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Monday, August 25, 2014

The Acceptable Spider-Man 2

A couple of years ago I nearly fell asleep watching The Amazing Spider-Man. Considering my disappointment with that film and this year's inexplicable critical hit Guardians of the Galaxy, I went into The Amazing Spider-Man 2 this weekend with very low expectations. And I found myself pleasantly surprised. Despite numerous flaws, this sequel has the one factor that allows me to forgive a multitude of sins: it's sincere, and its heart is in the right place.

As the film opens, Peter Parker and his girlfriend Gwen Stacy are about to graduate from high school. Gwen delivers a rousing valedictory speech, but Peter, off fighting crime as Spider-Man, misses it, though he does manage to get to the graduation ceremony just in time to snatch his diploma.

Unfortunately for their relationship, Peter is still haunted by the death of Gwen's father, killed in the first film and appearing here as a spectre of Peter's tortured soul, urging him to protect Gwen by breaking up with her...and he does, reluctantly, for a time.

Meanwhile the film's pair of villains, Electro and the Green Goblin, spend some time building their flimsy backstories and their reasons for hating Spider-Man. Their hackneyed motivations really drag the film down, but Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone (Peter and Gwen) rescue the proceedings with their consistent kindness and humanity. Spider-Man is actually seen rescuing innocent bystanders on several occasions, and even attempts to negotiate with villains before resorting to violence - the sort of thing I was hoping to see in Man of Steel. He's also a great mentor for a bullied kid. This is the reason why super-hero stories have resonated for nearly 90 years, and it's a shame that more super-hero films screw up this very simple formula.

The Peter/Gwen romance is central to this story, and it's surprisingly warm and poignant - I found it a completely believable teenage relationship, despite the fantasy elements. And the film's climax actually does a good job of encapsulating, summarizing and bringing closure to the movie's central themes without it seeming too obvious.

While by no means a great film, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 deserves credit for its warmth, humanity, performances (villains aside) and some convincing action set-pieces.

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