Why ASM2 Is the Best Superhero Movie Since TDKR
—by Nathan on May 23, 2014—
Look, I know that the recent Spidey film has gotten some flak. It's been bashed around a bit by people who didn't like the villains, didn't like the score, and didn't like the tone. Understandably, this film wasn't perfect, and I thought it was fine after seeing it last week. But a couple days of ruminating on it made me realize that, heck, this film is actually one good movie after all. I know I'm most likely in a minority, but I also realize that the poor reviews this movie has received are probably written by "film" critics, not "geeks" like me. Coming at it from a geek standpoint, I'm going to go so far as to say that this was the best superhero movie since Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, which was unquestionably my most anticipated film of that year if not the decade. TDKR, to me, had its issues, it had its mistakes. It wasn't perfect, and neither was Amazing Spider-Man 2. The thing is, however, it that ASM2 was a superhero movie. Straight-up, all the way.
See, here's the thing. Movies like Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier are really cool and really fun, but they sometimes become more than just superhero movies. Thor's grounded in mythology, and Cap 2 was a blend of superheroics and espionage political thriller. Nothing wrong with that at all, mind, but I think these guys sometimes get these grand-scale plots and action sequences that you can start to lump these films in the "action" genre over the "superhero" genre. Sometimes, I feel like the "superhero" aspect manages to get diluted by other elements. And I think that's something ASM2 doesn't do. Maybe the villains are corny, maybe the plot is goofy, but this film works as a superhero movie more than any movie I've seen in the past two years. Why? Because it stays small. It harkens back to the good old days of comics, where heroes stopped costumed crooks and armed thugs, maybe a save-the-world mission here and there. I'm not complaining, and I think guys like Cap, Thor, and Iron Man kinda need to fit into a larger framework, but Spidey's always been small. Sure, he's had his intergalatic and international missions, sure he's fought tyrants and aliens. But the guy, like Batman, is a street-level hero, and ASM2 is about a street-level hero. That's what I think anyway. Okay, longer intro than normal, so let me get into the nitty-gritty as to some reasons why the Amazing Spider-Man 2 actually works really, really well.
Not kidding, but this film has the best characterization I've seen in a superhero movie since The Dark Knight. Yup, it has the best characterization I've seen since my favorite movie of all time. Marc Webb, in ASM2, pulls a Christopher Nolan and juggles his characters very well. We get to see Peter grow, Gwen grow through their relationship, and even Aunt May do what she does best: Set Peter straight. While Harry's intro seems forced, the idea that he and Peter have been friends for a while isn't all that implausible, as some critics have noted. It's from the comics, and it's better than trying to have him become friends with Harry. For the filmmakers, I think they chose the wise thing in having them already be friends, so the emotional distress of Harry's Goblinfication is more impactful. As for Harry, kudos for Dane DeHaan for making his character's descent into madness really interesting. As the Goblin, he was so-so, but Harry Osborn was very well done, and I think I'd slot him as one of the better villains up there with Heath Ledger's Joker and Tom Hiddleston's Loki. Speaking of villains, Rhino may have been a bummer, but at least he added a bit of humor to the film, and Electro may have been a bit shallow, but he was still intriguing. Fine, he may have been another villain created by science we're supposed to pity, but the "hero worship" idea was neat. And, despite what people have said, having the soundtrack play like it's part of his thoughts was cool. Bottom line, I think Webb juggled the majority of his characters fairly well, and he had good actors playing them.
Webb's pacing is incredible in this film. Not one moment feels dull, and I think there's a good reason why. All these movies deal with two ideas: Narrative and action. Narrative is the plot, the story, the dialogue, and characterization. Action is the fight scenes and stuff. Recently, I think superhero movies have had too much in either. Last year's Iron Man 3 seemed too much on the narrative side, while Man of Steel was "narrative, narrative, narrative...actionactionactionaction." Even The Winter Soldier, while a good movie, seemed like "action action action" with narrative woven throughout. Not a bad idea, but I think ASM2 works very well to weave (Spider pun!) the narrative and action one after the other. A scene with Gwen giving a graduation speech interwoven (another one!) with shots of Peter fighting Alexsei works well, and so do the other battles. Also, I think Gwen and Peter's relationship is handled very well, a nice rollercoaster which rises and drops throughout the whole film. Whatever Webb did works, and I know there are still a bunch of people out there who enjoy the film despite others who didn't.
Strange word to use, yeah, but what I mean by this is that this movie sticks (ha, another pun!) close to the source material. There are some notable differences, sure: Norman's death, Max's origin, the Rhino, but there are also a bunch of interesting things that are really close to the comics. The characters, the relationships...it all works. The best example of this can be seen through Gwen's death. I wasn't sure if they were going to kill her in this film, but I was very happy they did. That may sound really cold, but now Peter has lost his foundation, like in the comics. And, like I said before, the movie keeps Spidey small. In a nutshell, we're given a hero who works to keep his city safe from superhuman threats while struggling with his own personal issues. That's pretty much who Spider-Man has always been. I think all the Spidey films have capitalized on this idea well, but I feel as though ASM2 does it the best. Peter and Gwen's relationship faces similar issues like Peter and MJ in the third film, but ASM2 isn't chock-full of battles and villains. As always, Peter keeps with his lighter, more humorous side. And we really get to see the "with great power" idea played well in this film. Definitely a lot of responsibility for Peter, both for him to undertake and for him to deal with the consequences.
Another strange word to have, but I think Gwen's death in this film is very, very significant and done very, very well. I even think it's the best superhero movie death I've ever seen. I have a couple of reasons why I really liked it, so here it goes: 1. It's better than the comic. Yes, I said it. Killing Gwen in ASM2 was done better than it was done in Amazing Spider 121. One, Gwen was unconscious in the comic. I think some people even wonder if she was dead BEFORE the Goblin dumped her off a bridge. So, hey, maybe Spidey didn't even cause her death. In the film, she's conscious. You see the fear on her face, and you know it's Spidey's fault. She's alive at the time, and then she's dead. There's no questioning what happens. Two, having her head whack against the ground is brutal. It jolts you as an audience member. It made me wince. You know definitely "Yeah, she's not making it out of this one." 2. It's the best superhero movie death ever. A lot of guys who have died in superhero films are villains. So, big deal. The guy's a megalomaniacal jerk and he got off'd. Good for him. And I don't think other "citizen" deaths have been as impactful. In TDK, when Rachel Dawes was killed, I felt kinda "eh." Other people have died, so what the heck? She was an invented character who didn't mean a lot (personally). We also have Uncle Ben, but he's died twice and you know he's going right off the bat. I wasn't sure about Gwen, so it caught me by surprise; that, and Peter's reaction is wonderful. The guy's broken, so this is going to shape the next films. They dropped a bombshell with this one. Made the movie even cooler than it was.
Those are the reasons why I enjoyed ASM2. What I've found is that the movie critics didn't like it as much, but the comic geeks did. I'm a comic geek, so I enjoyed it. Overall, ASM2 was probably the best Spider-Man film I've seen and a worthy addition to the Spidey film universe. Hopefully, Marc Webb and co. continue to do a fun job at building this universe.