release). This movie adapts Kafka into a vaguely Nazi-esque male shrink. Making a female doctor into a male doctor is bad but making him German-accented and creepy (and so crypto-Nazi) feels denigrating especially since the last name Kafka is that of a great Jewish writer whose relatives died in the camps. So on one hand I’m grateful they changed the character but I also wish they changed the name because it adds to the toxic portrayal of mental health in superhero fiction and feels disrespectful.

  • A general issue with the portrayal of Oscorp but given the revelation from Connors in the first film about Oscorp hijacking Peter’s dad’s life’s work, and the general creepy vibes of the place, it’s a bit odd why Gwen Stacy is continuing to work for an evil science company. Peter having an impoverished and downtrodden upbringing thanks to Norman’s decisions feels like it should at least have been an issue. Interpersonal melodrama with the Osborns always seems to have caused ethical blindness with Peter in both the comics and the Raimi film, but it seems general in these films. The movies make Oscorp both Hogwarts and the Tower of Sauron at the same time, and it doesn’t work.

CONCLUSION OF TASM-2 REVIEW
(and the Marc Webb Series)

It’s not fair to criticize the movies that got made with stories that would have worked better because
A – People have a right to make the movies they choose.
B – It seems weird to expect people who make movies you dislike, would be adept at material you would prefer.

Which is to say that a Spider-Man Reboot that adapted the status-quo of Spider-Man Blue with the Peter/Gwen/MJ love triangle over two films before ending with The Night Gwen Stacy Died would likely not have had interest to Marc Webb and his crew even if I think that might have better suited then a bizarre mess that mashes Ultimate Spider-Man with bits from elsewhere while shadowboxing the legacy of the Raimi movies. Alternatively I feel they could have continued with Peter/Gwen in TASM-2 but have him battle Electro and end the film with her going to London and the two taking a break but remaining friends. If they still wished to escape the Raimi films and MJ, they could have introduced Felicia Hardy/Black Cat as a second romance to Gwen. Having Spider-Man in a relationship with Felicia Hardy makes a lot more sense with Garfield’s Peter than the other versions we have.

Getting into the shared universe rat-race with the MCU was obviously a mistake. Still I do believe that the Spider-Man corner of things is dense enough to work best as a self-contained sustaining series, at least on paper, and it’s a pity that nobody in Sony saw a way to make things work because I do feel that competition and alternatives in the genre is better than everything being subsumed in the mono-culture.

Under The Silver Lake: Or, “The Revenge Of Peter Parker”
From Under the Silver Lake

Andrew Garfield’s interpretation of Peter as a romantic dreamer and slacker actually seems to have persisted in his much darker character in Under the Silver Lake, a disturbing but fascinating film that has acquired cult status. There’s even an allusion to the First Clone Saga in that film. So in a way Garfield’s performance of Peter has become part of his personal mythology as a movie star, and something that’s carried over, allusively, into his other roles where he plays different characters. It’s a wonder what Garfield might have done with better material and better collaborators. He deserves I think a second glance and reassessment. One can do that while still rating the TASM movies at the middle-to-low tier films which is where I would still say they belong. The actors in these films were wasted by incoherence between company and creative.

Next we’ll look at the latest, and ongoing, live-action version of Spider-Man.

 

REFERENCES

  1. Spider-Man Crawlspace Episode 37: Roger Stern Interview Pt. 2′, Timestamp: 52:00 — 55:00

  2. Ben Moore & The Wizard Staff. “The Wizard Retrospective: Spider-Man and Mary Jane”. Wizard Magazine, Issue #192 (October 2007), Page 93.

  3. Jonathan Lethem. “The Amazing….” The London Review of Books, “Vol. 24 No. 11 · 6 June 2002
    https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v24/n11/jonathan-lethem/the-amazing

 

4 thoughts on “Live Action Spider-Man Retrospective Review: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014)

  1. This retrospective series may very well be my favourite analysis of Spider-Man films! I obviously don’t agree on some things but the fact stays that, even in those cases, your reasonings are put together so well that it’s quite difficult to find points to counter them with. I can’t wait to read the final pieces of this series, but now is the time for me to enter a self-imposed Internet abstinence in order to prevent reading NWH spoilers.

    Regarding this particular piece, I’ve especially appreciated the double reference to the romantic subplots of Star Wars and Harry Potter; it looks like I’m not the only one who finds them painfully similar, after all! I’ve always reckoned they both feature a female co-lead who finds herself in a love triangle (explicit in Star Wars, less so in Harry Potter because Harry is quite bad at understanding his own romantic feelings) where she could freely choose either a man (the lead character) who treats her with all the respect she’s due and is actually a great friend to her, or the terrible “friend” (the tritagonist) who also happens to be the bully determined to make her life miserable, as well as a repeated sexual harasser in one of the two cases. The readers/watchers are obviously tricked into believing that she’s going to make the choice that wouldn’t make her life a living hell, but those expectations are then betrayed for reasons that entirely take root out of universe and don’t make a little bit of sense for the characters as portrayed up till then. Really, it’s almost impossible for me to think that Rowling didn’t take some inspiration for Lucas, at least subconsciously; however, I’m much more inclined to forgive her rather than him, since Lucas hasn’t got the excuse of internalized misogyny and a past of abusive partners shaping his worldview, and Ron is at least not a borderline rapist – wow, that’s how low the bar is. On the other hand, Rowling (gosh, I love that woman!) even went so far as to publicly admit that she had made a mistake in deciding which couples were going to be “endgame”, lending a whole new level of canonicity to the Hermione/Harry ship. Regardless of that, though, I think that it’s every fan’s right to refuse the supposed canonicity of these abusive relationships that come out of left field, and firmly believe that Harry and Hermione, as well as Luke and Leila, later got together just as the larger part of the actual text had indicated they would. In case it wasn’t clear, I do feel very strongly about this topic, not just in the context of ship wars but also as part of my real-life disgust towards the romanticization of abuse and the normalization of misogynistic standards. Speaking of which, and given how invested you seem to be in the topic of justice given some of your remarks, it strikes me as a little odd that you didn’t mention how TASM2 portrays Peter’s stalking of Gwen as something flattering and desirable even from her own viewpoint. Really, between this appalling fact in the Webb duology, and the horrible way Michelle treats Peter in the MCU, the PeterMJ as portrayed in the Raimiverse is easily the healthiest and most positive romance of any live-action Spidey – before SM3-induced OOCness comes into play, of course.
    Once again, I want to offer my excuses if my tone comes off as rude or excessive. While the language barrier may play a part, the truth is that my mental illnesses and my reclusive personality both prevent me from having any sort of friends, which is why I’m not very knowledgeable in how one’s supposed to talk with people outside of my own family circle. I know this doesn’t automatically absolve me of any shortcomings and that I have to work along with my therapist on improving myself, but I feel like I have to offer an explanation lest I be perceived as this very obnoxious person who doesn’t know how to behave herself in society.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gosh, I’m dumb. I swear I know how to properly space a text, but the WordPress comment editor seems to eat all of that up when I copy and paste what I’ve written from an .odt document. As a side note, another dumb mistake I’ve made (and not for the first time in my life, either) might have outed my nationality to the most attentive among nerds. ‘xD

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve edited your comment to remove references to nationality you didn’t want to include, if that makes you feel better.

        Thanks for your kind words and don’t ever feel embarrassed.

        Romantic stories as narrative are artificial and not really at all the way relationships develop in our real lives. That’s always been true, but at their best they do capture what it feels like to be with someone. So virtually anything is flawed and certainly Star Wars and Harry Potter, I cite because of how well known they are. And yeah it definitely feels like the main trio of the HP books were meant to echo the Star Wars leads albeit starting out as children.

        You are right I left off the questionable stalking by Garfield’s Peter on Gwen but there was so much I needed to get away from.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. TASM 2 was weird in that I really disliked Peter breaking up with Gwen at the start and yet I thought the portrayal of the character otherwise was a big improvement over the first film. Him blatantly refusing to help Harry was a big mistake but pretty understandable.

    I actually for some reason didn’t think killing off Gwen was inevitable so it happening in the film was an effective surprise and development for me. I also thought the end credits music was not particularly upbeat, at least had a lot of melancholy while still being heroic and uplifting.

    I didn’t like DeHaan, he felt pretty bland, and having Harry (and one who looked more than a little like Emo Peter, to a Peter who looked a bit like Franco) and have him become Goblin really felt like the filmmakers were out of ideas.

    Having Oscorp have more genuinely good sides and effects, to try to justify Gwen continuing to work for it, would have been a good idea and fresh element.

    I don’t think the film is that busy, as much as it is generally criticized for (two villains plus one other villain cameo), and yet the idea of having Mary Jane here too is crazy, adding and having her also would have made the film way too busy.

    Liked by 1 person

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