"...with great power there must also come -- great responsibility!"
Here are those immortal words, the ones that sum up everything Spider-Man is all about: what he stands for, what he struggles with, and what he strives to be each and every day. Spoken by an unseen, omniscient narrator in the defining issue of the Amazing Fantasy anthology in 1962, this phrase has become almost synonymous with the character of Spider-Man himself.
But perhaps these words can also apply to the creative team behind The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and, by extension, this entire rebooted franchise as well.
In an ideal world, with great power (having been gifted with an enormous, 9-figure budget) comes great responsibility: the task of crafting a story that fixes the many flaws of the first underwhelming film, while managing to stand on its own two feet, and simultaneously setting up future stories and events that will seemingly pay off in a big way in the near future.
A great movie sequel (comic book, or otherwise) should manage to reconcile each of these 3 aspects in a natural, fluid, coherent way.
Just take a look at the recent Captain America: The Winter Soldier...and I'll just let it speak for itself as to whether it was able to do so. The Dark Knight, as another example, deftly managed to accomplish all of those goals, and more. Heck, let's just get this inevitable comparison out of the way right now: Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2 balances each and every one of those requirements as well, with earnestness, subtlety, and surprising success.
So what about The Amazing Spider-Man 2?
Well, at least it gets one of those afore-mentioned aspects right, I suppose.
It somehow manages to spend almost all of its 2+ hour running time throwing in hints, purposely setting up unresolved plot threads, and giving promises of greater things to come...all of which will ultimately happen in the next movie, the still-in-development Venom film, or the ultimate bad-guy team-up with the Sinister Six (which, despite all the teasing and build-up, doesn't even have its roster of villains set up yet. In fact, according to interviews with the actors, vague plans for the Sinister Six only came together in the middle of filming The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Sony hasn't exactly gotten the hang of this "plan for the future" business strategy yet, have they?).
And that, perhaps, is one of the biggest indications of why this sequel utterly fails in almost every crucial facet of filmmaking.
Don't get me wrong, the concept of playing to our expectations and getting audiences revved up at the idea of future plotlines isn't bad in and of itself. But I can't help but get the idea that throughout this movie, the filmmakers keep shouting at us: "Hey, don't worry! This series is going to be cool, awesome, and fun to watch...someday!"
And that's the thing: they keep setting things up for future installments, but what they don't seem to realize is that it happens at the cost of THIS one. Personally, I don't want to worry about the future at this moment. Tell me a good story here and now, and then the following stories will end up flowing naturally from that.
But The Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn't very concerned with following that plan. It's much more interested in serving as an overly-long, convoluted, blockbuster commercial for a future sequel/spin-off that doesn't even have a script yet.
Rather than simply improving upon the first film and being its own thing, director Marc Webb's superhero sequel resorts to the familiar old tropes of going BIGGER with more characters, more action, more subplots, and very little of anything else. Instead of soaring to the heights of successful sequels such as The Dark Knight, The Winter Soldier, or Spider-Man 2...we get stuck with a weird prequel story of sorts, forcing us to keep making comparisons to lowly movies in the same vein as the forgettable Iron Man 2.
So what went wrong? Without further ado, here's why I firmly believe The Amazing Spider-Man 2 fails to live up to the hype and why it falls short in its attempt to improve upon the flawed origin story, crumbles under the weight of numerous subplots and villains, and simply ends up not working at all.
What The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Did Wrong:
1) Multiple storylines that don't mesh.
Let me state the obvious for a second: there's a lot going on in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. In between shady corporation conspiracies, deaths that occur under mysterious circumstances, and a plethora of other subplots, there's maybe 3 main storylines that separate themselves from the pack and gradually unfold throughout the film:
In most films, this wouldn't be an overwhelming or unmanageable task by any means. But the reason why this doesn't succeed in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is because these plot threads never really manage to actually intertwine with each other. It's almost like each storyline occurs completely separate from the other, pretty much existing in a vacuum, only to occasionally crash into another one when the script calls for an action set piece to occur. It's as forced and incohesive as it gets.
Peter and his relationship with Gwen
Max Dillon and his descent into villainy
Harry Osborn's return to OsCorp and Peter's life
Oh sure, there's several plot contrivances where the characters cross paths with each other, such as when Gwen ends up meeting both Max and Harry in person on two separate occasions (in the same. exact. location. In the same exact OsCorp elevator. By sheer accident and coincidence. It's hilarious), or where Harry suddenly arrives for the climax after becoming Green Goblin and puts Gwen's life in danger (why he waits for Electro to conveniently die before showing up, I'll never understand)...but that's all it ever amounts to: contrivances. The three storylines never intersect fluidly or in any meaningful way. They have nothing to do with each other, and it's almost as if we're watching three different movies at once.
That also helps explains why the film feels like a roller coaster ride of uneven, jarring, wildly different tones with the occasional action sequence sprinkled in. Think about it.
After witnessing some genuinely fun scenes of the sarcastic, witty Spider-Man swinging through New York City and saving the day, it's immediately countered with the incredibly sweet, emotional scenes involving Peter and Gwen. Well okay, that's not so bad, right?
But then the movie haphazardly shifts to the super-loser Max Dillon (who just might be the most campy, cartoony villain in a modern comic book movie since Jim Carrey's Riddler, or Arnold Schwarzenegger's Dr. Freeze). Everyone in the world hates him for some unexplained reason, Spider-Man saves him, and he becomes unhealthily obsessed with the hero. After reveling in this cheesy, played-out storyline which feels lifted from a completely different movie (like, say, one of those infamous comic book movie failures from the 90's), we then repeatedly check in with Dane DeHaan's dour, dark, super-serious, yet hammy theatrics as the one-note, personality-lacking Harry Osborn.
See what I mean? We keep switching from the adorable, naturalistic world of Peter and Gwen, to the campiness of Max Dillon, to the borderline psychopathic Harry, with little to no sense of purpose, and it just never lets up. It's a miracle there hasn't been a surge in the number of patients admitted to hospitals around the world with cases of severe whiplash as a direct result of watching this movie.
What's even worse is the fact that there are a number of more minor subplots that come up out of nowhere, have valuable screen-time dedicated to setting them up...and then they ultimately end up going nowhere as well.
One would think the sequel would've learned its lesson from the first film (where subplots are introduced and then left dangling in the wind as afterthoughts, such as Peter's hunt for his uncle's killer, the entire "untold story" of his parents disappearance, and the random SWAT team that gets turned into lizards), but the evidence says otherwise. In fact it would seem that, once again, several changes were made at the very last minute, judging by how several scenes and lines of dialogue are in many of the trailers but are conspicuously missing from the final product (such as the plotline of Harry telling Peter that OsCorp has had him under surveillance, or Norman Osborn telling his son that he has "plans" for Peter Parker, and of course, that missing ending credits scene involving a certain decapitated head).
Here, we get things like Aunt May taking nursing classes and working double shifts in order to send Peter through college...which would've been interesting but it never goes anywhere or amounts to anything whatsoever. The pay-off for this is the simple fact that Aunt May is working at a hospital when Electro causes the power to go out. That's literally it.
Then there's that inexplicably random, mind-boggling, out-of-nowhere sequence of how the power outage causes two planes to become set on a collision course, and the air traffic controllers (I just so happen to be an ATC student majoring in Aviation Management, and I can confidently tell you that this entire sequence is BS) have a countdown for when they'll hit, and there should be all this tension and stuff...except for the fact that we don't know any of the random people on the planes and no main character has any idea this is even going on (I guess it never crossed the minds of the writers to have Peter's Spidey-sense kick in, alert him to what's going on, and make that yet another thing he has to worry about in his big fight?). It's laughable.
Or how about the entire Ravencroft subplot? You know, that place the writers send Electro to because he has absolutely nothing to do (or rather, the writers couldn't think of anything for him to do) between terrorizing Times Square and then helping Harry break in to OsCorp? And so he just languishes in a purgatory of plot, waiting for the story to catch up so he can be relevant again? I mean, this sequence is even complete with the hilariously bad Dr. Kafka, a walking cliché that is so ridiculous, campy, and cartoony, that he makes even someone like Electro look relatively normal.
Honestly, there are tons of little examples like these that could've been edited out completely and left on the cutting room floor, and literally nothing would have changed in the rest of the movie. They only add to the bloat, screw with the pacing, and make the story that much more uninteresting to watch.
And so it really shouldn't be surprising that all this applies to Electro as well.
No joke, the so-called main villain of the film could've been left out of the movie altogether, and no one would have noticed. It's almost too silly to believe, but it's true. In some foreign markets, this movie is accompanied by the subtitle of "Rise of Electro", which would seem to imply that he's the main bad guy...but is he really? One would assume that the primary villain would be, you know, necessary and integral to the plot.
But he's not. Really. Not by a long shot. Despite the filmmakers' attempts to cover it up, Electro really has nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the plot. He has no motivation for anything that he does (the same applies with Harry Osborn as well), he's totally extraneous to the film, and it really makes one wonder if he's in the movie just for the sake of having some material to show off in the trailers.
Seriously, ask yourself: Why is Electro in this movie?
Is it because of personal reasons?
It can't be, because he adds absolutely no personal stakes to the film at all. In fact, his whole beef with Spider-Man in the first place is incredibly contrived and illogical.
One can sum up the entire conflict between the two as a gross misunderstanding on Max's part (Spider-Man forgets his name...? He tells Max that nobody will shoot him and a cop ends up shooting him, which doesn't harm him in the least by the way, and so he just instantly becomes evil?). That's not personal, that's not even a motivation; that's just a fake grudge. It's plain silly. More to the point, the Electro character affects Spider-Man so little that he doesn't even think twice about brutally killing him in the 3rd act of the film. For all the buildup and table setting, he leaves absolutely no impression on our hero. Does that sound personal to you?
Electro isn't in the movie for logical reasons, that's for sure.
The film bends over backwards to justify having Max Dillon be part of the plot in the first place, with very mixed results. People universally hate him for no reason, his wretchedness borders on being completely unrelatable and unsympathetic, and his descent into villainy is ridiculously rushed.
Is he there for thematic reasons, along the same lines as Harvey Dent or the Joker in The Dark Knight?
Well...no. For starters, take the fact that Max Dillon constantly whines about how no one sees him and pays him any attention, and he's basically invisible to the rest of the world. If he was inserted into the movie for thematic reasons, wouldn't the writers have made it so that he'd be more concerned about how, for his whole life (and especially at his job at OsCorp), he's been powerless? What's more ironic and thematically interesting than a lightweight, disrespected, bullied, powerless schlub who gains ultimate, god-like electrical powers and uses it for the wrong reasons?? But the film never even comes close to approaching that kind of interesting territory.
But going even further...the film itself doesn't even have a central theme. The best attempt that I've personally seen at explaining any sort of theme at all would be that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 deals with "Abandonment". It might look like it fits at first, but like so many other parts of the sequel, it ultimately falls apart under any kind of scrutiny.
One could argue that Peter's parents abandon him, but the movie goes to great lengths to fill us in on their backstory and show us that they were forced to do so, for the greater good. It's possible that Max Dillon is inexplicably abandoned by the world, but it's mostly all just in his crazy little head (thanks to the God-awful soundtrack, all of Electro's scenes are actually accompanied by literal voices in his head basically telling the audience the insane things that he's thinking. Amazing). Maybe Peter abandons Gwen when they break up? Well, it's clearly spelled out that Gwen decides to break up with him, not the other way around. The couple even ends up back together soon enough anyways with Peter promising to follow Gwen to Oxford so...nope, no abandonment happening here either.
At the end of the day, there is no thematic through-line in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 at all. Scenes just happen to unfold and follow one another without any type of purpose or reason. Things happen, and then more things happen, and then a ton of things happen, and that's how the film ends. This explains why the movie drags, why the pacing is so awful, and why it feels like it's 5 hours long.
In the grand scheme of things, 3 main storylines shouldn't be such an impossible task for a blockbuster to be able to pull off.
However, thanks to a romance that acts like it's the heart of the movie when it really isn't, an extremely rushed origin story for a campy, unnecessary villain who could be left out of the film altogether, and a tonally jarring over-complication in the form of a long-lost childhood friend whose arc is rushed, whose motivations for turning evil make just as much sense as Electro's or Rhino's (Spidey refuses to give Harry some of his 'magic blood' for some jerkish, unexplained reason. This same blood would apparently heal Harry from his genetic disease. This same disease kills his father at the ripe old age of 50 or 60...but for some reason Harry acts like it's going to speed up and kill him sometime in the next week. All of that somehow combines to make him ridiculously desperate and evil...okay?), and whose only reason for existing is to set up the death of Gwen Stacy...The Amazing Spider-Man 2 completely collapses under the weight of multiple storylines that just don't mesh together.
2) Focusing on the "Untold Story."
The first Spider-Man scene of the entire movie has the titular hero falling through the sky, swinging amongst the skyscrapers of Manhattan, tracking down a carjacker who is causing mayhem in the streets of New York City and saving the day. It's an action-packed, colorful, witty, funny, entertaining scene that showcases everything that makes up Spider-Man. Honestly, it's pretty fantastic.
Given that The Amazing Spider-Man 2
is pretty much an early summer blockbuster (and is geared toward the tons of little kids that are undoubtedly watching
), one would think that this would've been the perfect fun scene to jumpstart the movie with.
Well, you'd be wrong.
Instead, we have to suffer through a long, dark, un-fun, unnecessary prologue that's completely centered around Peter's parents...two people that the audience doesn't care about, in a flashback that spells out something we already know happens.
The first film went through some widely-publicized last-minute changes in the editing room, and the "Untold Story" of Peter Parker's parents was mostly left on the cutting room floor. Despite gripes that all the marketing sold us one thing, only to deliver something completely different...that change was probably for the best. I can't speak for everyone, but an unnecessary mystery that really screws up Peter's origins just isn't all that exciting to watch in a Spider-Man film.
But this franchise continues to believe that this contrived subplot about Peter's parents is actually compelling or interesting...and it's not. In fact, despite how the film jumps through flaming hoops in order to make this subplot important to the movie, it STILL
wouldn't change a single thing if it had been entirely left out of the story. It literally has no bearing on anything that happens in the plot.
I'm not the biggest advocate of so-called "plot holes" and nitpicking movie-logic apart, but the most damning thing about this entire prologue sequence is the fact that none of it actually makes any sense at all.
The basic premise of this scene is that after the mysterious break-in at Richard Parker's home office, both parents panic and send their son away to his Uncle Ben's house to stay indefinitely, while they go into hiding. On a private jet, Richard is using his laptop to hurriedly upload...something...to a secret location called Roosevelt, a place that both parents agree they are never going back to. An OsCorp assassin, however, spoils things and brings down the entire plane in an attempt to kill the Parkers, steal their research, and then frame them as some kind of traitors.
But what exactly was Richard Parker trying to upload in the first place?
I guess it was that video which Peter stumbles across later on, where Richard spells out that all of his spider research was an attempt to save Norman Osborn's life, but where he also reveals that Osborn was planning to create biological weapons (not for any legitimate reasons, mind you, except that he's simply the BAD GUY
But why did he take his time and wait to upload it from the jet, when he knows that all of OsCorp is after him? And if the video was the only thing he was uploading, why send it to some secret underground bunker in a deserted subway station, a place that no one knows about and no one will ever find it except by pure coincidence and dumb luck
Why make it so complicated rather than, I don't know, simply handing it over to Uncle Ben and telling him to keep it safe? Or leaking it to the press? Or giving it to his lawyers?
Of course, why even build a super-secret, hydraulically-powered subway car that rises out of the ground like that in the first place?
I guess the Parkers are secretly super-rich, judging by the private jet
they charter in order to escape OsCorp? But then I guess that makes the Parkers the worst parents ever, seeing how they had all that money but apparently never thought to invest in something like a college fund for their son, whom they dumped on their middle-class/poor relatives (the afore-mentioned subplot with Aunt May has her working overtime and learning to become a nurse because she's struggling mightily to make ends meet, for crying out loud).
Or maybe they blew their money on all those unnecessary hideouts and extravagant amenities?
But even ignoring all that...what makes Peter all of a sudden so hell-bent on finding out the truth to his parents' disappearance, anyway? (Actually, he only ever seems to be worried about what happened to his father, despite the fact that BOTH of his parents disappeared at the same time. Why? Because this is Hollywood, and "daddy issues" are apparently the ONLY way to make characters interesting. Just ask Harry Osborn).
At least it sort of made sense in the first movie, seeing how Dr. Connors actually worked with his father and we had that personal motivation in place there. In this movie, it literally just comes out of nowhere. The only reason Peter pays attention to the mystery of his parents is because the writers contrive for that to happen.
And of course, that brings us to the brilliant idea of Peter's father hiding subway tokens in his calculator (???
), which makes it one of the most stunning coincidences ever that Peter happens to throw that very same calculator in frustration, break it, and discover the tokens inside, leading him to the Roosevelt subway station.
I mean, Richard Parker couldn't have planned this out any better himself:
He's the leading expert in genetics research, he makes it so that ONLY his or his offspring's DNA can successfully bind with spider DNA, he leaves behind valuable information in the most hidden, inaccessible location imaginable, decades later his son gets bit by one of the very same spiders he worked on
, Peter develops spider-powers, suddenly gets interested in his late parents, smashes a calculator and discovers the secret hideout, finds his father's video, and then...
...Actually, I'm not even sure what any of that ends up leading to! What does Peter actually ever do with that information, besides learning about his father and tying up some loose ends that never should've been a loose end to begin with? What does any of this information have to do with the rest of the plot?
And if I recall correctly, all of this stuff happens AFTER
Harry comes to Peter and asks for his help and for his blood. Peter cold-heartedly turns him down for almost no reason whatsoever. But why not switch the order of these scenes around?
Wouldn't it have made more sense for Peter to watch his father's confession video, learn that only Parker DNA can survive being combined with spider DNA, and use that as the reason for why he shouldn't give Harry his blood? Wouldn't that at least make him seem like he's looking out for his friend and for his safety?
Instead it just comes across like Peter is a gigantic douche to his long-lost best friend, refusing to help heal him because he thinks it could be vaguely "dangerous" or something. Actually, he doesn't even just "refuse" to help...he dresses up as Spider-Man, pays Harry a personal visit, gets his hopes up...and THEN throws it in his face that he's not going to help. For no real reason whatsoever. Wow.
We can chalk up all this brilliance to the infamous writing duo of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who sure do love their conspiracies: from Starfleet being inexplicably evil in the Star Trek
films, to the business with Peter Parker's parents and the OsCorp shenanigans hanging over everything in the Amazing Spider-Man
movies, to the fact that Orci happens to be a well-documented conspiracy theorist (check out this cached copy of Orci's now-deleted Twitter account and try to tell me his politics don't influence his writing
) and a crackpot 9/11 truther to boot.
With all that in mind, it should come as no surprise that they jam as much of that nonsense as they can into their movies...but did they really have to do that in a Spider-Man movie?? I mean, this is the one story where the hero ISN'T
the answer to some age-old prophecy, predestined to become the great person he is today, where he has to battle through all these cynical conspiracies in order to defeat the bad guys.
That isn't Spider-Man. Spider-man is the everyman. He's the down-on-his luck, geeky Joe Schmo who just so happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, who becomes gifted with extraordinary powers and learns through the life-altering tragedy of inadvertently causing his Uncle Ben's death that such powers inevitably come with enormous responsibility.
And unfortunately, everything about Peter Parker's origins that is hinted at in the previous movie, and finally revealed in this one, goes completely against that. His father makes it so that the only person in the world the experimental spider could've affected would be someone with his DNA, meaning Peter is literally born to become
Now, I'm no comic book purist, but I do believe that the core essence of the character should remain fairly intact. Sure, he has the gorgeously accurate suit, the perfectly choreographed web-slinging moves, and the snappy one-liners...but that's as shallow and pretentious as it gets. What about the things that actually make Peter Parker, you know, Peter Parker?
To a large extent, it doesn't seem like the creative minds behind The Amazing Spider-Man
movies really understand their own character other than for the most surface-level details. The qualities that make up the traditional Spider-man character have been rewritten and dropped completely in favor of big business conspiracies, mysterious assassinations by OsCorp agents, and a ret-conned origin story that's all about "destiny."
Unfortunately, all of this is represented by the stubborn choice to shoehorn the previously "Untold Story" about Peter's parents, and it's just another major reason why this movie fails to work.
3) The Failures of The Amazing Spider-Man.
This brings us to perhaps the most egregious mistake in The Amazing Spider-Man 2
...and that mistake doesn't even occur in The Amazing Spider-Man 2
. It happens in the first movie. Now this probably feels like an unfair criticism because, after all, this is supposed to be about why The Amazing Spider-Man 2
didn't work, right?
But I think it's fair game to talk about here because it really has everything to do with how the two movies are so inherently connected. What happened in the origin film affects what happens in the sequel. And so the gist of the criticisms here are based on the flawed foundations laid down in the first The Amazing Spider-Man
movie, and the repercussions that can be felt throughout the sequel as well.
So what big mistake am I talking about? Well, it has everything to do with Peter Parker.
Where do I even begin?
Let's start with how Peter's character is portrayed in the first movie. From the first few scenes, it's established that he is an outcast, socially awkward nerd that doesn't have any friends and who no one seems to like. On paper, Peter looks very much like the character from the Sam Raimi films.
But you know what's strange? Isn't it so off-putting that Andrew Garfield actually portrays the character in almost the exact opposite direction?
Think about it: despite how the film tries to cover it up by making him wear hipster glasses and having him stutter a lot, it can't quite hide the fact that Peter's obviously charming, attractive, witty, and after the first half of The Amazing Spider-Man
, no one
treats him like a loser anymore.
And the defense of "But that's character development
!" really can't be used, because ALL of this so-called "development" takes place off-screen and is never even addressed again. He's clearly set up as unpopular and alone, but he suddenly becomes accepted and well-liked out of nowhere, almost like someone (the writers, perhaps
) flipped a switch.
Okay fine, maybe that can be chalked up to the new direction that the filmmakers are taking this character and, no matter how much of a gaping disconnect there is between the words in the script and the actions of the character, maybe it's all just part of modernizing him. It's a flimsy excuse, but whatever.
How does that account for the fact that this bizarre, schizophrenic behavior continues and becomes even worse in the sequel?
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
goes out of its way to make Peter into this cool, laid-back, almost beloved jerk (think of how he crashes his and Gwen's graduation ceremony, makes out with her on stage to thunderous applause from their classmates, and then high-fives the principal on his way out like he's the "big man on campus"
) who pretty much can do no wrong.
But in order to make up for being so "cool" and immature and actually have him appear 'heroic', the writers make it so that the most devastating events in his life are never his fault at all. They lift any burden of responsibility from his shoulders at every opportunity they can.
Now, I know exactly what some of you may be thinking. That little thing with Uncle Ben, right?
It's true, the death of Uncle Ben DOES
refute what I'm saying here, to an extent. It's the one time this franchise chooses to acknowledge that a tragic event is our hero's fault...but then why doesn't Peter keep seeing the ghost of Uncle Ben everywhere in The Amazing Spider-Man 2
? Why does he seem guiltier about Captain Stacy's death than he ever was about Uncle Ben's?
The answer, surprisingly, is pretty simple: the filmmakers realized they screwed up royally with the ending of the first movie, and so they backtracked and tried to overcompensate in the sequel.
Let me explain.
The entirety of the origin film builds up to the theme that Peter must learn from his mistakes, learn that his powers actually make his life harder, and come to the realization that such extraordinary powers come with massive responsibility.
Even more specifically, he has to accept the responsibility of putting his loved ones in danger. Hence why, although it seems familiar and played-out so soon after seeing it so recently in Sam Raimi's movies, the death of Uncle Ben is vitally important to that movie and it explains why Captain Stacy has to die and make Peter promise to stay away from his daughter.
But what does the supposedly-heroic Peter Parker do?
He goes back on that promise and negates the entire theme of the movie in the very last scene, infuriatingly telling Gwen something to the effect of "The best promises are the ones you don't keep
", and proving that he doesn't learn a single damn thing throughout the course of the entire movie
. That single, idiotic, indefensible line is irrefutable evidence that he literally has no character arc and that nothing changes for him at all, except for the simple fact that he gains spider-powers and manages to score the hot chick at the end.
Upon realizing the terrible implications of that scene (how it renders meaningless the one and only sacrifice that Peter makes in that entire story, how it shows he's still as irresponsible as he was when he inadvertently caused Uncle Ben's death, and how it makes him look like the most unintentionally selfish character in any movie in recent memory
), the filmmakers tried to correct themselves by shoehorning Captain Stacy's ghost into the sequel, having Gwen and Peter break up because of Peter's guilt, and then spending the length of the movie trying to bring them back together in a series of scenes that can only be described as wheel-spinning and a long, unnecessary stall tactic. Thus making Captain Stacy's death more affecting and much more meaningful to Peter than Uncle Ben's death ever was.
Had the filmmakers had the balls to stick to their ending and gone through with Peter learning from his mistakes and staying away from Gwen, it might have gone a long way towards making him seem like an actual hero.
Then in the sequel, we could've avoided sitting through the mess of seeing the couple break up, come back together as friends, break up again because Gwen is going to Europe, and then coming back together as love interests again...only for Gwen to die. All of that wasted time could've been devoted to something much more important and interesting, like properly fleshing out characters like Harry Osborn and Max Dillon.
But let's talk for a second about how Peter and Gwen break up in The Amazing Spider-Man 2
, because it continues that unfortunate tradition of removing any and all responsibility from the apparently untouchable Peter Parker.
With all the sightings of the ghost of Captain Stacy and Peter's continuing guilt over his continued relationship with Gwen, it would seem like it's building towards some good ol' conflict, where Peter has to break up with her and take the hit (which would have been a complete re-tread and carbon copy of their break-up scene in the first movie, but that's the hole the writers dug for themselves
), although he's genuinely doing it for the right reasons. And this is ALMOST exactly what happens...but not quite.
Nope, instead of it being Peter's fault (as it rightfully should be
), the writers force Gwen to take it upon herself
to break up with him
, not the other way around. This distinction is important. It may seem minor, but it happens this way because the filmmakers (whether it be the director, the writers, the producers, or heck, even the studio
) made the conscious decision to make it happen.
Generally speaking, thousands upon thousands of decisions are made in every aspect of a movie, and each and every one of those choices reflects on the filmmakers' intentions, goals, and beliefs. It's a huge deal.
Though I sort of get what they were going for, making Gwen break up with Peter means that this is yet another occasion where Peter can wipe his hands clean of any bad thing that ever happens to him. Of course he's heartbroken, but it only furthers the notion of a invulnerable, irresponsible, yet powerful jerk who can do no wrong.
The biggest travesty, however, is how the filmmakers and their weird agenda even manage to rob Peter of any and all guilt and responsibility from Gwen's own death! Seriously, the writers make a point of having Gwen constantly state that it's HER
choice to be where she is at the power plant and, as such, any and all responsibility falls onto her, not Peter.
That may seem like a weird kind of "female empowerment" and a way to make Gwen a morally strong, independent woman who can make her own choices...but please don't be fooled by that. It really isn't like that at all.
We're constantly reminded that it's HER decision to place herself in danger by helping Spidey deal with Electro, even though the hero explicitly tells her to get to safety, right? She eventually dies because of this. But does no one realize that this series of events unintentionally (at least, I hope it's unintentional
) screams out that Gwen dies simply because she doesn't listen to her boyfriend
? She dies because she insists on running towards her own death and because she 'disobeys' the orders of the powerful male figure in her life
. How galling is that?
And if that weren't enough, how about the fact that the way Gwen dies actively removes the blame from Peter as well? Rather than having her neck snapped as a result of Spidey's webbing catching her in the wrong place and breaking her neck (as it happens in the comics, I believe
), his web catches her...but not before she slams her head into the pavement below, instantly killing her.
Think of it like this:
Traditionally, Peter Parker's trademark as a character is that he gets involved in precarious situations, genuinely tries to help and do the right thing, but he sometimes ends up making things worse for those he loves. These kinds of experiences teach him to pick up the pieces, recommit to being Spider-Man, and move on from there, having learned valuable lessons.
But in the most emotionally gripping scene of The Amazing Spider-Man 2
, it's not like that at all. Rather than getting involved and making things worse, it's changed to him being too late and being unable to stop an inevitable death (think of all the obvious, grade-school level "symbolism" going on in that scene. In case the clock tower location isn't obvious enough, it's basically screaming at the viewers that time is running out
See the difference?
On one hand, there's an active choice involved, and he has to take the risk of being responsible for the consequences that follow. On the other, it's simply what HAS to happen. It's inevitable, or destiny, or fate, or whatever garbage the movie tries to play it off as. Here, in the most devastating and life-altering moment of Peter Parker's young life, the filmmakers still can't bring themselves to make it Peter's own fault and have him learn something valuable from it.
Because as we keep discovering, this incarnation of Spider-Man is a 'hero' that doesn't learn a single meaningful thing from his adventures. That's because nothing is ever his fault, and the ONE time it actually is, he doesn't even let on that he acknowledges it's his fault and we never get any context clues that he learns anything about choices and consequences and responsibility. When something SHOULD be his fault, like Gwen's death, the universe (read: the writers
) contrives for events to occur so that Peter is never the one who's in the wrong.
This is a Peter Parker that initially acts like a self-pitying, entitled, unloved outcast...but is hardly ever treated that way. This is a Peter Parker that screws up multiple times...but is somehow infallible all the time. This is a Peter Parker that has a character arc set up for him to learn about responsibility and the burden of his powers...but negates that arc and recommits himself to being a selfish, unlikeable jerk.
This is a Peter Parker that is supposed to be an inspirational hero...but never acts heroic at all.
So where does all this leave us? Well, I can't help but come back to the very beginning of this article:
"With great power, comes great responsibility."
Throughout the years, Stan Lee's original line became paraphrased in this way and generally attributed to Uncle Ben, as a favorite saying of his that ends up leaving an enormous impact on Peter Parker and his path towards becoming Spider-Man. Despite being accused of retreading old ground covered in Sam Raimi's original Spider-Man film in countless ways, The Amazing Spider-Man franchise decided to draw the line there and tip-toe around this iconic phrase.
Maybe THAT avoidance of such a crucial bit of character development was the greatest indicator of the depths that this rebooted franchise would fall to. Maybe that absence of such an important, character-defining line was our earliest warning sign that this new series of movies would utterly miss the point of the beloved comic book character. Maybe that, in and of itself, sums up exactly why The Amazing Spider-Man 2 doesn't work.
So what do YOU think? Agree completely, or disagree with every fiber in your being? Remember to try and keep it civil, but sound off in the comments below and let me know your thoughts on The Amazing Spider-Man 2!