Laced as it is with spectacularly-staged action sequences, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is, at heart, a grand love story.
Sparks flew between Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) in the first installment of the rebooted Marvel franchise under the direction of Marc Webb, and love bloomed. Having in mind the collateral damage that is already accruing due to his embrace of his super-powers, however, early in the second installment Peter decides that he must break off the romantic relationship. Gwen tries to make this her call — “I break up with you!” — leaving the weapy-eyed Peter to mope and mourn and pine for her throughout the summer after their graduation from high school.
As mercurial as teenage romances can be, the love between Peter and Gwen is the old-school type of affair, harkening back to the mid-20th century stereotypes that declared first love lasts forever, leading inevitably to a lifelong marriage, 1.5 children, and a home in the suburbs with a white picket fence. It is an old-fashioned ideal that nonetheless informs Peter as he wrestles with the early stages of adulthood and the weight of his responsibilities as Spider-Man. This is borne out as well in his relationship with his beloved Aunt May (Sally Field), who still grieves for her late husband even as she struggles to make a living and strains to understand the very strange boy/man she considers her son. She embodies the ideal woman, in Peter’s mind: a loving caregiver who must be protected at all costs.
Gwen is attracted to Peter’s altruistic heart, but she has needs as well. She doesn’t require his complete attention; she understands that he has to go to work and may sometimes have to spend long hours in the “office,” especially as he gets his career established. Still, she doesn’t want him constantly deciding what’s best for her; if she wants to pursue the relationship over the objections raised by her late, highly-protective father, she will do it. And after living under such a loving but somewhat smothering man, she’s not about to settle for that in a romantic partner. She knows the risks involved, but she wants to be in charge of her own life, thank you very much. That’s what being an adult means, after all, isn’t it?
The romantic elements provide the underpinning for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and if they were somehow divorced entirely from the requirements of a big-budget summer blockbuster, they’re strong enough to stand on their own as a convincing love story. The raison d’etre of the movie, of course, is not the romance but the flying and the fighting and the exploding.
And those elements are what must be graded on a curve nowadays. Generally speaking, the action here is framed and staged on a wider canvass than is often seen, and paced in a slightly more comprehensible manner, so that it’s easier to follow where the participants are located in space and time. That being said, the close-quarters action is as frenzied as any found-footage movie and/or superhero blockbuster of the 21st century, which has left me cold for a very long time.
The mechanics of the menace and the villains and the evil and the violence both threatened and carried out upon the people and property of New York City is, well, mechanical, eating up huge portions of real estate and helping to inflate the running time well beyond what is necessary to tell the story. Multiple villains are the name of the game nowadays, which requires more set-up and explanation, and then even more time to dispose of them, and it’s all quite wearisome.
Add to that the new franchise requirement of setting up the next installment(s), and the movie sags under the weight. The high points are, at least, higher than they were in the first installment, and the lows are not as low, so progress is being made.
Andrew Garfield makes for an adequate Peter Parker/Spider-Man, but it is Emma Stone who steals the show as a strong-minded, quick-witted heroine who simply doesn’t have enough to do. She could save New York City all on her own, if only a radioactive spider would bite her.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opens in theaters across Dallas on Friday, May 2.