It’s been a great year for geeky movie fans. It’s been a great year for people who love well done movies. For once, both of those fans are seeing the same movies. I mean in the last few weeks alone we got a fantastic X-Men movie, a Godzilla reboot, and a new Spiderman movie. But since I have a day job that robs my soul of energy most days of the week and because I don’t get paid for this stuff, I always have to make some decisions. There’s just so much good stuff around. However, some stuff is better than others. I really contemplated writing an article on the fantastic X-Men: Days of Future Past. But then I saw the second entry in the most recent Spiderman series. Truthfully, I wasn’t expecting much. I’d heard so much internet “meh-ing” about this film that I made sure X-Men was set up as our weekend drive-in movie while fitting Spiderman into a Tuesday night cheap-movie experience.
Maybe it was expectations, maybe it was the fact that I was listening to the X-Men movie through my terrible car speakers, but I came out feeling a bit more impressed with the quality of The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s writing. The X-Men movie was great, don’t get me wrong, but it had problems that I feel unfairly taint an otherwise fantastic movie. The problems were really not the movie’s fault, but more of the fault of the baggage that a movie starring Patrick Stewart as Professor X will bring. I won’t be writing about Days of Future Past right now, but I have a feeling that this X-Men movie will be the uncomfortable but necessary movie that will inevitably launch some truly wonderful movies. I have a feeling that my computer will rue the day that X-Men: Apocalypse comes out.
But I’m not talking about X-Men here. I’m talking about Spiderman. I’m talking about why you should definitely not miss this movie. If it’s at the end of its theater run (actually possible because I currently suck at timing), then you should buy the blue-ray when it comes out and watch the crud out of it. Why? Because it’s one of the best written super-hero movies I’ve seen since Dark Knight Rises.
Fantasy for the Real World
Have you heard of a genre of fiction called fantastic realism? No? Of course not, because you’re not a literature elitist like I am. But you should be, because some of the greatest works of fiction have come out of a very simple premise. There are real people, doing real things, in a real world, but there is one odd thing that happens to the main character that changes everything. But the story does not focus on that one thing, it focuses on what the character does with that one thing. In short, you could say this is a genre of stories about fantasy things screwing up modern life. So why did I give you that little tidbit of literature information? Because to me, Spiderman has been and always should be one of those stories, and it seems like Marvel and Sony agree with me.
This is the first Spiderman movie I’ve seen that treats Peter Parker as a real person. He’s a fairly normal guy who could have gone on and done normal guy things, but his life is pretty screwed up. His parents left him suddenly in the care of his Aunt and Uncle without a reason why. His Uncle gets murdered, forcing his previously childless Aunt to suddenly have to work multiple jobs and lots of overtime to take care of her brother’s child. Oh and then there’s that thing where he gets bit by a spider and gets crazy superpowers.
The first movie got a bit lost in Peters powers because it had to set up the origin story and get people truly believing that this is another Spiderman movie, but in the second movie, I think the writing team was able to relax a bit and really tell a story. As a result, there is a lot more dialogue and a lot more Peter Parker than there was in the first movie, but this isn’t a bad thing. We actually get to know Peter Parker and see how much this fantasy of super hero powers has really screwed up his life. He’s still seeking out his father. He’s debating his relationship with Gwen Stacy especially since the promise he made to her now-dead father hangs over his head (and seems to literally haunt him with the spectre of Dennis Leary). His Aunt is working multiple jobs and picking up overtime just to keep things together while he only manages to pull in petty cash from selling pictures to the Daily Globe. And he still can’t make it to anything on time because of that damned crime-fighting thing.
Because of all this drama in his personal life, the Peter Parker we see is much more comfortable and actually happy to throw on the Spiderman costume and kind of uncomfortable walking around as Peter Parker. The fantasy has become preferable to reality. He is happy, even giddy to the level of a Deadpool, when he’s swinging around the city and fighting crime. The level to which real life has become uncomfortable is made no clearer than with his interactions with his frustrated girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (I’ll talk about this a bit later). Yet, this isn’t the kind of Peter Parker who was the bumbling idiot that Toby McGuire played that we got frustrated with. This Peter Parker actually feels really warm and wonderful. When Norman Oswald dies due to his lifelong battle with sickness, Peter Parker comes to console his childhood friend Harry, and it truly feels like two really good friends, albeit with totally different life situations, who both seem find a bit of solace within each other. The interaction between Peter and Harry is pitted in stark contrast with the interaction between Harry and his father, who is a truly unpleasant man that gives Harry nothing but undeserved hatred. I knew that Harry and Peter would be driven apart, but I secretly hoped that the truly wonderful friendship those two actors demonstrated would carry on. Inevitably, it would be the fantasy that they both deal with in secret that would drive them apart. The biggest success of this movie is by making me feel sad to see Harry fall.
Electro is Awesome
I was really scared to learn that this movie had three villains in it. The third Toby McGuire movie had three villians in it and it got really really cluttered with backstories. Sandman should have been a wonderful character that I should have cared about, but I wasn’t given enough time to. Don’t fret though! Electro’s the only villain that really gets resolved. Green Goblin is set up near the end of the movie, but will probably be the set piece for the next Spiderman. Rhino’s sort of there, but he’s mainly just a pawn for the writers to bring a sense of closure to the movie.
But Electro is given center stage as the movie’s chief villain, and boy is he glorious. Jamie Foxx actually does a really good job of portraying the poor geeky engineer Max Dillon. In fact, I almost wonder if the writers are making fun of the previous Spiderman movies with this character. Max Dillon does have a Toby-McGuire-style-Peter-Parker feel to him. Well, there’s also the thing about him being mentally deranged. I mean seriously, this poor guy needs mental help really bad. He’s hearing voices, creating imaginary friends, and taking any sign of attention and turning into a love affair. But then he falls to a fate that is eerily similar to Peter Parker’s and goes crazy with the sudden power.
Unfortunately, Max Dillon’s character development is probably the weakest part of this film. While I did get a sense of Max Dillon, and I got a sense of the awesome power of Electro, I didn’t really get a sense of Max Dillon as Electro. He goes mad with power and I’m confused about what the writers were trying to attribute it to. Was it the mental illness? Maybe it was sudden fame (more like infamy) that gets ripped away in the moment he first fights Spiderman? Either way, I feel like Electro ended up being a sympathetic villain who is dispatched rather ingloriously and immediately replaced with the next villain. I found it kind of sad and wished that Max could have found the attention and love that he always wanted. Through Electro, this movie paints a terrifying picture for those who are invisible or socially awkward, but ultimately, I suppose that’s a realistic point of view.
But the fact that this character got me thinking is a success. I also find it really interesting that his origin story is so close to Spiderman’s. They both encounter a fantasy that they have to deal with and both characters deal with it in different ways. While Peter Parker has difficulty dealing with real life, he at least has some grounding that allows him to function. Max does not have that grounding, and so he willingly gives up his terrible life for the fantasy that offers him so much more. Ironically, it’s the play of fantasy against real life that keeps Peter going, gives him real growth as a character, and it’s his tie to the real world that keeps him alive in the end. Electro’s inevitable failure shows how much of a foil he is for Spiderman, and I find that level of depth really interesting in a movie script.
But Electro as Electro was glorious. His powers are awesome and legitimately terrifying. He can level an entire city block with a scream. He can infiltrate an electrical grid and knock out all power. He can burn a hole through a human being with the flick of an index finger. The special effects are, of course, quite beautiful. I’ve thrown in some pictures here, but nothing really shows off how great he looks other than seeing him in action in the movie. He almost seems like a Delson Rowe meets Dr. Manhattan kind of character, and there’s nothing really wrong with that. And nothing helps out with Electro’s badass-ness then the incredible music by Hans Zimmer and his Magnificent Six. The music is as entertaining as it is intelligent. Each character has their own theme and the music evolves with that character. With Electro, this is much more pronounced. Max Dillon’s introduction plays on his silly and infantile nature, while foreshadowing his unstable nature and inevitable malevolence.
However, when he gets power, the voices seem to vanish for a time. He revels in the power and sudden fame. But inevitably, Spiderman’s theme interrupts in 1:25.
Leading to the combination of power and insanity as shown below. Electro’s theme plays on that same instability but adds in the power of a dubbed electric bass to demonstrate his full transition into a powerful super villain.
Overall, I think they did a great job with this villain. The things the writers tried to do with this character were unnecessary in a superhero movie but appreciated and interesting. I love seeing writers play with thematic elements within movie scripts and I love seeing interesting interactions between a hero and the villain.
But I wanted to save the best for last. I feel like Gwen Stacy is the star of the show for this movie. While I can’t say too much without invoking huge spoilers, I will say that Gwen Stacy is one of the most refreshingly powerful female characters I’ve seen since Hunger Games. As someone who is deeply interested in gender relations, I appreciate the fact that the writers gave Gwen her own life and her own voice. While Peter goes wishy washy with deciding between real life and Spiderman life, she flat out tells him she’s tired of his crap. While Gwen Stacy does love Peter Parker, she could easily take the promising future of her career over a guy who can’t tell which way is up.
Do you have any idea how rare that is in a movie? We are far from the days of Kirsten Dunst fawning over Toby McGuire and acting like the worthless princess who puts up with all of Toby’s ridiculously stupid antics because she “loves him.” Gwen Stacy is a real woman with a real life and real priorities. She’s also kind of badass in her own right. While there are almost literally no other females in this movie, she holds her own in an all-male cast, sometimes even stealing the show with her dominating personality and strict adherence to doing things her way. But unlike many strong characters from the 90’s (ahem, Janeway), she does not get strength of character by adopting a stereotypically male persona. Gwen Stacy is very much a woman and very much a feminine character, but has a strength within her own life that emasculates Peter and even draws him to her. Seeing the interplay between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy is one of the best parts of this movie and I can’t wait to see how they inevitably handle Mary Jane.
Go See It While It’s Still In Theaters
Because I fully understand the vitriolic nature of the internet, I can understand why there’s so much hate out there for this movie. But if you’re not a terrible person, you should enjoy this movie. It’s a wonderfully realized script with some of the most human and believable characters that I’ve seen in a superhero movie in a long time, if ever. Captain America: The Winter Solider was great as a fantasy movie, but those characters are all archetypes with very little development (except the Winter Soldier). Even Christopher Nolan’s characters (except Joker) fall flat under the “gritty” un-realism of his plots. But this movie finally gives me real people that I can identify with, feel sorry for, fall in love with, and want to hug. They are real people put into extraordinary situations, yet these situations don’t prevent them from being real people. It’s the fantasy that forces them into situations that make the story so much more interesting.
So please, go see this movie, and forget about the internet. In fact, if you want to see a movie, you should probably not look at anything on the internet before or even after you see it. You should make up your own mind and decide to love it or not. Most of all, if you really want to read something about it, you should come to this site. If it’s here, then it’s good, because everything I like is obviously good.