Before The Amazing Spider-Man 2 started rolling at the premiere in New York, the film critic sitting next to me said, “I liked the first [Amazing Spider-Man], but I kept thinking, ‘What’s the point?’” The Amazing Spider-Man series is a reboot of the Spider-Man series that hit theaters in 2002-2007. This new iteration–which tracks the comic books more closely than the previous series–can seem like an exercise in futility, but a couple key elements save the day.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (rated PG-13 for intense violence and general scariness) is well-told, thanks to director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer), and its cast makes it winsome. First, we get the privilege of seeing all too briefly Paul Giamatti play a growling, tattooed villain, a far cry from his John Adams typecast. Before Jamie Foxx turns into the CGI monster Electro, he is wonderful as the forgotten engineer and Spider-Man fanatic Max Dillon. Others also shine: Sally Field as Aunt May, Dane DeHaan as Spider-Man’s friend Harry Osborn, and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man’s girlfriend.
Andrew Garfield’s wry, cheerful Spider-Man/Peter Parker is much more charismatic than Tobey Maguire’s from the 2002 series—Maguire’s Spider-Man always seemed a little bewildered to me. Garfield’s superhero persona comes out even in the way he falls on the bed at the end of the day—for the role he studied physical comics like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.
Because superhero movies are now a genre, or perhaps a brand, we get a lot of the tropes we’ve seen before: a huge corporation developing secret military projects waiting to be misused, supervillains destroying parts of New York, a hero conflicted about bringing the woman he loves into his violent world. But film critics like the man next to me are maybe the only ones tired of the onslaught of comic book–based movies: Box office receipts show audiences still love them. Fans of the comic books will already know the plot development coming in this movie, making it less of a crowd-pleaser than others, but the plot will nonetheless push audiences to the subsequent films in the series.
No, we’re not close to being done with Spider-Man: The studio is planning two more Spider-Man movies, and then two spinoffs focused on the villains–the Sinister Six and Venom–with release dates slotted through 2018. Other studios have more Avengers, X-Men, and Batman in the wings. Why do audiences keep coming back? Stone, in an interview, said it might be partly because the movies come out in the summer, and “it’s hot and you want to go into a theater and have a removed experience.” But she went deeper: “Mythology is a big part of it too. We’ve always loved stories about things that are bigger than us, that are metaphors for these experiences that we have as human beings.”
Her word choice of “mythology” was interesting: C.S. Lewis often wrote about humans’ draw to mythology. “The story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened,” he wrote in a 1931 letter. “The pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things.’”