Rated PG-13. Running time: 2 hours 22 min.
Our content ratings: V -5; L -1; S/N -2.
Our star ratings (1-5): 4
I rise before dawn and cry for help; I put my hope in your words.
The hope of the righteous ends in gladness, but the expectation of the wicked comes to nothing.
Marc Webb returns with the second installment in his re-invention of the web slinger series. (Don’t you love the last name for the director of these films?!) As with the first one, this is a delightful combination of amazing special effects and dramatic inner turmoil within the world’s most unusual teenager, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield). The film begins with flashbacks to the past when Peter’s parents Richard and Mary have to flee from the giant corporation Oscorp to save their lives because of Richard’s refusal to allow his research to be used for military purposes. Young Peter is upset that they are leaving him with his Uncle and Aunt with no explanation, so that the boy grows up with the feeling of abandonment, knowing nothing of their fate. All he has left of them is his dad’s leather briefcase.
In the present day Peter and his girl friend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) are graduating from high school, but Peter is being delayed by unusual circumstances that call for Spider-Man, so he is not at the ceremony when valedictorian Gwen begins her speech. He is busy dodging bullets and saving people from hurtling debris and cars as the villain Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti) drives an armored car through the streets in an attempt to steal vials of plutonium. One of the people Spider-Man saves is the mild-mannered Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), an electrical engineer at Oscorp whom everybody ignores. He develops quite an avid interest in his savior. In the midst of all of this Peter/Spider-Man manages to talk briefly with Gwen on his cell phone to assure her that he would be arriving in time.
When Peter does manage to slip into the line of students awaiting their diplomas, he says, “I’m so sorry I’m late, I had a traffic thing.” Gwen replies, “Did your ‘traffic jam’ have anything to do with, I don’t know, being shot at by machine guns?” “Yeah, I was implying that.” This is one of many witty exchanges sprinkled throughout the film, making it such a fun event. Later when Peter meets his old friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), the son of the founder of Oscorp, Harry says, “It’s been 10 years. What have you been up to?” Peter responds, “I do some web designs.” It isn’t very long, when Harry is transformed into the villainous Green Goblin, that he figures out his former friend’s double meaning.
This film is filled with transformed men, only one of whom uses his enhanced powers for good. Besides Harry’s Green Goblin, there are Max Dillon’s Electro, and Aleksei Sytsevich’s Rhino. All are such super villains that Spider-Man has his hands full protecting the city. Although the complex special effects come close to dominating the film, the human element in Peter’s being torn between his desire to be with Gwen and to protect her from the great danger of close association with Spider-Man is touching. Although it is not repeated this time, most viewers will recall his Uncle Ben’s dictum that with great power goes great responsibility. Peter at times is torn by this, so that his relationship with Gwen is an on and off one.
He feels the same way about his Aunt May, again portrayed so poignantly by Sally Field. Thus he tries to keep his alter identity and dangerous crime-fighting activities a secret from her. There is also some humor in this when he returns home through his bedroom window with his face blackened from his latest adventure. Aunt May has been pounding on the door to awaken him, so he has just had time to slip beneath the covers as she enters. She asks, “What happened to your face? It’s filthy! “ “ It is?” he says, stalling to think of a reply. “Yes!” “Oh, yeah, yeah,” he lamely replies, “ I was cleaning the chimney.” “We have no chimney.” “Whaaat?”
It isn’t Shakespeare or Citizen Kane, but for a superhero film The Amazing Spider-Man 2 offers plenty of adventure, a few laughs, and an insight or two into the burden involved in being specially gifted. People of faith might call the consequences of Spider-Man’s vocation Peter’s “cross.” For a time Peter just wants to be Peter, the price of being Spider-Man too heavy, and yet eventually his sense of vocation leads him to don mask and spandex suit again. The world needs him. We see why in one bit of conversation between two people who are talking about the appeal of Spider-Man. One says, “I like to think he gives people hope.” “For what?” the other asks, and the response is, “That everything will get better.” Not a bad message to take away from an escapist fantasy film.
The full review with a set of discussion questions will be included in the June issue of the Visual Parables journal.