With the arrival of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 the summer movie season has officially begun. But for me, rather then kicking off the season on a high note, I find myself silently wishing that the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past doesn’t suck. Because if it does, I may just give up on the summer altogether. As you read through the rest of this review you’ll likely assume that I hated this new Spider-Man. I didn’t hate it. There’s a lot in the movie that I enjoyed and that really worked. But for me, what didn’t work far outweighed what the filmmakers got right. The anger I feel towards this film doesn’t come from it being terrible. If it had just been flat out terrible I probably wouldn’t be as angry. It’s the wasted potential and wasted opportunities I saw throughout that made me angry. To get to the bottom of just what made me so angry is going to take a bit of time so I hope you’re all in for the long haul.
By the time this review is posted I’d assume ASM2 will likely have been in wide release for at least a week, if not more. With that being the case I’m going to dispense with the standard review and try and address all the major aspects of the film I can think of in detail. Those who’ve read my previous reviews of the anniversary and Christmas Doctor Who specials will be familiar with the format. Unfortunately, there’s no way for me to conduct a proper discussion of the aspects of this film that I feel either did or did not work without going into pretty detailed spoilers. So if you haven’t managed to get to the theater yet, consider yourself properly warned.
On that note, let’s get started:
RICHARD AND MARY PARKER
The opening of ASM2 acts as an interesting parallel to the start of the first film by re-introducing us to Richard Parker as he’s in the midst of destroying his research for Oscorp. Although we won’t find out why until much later in the film, the results of Richard’s work and the truth behind their intended use is causing Richard and his wife Mary to go into hiding from Oscorp and (as already shown previously) entrust the care of their young son Peter with Richard’s brother Ben and his wife May. This time we continue on with the Parkers and get a chance to see their ultimate fate and the truth behind the plane crash that took their lives.
Watching this opening sequence reminded of something extremely important: I don’t give a crap about Peter’s parents. I never did. I didn’t care about learning more about them in the first movie and I never had any desire to learn more about them in the comics. When they did delve into the Parker’s past in the comics I actually hated it because, in my opinion, it took away from the “everyman” quality of Peter. There’s a very poignant moment towards the middle of the movie where, upon being asked yet again by her nephew for more information on his parents, May Parker goes into an impassioned speech about how she is the one who
raised Peter and that no matter what his parentage actually is, he is her boy. This speech is actually an aspect of the movie that I really enjoyed. Mainly because I agree with the sentiment 100%. The fate of Richard and Mary Parker is superfluous. Peter was raised by Ben and May. Sure, on paper they may be his Aunt and Uncle, but damn it they are his parents. As comic book readers, this fact has been enough for us all of these years and should have been enough for these movies. Instead, the filmmakers for both this and ASM1 were so concerned with trying to introduce something new to the Spider-Man movie mythos that they wasted screen-time asking questions I didn’t ask and didn’t want or need to know the to.
Now, all that being said, I would have been willing to give this a pass if the eventual outcome of all this build up had actually amounted to something worthwhile. Unfortunately, the eventual culmination of all this seed planting in ASM1 and 2 doesn’t amount to much of anything. The “big reveal” is that while Richard thought his research was being used as a chance to cure the ailing Norman Osborn and the general public, it was actually being used by Oscorp to create bio-weapons. We also find out that the reason Oscorp has never been able to successfully reproduce Richard’s work is because he used his own DNA in his experiments. Therefore only Richard’s blood or someone from Richard’s bloodline (I wonder who…) would be able to successfully use his serum. So essentially all this time over two movies establishing the mystery of Peter’s parents really amounted to was to confirm that Harry Osborn’s quest to use Spider-Man’s blood to cure himself is futile (which we kind of already knew) and apparently Peter’s transformation into Spider-Man wasn’t an accident but something that was almost pre-destined.
To the writers of this film, please pardon my language when I say f**k you.
What’s always worked for me when it came to the character of Spider-Man was his everyman quality. As a kid reading the books or watching the cartoons you could always identify with Spider-Man most because he was just like you. He was a kid. It just so happened that this particular kid was granted amazing powers through a freak accident. And the choices he made after receiving those powers is what made him a hero. Those of you who may have been following my own Spider-Man storyline elsewhere on this site will hear this again but it seems appropriate to mention now. Peter Parker was given amazing powers when he was bitten by a radioactive spider. He then wore the costume of Spider-Man. But he wasn’t really Spider-Man until his Uncle Ben was killed. The choice he made that night after realizing the fatal mistake he’d made is what defines him. It’s what makes him who he is.
When you try and add in a factor like they did in ASM2 that implies that Peter was born to be Spider-Man because of his father’s work, you take that away from him. More importantly, you take away what makes him unique and completely ruin the idea of “with great power comes great responsibility.”
When you think about it, Spider-Man’s origin is not dissimilar from those of several of his most iconic villains. Doc Ock, Electro, Sandman, and so on. So many of them attained their powers through equally freak accidents. The difference is the choices they made after gaining those powers. While they made the choice to use their powers for evil intent, Spider-Man made the choice to use his for good. And that choice came with a price. Peter’s initial intent after gaining his Spider powers was to use them for financial gain. In addition, his powers also gave him a sense of superiority which is what led him to ultimately not act to stop the robber who would end up killing his Uncle Ben. Had Uncle Ben not been killed, it’s very possible Peter could have taken a path similar to many of the villains he would ultimately face. It was Ben’s death that taught him the ultimate lesson of power and responsibility that drives him to this day.
As we’ve seen, all of that is present (in some fashion) in the first ASM. However, by adding this unnecessary aspect to his origin, it lessens that impact. By making the spiders a product of Richard’s work that would only work with his bloodline, they’re basically
saying that one way or the other, Peter Parker was always meant to be Spider-Man. Some may like it and some may not see it as a big deal, but to me it lessens the character and adds yet another coincidence into a film that’s already filled with WAY too many coincidences.
Speaking of coincidences, let’s talk about the execution of these wonderful new plot twists. In the opening scene Richard is uploading his research to something or someone called “Roosevelt” just in case something happens to him and Mary. We’re given the impression that Roosevelt must be some kind of organization that he’s been secretly working for and is making sure they get all of his findings about Oscorp. And yet, when Peter learns the truth about Roosevelt we find out that it’s nothing more then a code-name for the secret underground facility where Richard has uploaded his work. That’s all well and good I suppose, except that it’s obvious upon discovery that nobody has been to Roosevelt since before Richard and Mary were killed. Which would mean that there was no organization and that in the moments before his imminent death, Richard Parker was uploading this research to…himself. What’s the point? If he was the only one who knew of Roosevelt’s location and he’s going to die, then what’s the point of uploading the research there for nobody to ever find? Are we supposed to believe that it was a part of Richard’s grand plan that ten years later his son would smash his old calculator out of anger, discovering a bunch of hidden subway tokens and that said tokens would remind him of a very random comment from Aunt Many that would lead to his discovery of what Roosevelt means and allow him access to this hidden train car and the confessional video Richard left behind that just happens to reveal crucial information pertaining to the situation going on with Harry? And while we’re at it, if Richard wasn’t working for anyone else and Roosevelt was truly his and his alone, how in the hell is he able to build all of this high tech James Bond-style crap on his own dime? Does Oscorp really pay that well?
Grrrr. It’s actually making me angry all over again just thinking about all this. But hey, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there is more to this then meets the eye. Maybe the “mystery” of the Parkers isn’t over just yet. Maybe there’s even more to be revealed in the eventual and inevitable Amazing Spider-Man 3. Or maybe those involved with the making of ASM3 should concentrate a bit more on making a decent movie instead of planting a bunch of seeds to be paid off in movies that haven’t been made yet. I know to Sony that may seem a radical concept, but try it. You’d be surprised how well it can work.
Right about now you may be thinking that this was the only thing that aggravated me about ASM2. Hell no…I’m just getting warmed up.
End of part one.