Spider-Man was my earliest favorite superhero. As I got older, though, I came to realize that he didn't often have stories that lived up to the potential I saw in him. It got to the point where I wasn't even sure what that potential was anymore. The first couple Sam Raimi flicks from a decade ago were hugely popular, but they always kind of rubbed me the wrong way. And I love Tobey Maguire, but I'm not sure Peter Parker was supposed to be so...dorky. I think in hindsight those were as much Raimi flicks and the earliest attempts to keep superhero movies faithful to the comic book source material than anything I personally could really appreciate.
And yes, I was one of the few people to actually like Spider-Man 3, mostly because of how excellently Sandman was portrayed, one of the earliest true success stories in movie supervillainy.
So I was actually pretty excited when I heard about the Spider-Man cinematic relaunch a few years back. I was already a pretty big fan of director Marc Webb. (500) Days of Summer is easily one of my all-time favorite movies. Andrew Garfield had also already proven a favorite from his appearance in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. There was also Rhys Ifans, whom I've followed since Dancing at Lughnasa (it's the movie where Meryl Streep is Irish, in the likelihood that you've never heard of it). (Another note on Ifans was the wonderful juxtaposition of his appearance opposite another Peter around the same time in the SyFy Peter Pan flick Neverland.) And I loved that finally someone figured out that Peter's story is intrinsically linked with the death of his parents. The only thing I didn't love about The Amazing Spider-Man was that the villain becomes meaningless and almost spoils the whole thing once he actually becomes the villain.
The only thing wrong with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is what I can only conclude is studio interference. I think this is more common than moviegoers think. It was pretty clear in John Carter, for instance, the parts that seem blatantly Disneyesque. I think this happens when the filmmaker maybe doesn't have enough clout to get things more or less exactly the way they want. I'm even willing to believe at this point that Joel Schumacher, the great demon of the Batman franchise, was a victim of this, because it's so clear seeing the earliest scenes of Jamie Foxx's Electro the commonalities with Jim Carrey's Riddler, for instance. Just the sort of thing studio executives think is necessary to make the end product kid-friendly.
Because otherwise this is a pretty dark picture, filled with foreshadow and foreboding, which began in the first installment of the rebooted series, made all the more clear by Denis Leary popping up periodically even though he's dead. Because Peter Parker knows it's not just great power and responsibility anymore, but the danger to those he loves he needs to worry about.
Bottom line is, this is Marc Webb getting to make the superhero version of (500) Days. That's what making really good smaller films gets you these days, the chance to replicate them as best you can in much bigger ones. That's exactly how Christopher Nolan started out. Maybe Webb is not exactly Nolan, but he's the next best thing. He really is, and Amazing Spider-Man 2 is all the proof I need. It's my new favorite movie based on a Marvel property. Easily. Easily.
The charm works all the way around. Foxx eventually settles into the role, once he doesn't have to sell his character's weaker instincts. It's the kind of role that reminds you that he used to be known as a comedic personality, just as Paul Giamatti's performance is a reminder that this is a guy who wholeheartedly throws himself into all of his roles, no matter what they are. I once suggested that he could have taken up the role of the Joker after Heath Ledger's death. And he easily could have. Clearly Rhino is no Joker. But he didn't have to be. He's just a tease for what comes later. These are movies that always have their pulse not just in the moment, but what comes later, sort of like Spider-Man himself (such as in the bravura moment where he saves dozens of people at the same time by figuring out how everything connects).
And I even love Emma Stone in it. This is the first time I've really been able to say that. I know she's adorable and all that, but she's normally so precious, as if she can't get past knowing how everyone thinks she's so cute. Finally she's breaking away from that. Who better than Webb, who was completely unafraid to throw romance under the bus at least once before? Except Stone's Gwen Stacy knows better than anyone that happy endings can be complicated.
I love that the whole movie has its moving parts figured out. It builds on and improves the legacy of Peter's parents, figures out where they fit in the mythology. Maybe it's been done before. But certainly not with anywhere near this prominence. Even if the spider bite was an accident, it was still a matter of destiny. And why anyone else trying to replicate it is doomed to fail. I mean, there are two characters in this movie who are radically transformed. They're as damaged as Peter was when his life was changed forever. The difference is that he figured out a way to look outward. Forget all those attempts to explain that he needed the death of Uncle Ben to become a hero. Mistakes can be made, courses corrected. But the strength of his character was always there.
This is a Spider-Man I can believe in. It's the first time he truly looks authentic on the big screen, too. Sure, they were able to make the character look convincing in 2002 (you believed a man could websling). It's not even just that Garfield is pitch-perfect with all his quipping, but that he's having fun, he's taking risks, he's going for broke. And sometimes it doesn't work out. But the strength of Spider-Man is that he always gets back up. (I confess that I had some help realizing this from some of the recent comics, where Peter finally reclaimed, ah, his own body. You really have to read those to understand what the heck I'm talking about.)
Assuming there isn't backlash from, um, everyone else's opinion of this movie, that it's a step back and a relative failure even at the box office, I want to see the next one really, really badly. I want to see what Webb does next. I want to see Peter meet Mary Jane. (In hindsight it was absolutely the right move to cut her from this one.) I want to see, by god, the Sinister Six.
Of course, regardless, I have this nearly perfect movie, and its predecessor, which shines brighter in reflection. I love Amazing Spider-Man 2.