The Amazing Spiderman 2 isn’t actually about a crime-fighting man with spider powers that insists on making intentionally corny jests. Spiderman 2 is about time. How time changes us. How time is drama. How time runs our films, runs our lives. How times equals lost dreams, lost life, lost loved ones.
Spiderman 2 takes its shiny, explosive entertainment and reminds us how every single one of us is running out of time. And for that, the film makes itself matter.
The movie opens with the camera weaving through the clicks and whirs of watch gears. This is when the time keeping begins. Take note and you’ll be rewarded later on in the film. The story here is framed by an esoteric and CRT resolution, i.e. old, video message left by Peter Parker’s father. This becomes our first instance of dealing with loss, a persistent trauma in the film.
Peter apparently (I skipped out on the first film in the reboot), was involved in the death of his love interest’s, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), father. This fact haunts him and is one of Peter’s primary and screenwriting obligated desires.
An interesting thing happens, here, though. Several needs occur at once, a dramatology no-no, yet they are weaved together (ooh, my first spider pun) under the dialectical tension of fighting crime and living a normal life, i.e., having a girlfriend and stuff. This is a surprisingly sophisticated web of human motives, which for the most part is well spun.
We all know how the rest of the movie goes (Hell, the producers even know this, allowing the last shot of the film to be shown in the trailers). Spidey fights villains. Peter tries to live his normal life on the side. He can’t. Spiderman fights more crime. First culmination, followed by everything falling apart. We get our reluctant hero, our lowest point. Climax, boss battle, and dénouement.
Spiderman 2 throws a wrench in this design at the false ending/victory in the story. Keep an eye on the “time.” This moment sets into a motion a sort of rinse and repeat of the culmination through our lowest point. This is a surprise and gives us a microcosm of every Spiderman, superhero, storytelling arc. You may not catch it and you may not care, but this detail suggests one important thing: The writers are really trying.
Another surprise in watching this Spiderman was that it did what many of these movies never seem to do: It moved me. The writers make you care where it matters and temporarily move us away off the hero’s journey into a very human, and vulnerable place. This incident, which forced a shared gasp through the theater, is well earned, tightly woven throughout, and reinforced from the film’s beginning. It adds an impact and twist to this formula that reminds you bad shit happens, even in fantasies.
The writing does suffer, however, in the character department. Max (Jamie Foxx), aka Electro, is one the most one dimensional villains I’ve seen since Arnold Schwarzenegger played Mr. Freeze. He’s made to be a simpleton and his motives are constructed to match. Sure, this is intentional and a byproduct of comic book character representation, but still he’s an underutilized addition to the story.
Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is another character, besides a few shared pain points, I couldn’t really identify with. The Parker and Harry Osbourne characters practically shout: First world problems. In the end, you root for Peter because you’ve been trained to and the writers make a valiant effort in giving humanistic complexity, however unidentifiable to the non-straight-white-adolescent-male.
Speaking of, although Spiderman 2 doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, it moves forward from the damsel in distress we saw in the first trilogy and many superhero movies from just ten years ago. These reboots can actually be useful as cultural thermometers, allowing us to gauge how far we’ve come or regressed on a particular issue. Notably, there has been a positive shift for female representation, however small critics wants to reduce it to, but a good change nonetheless.
Something these superhero films seem very attuned to, and I’ve really started to enjoy looking for, are clever and well constructed image systems (keep an eye out for the #36). Time, here, is our visual motif, spinning into the cinematography, themes, writing, and even editing. Some of the most affective shots in the film are a set of time elapsing montages near the end, cuts that are expertly spliced to incite emotion and show, not tell the passing of time and character.
The pacing follows suit, showcasing a tight control as the beats slide through comedy, melodrama, cheese, action, and drama in a cohesive manner.
The action sequences, which are gorgeous and fun to watch, seamlessly transition from high speed, full accelerated movement, to smooth detail-overflowing slow motion. It’s clear that the special effects artist are some of the most talented people who worked on this film.
Thematically, I wouldn’t say it does anything new or particularly deep with the notion of time, but its consistent exploration and thorough execution through all elements of the film make me think on another viewing there might be enough for seconds.
In true superhero movie fashion, Spiderman 2 is also preoccupied with Spiderman’s symbolic status, chalking up his meaning to Hope. I’m not sold. It’s always worthwhile to consider what our fascination with superheros or a particular hero is. Is it hope or do these heroes represent something else?
I’ve said this before and will continue to say this for as long as I watch superhero movies: It’s about ego projection, about living the fantasy of being powerful and revered and noticed. It’s not unlike what Max’s character yearns for. Hmm, maybe he’s not so shallow.
Beyond ego projection, though, there seems to be a desire for something good, something pure. As much as we know the morality wears grey, we seem to thirst for that white in our heroes, an abolition of ambiguity and embracement of a clear-cut good in human nature.
The Amazing Spiderman 2 provides this fantasy, this need, and in a fictitious way realizes this hope. All proper stories have a single premise, a thematic principle not dramatic setting, that drives them forward. Spiderman 2’s is captured in Gwen Stacy’s graduation speech: “And I say it today of all days to remind us that time is luck.”
Sure, you could say, “Well, then, I shouldn’t waste two hours of it watching an action film.” But for what the film has to say and how it’s said, enjoyably, I say its time well spent.