The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has technical merits. However, these merits are impossible to enjoy in a film drowned from beginning to end in the sickening narcissism of both its purported hero and supposedly tragic villains.
I give you The Amazing Spider-Man: a hero with no principles and no goals. He sometimes cares about a girl and sometimes wants to know what happened to his parents, but day-to-day he really only cares about doing what he wants to do--which happens to be helping people, it seems, because it gives them "hope." And what luck! He gives them this just by being himself. Not by being a better person. Not by sacrificing anything else in his life for the greater good. Just by being strong and smart and doing exactly what he feels like doing because that's how he feels. And look: by being himself, other people want to be like him. What a wonderful message for a self-obsessed age. And watching the box office dollars roll in, it would seem that this is just what everyone wants to hear.
Ah, but lovable doe-eyed Petey gives up Gwen for the greater good, right? No he doesn't. He gives her up because he can't face the guilt of having contributed to her father's death--his guilt, and his unquestioned inability to give up being a famous public figure, lead to his need to break up (And his principled stand on this issue is so strong that he will renege on it whenever he feels randy). We never see Peter torn between helping people and helping himself. We see him torn between two paths to self-gratification: the adulation of public heroism (and public vilification, which is a kind of adulation) and the love of a single woman. What about Aunt May? No, not her--she's just in the way of Spidey laundry.
This is the major problem with the reboot: The overshadowing death isn't Uncle Ben's. It's Captain Stacy's. And Captain Stacy didn't die because Peter was self-absorbed. Captain Stacy died because Peter existed. So the standard for Peter being a good person or bad person has nothing to do with his character--it has only to do with his presence. During an over-the-top car chase in the first act, rather than stop a massive truck from smashing through a set of cars (which Sam Raimi has shown us he could have done, assuming equivalence between a truck and a train), Spidey ducks out of the way only to come back after the carnage. This is a hero who says, "I'm here for you--until it's inconvenient for me, then you're on your own."
The long and short of it is that this Spider-Man is in no way heroic. Superheroes are heroic because, while they could decide that they are unconcerned with our struggles, they still feel a moral obligation to help the average Joe. This Spider-Man seems to feel obliged to help only because, as someone superior to everyone else, the world's problems must naturally fall on his shoulders. Not because someone died due to his inaction--because he's exceptional. And helping inferior people is what exceptional people do. Sometimes. When they're not busy dealing with exceptional-person stuff. Like obsessing about parents who unjustly abandoned them while feeling no responsibility whatsoever for the uncle they themselves abandoned.
Add to this a pair of villains who go from being apparently well-meaning if somewhat imbalanced individuals to homicidal maniacs due to a single rejection episode, and you have a two-hour cesspool of poorly justified destructive self-obsession.
Electro could have been a tragic Frankenstein villain. Instead, because a group of random people roots for Spider-Man over him in his first public appearance, he decides everyone should die. Yup--that's his motivation. You don't love me because I'm me? Well, I'll kill you all. Thank you, Columbine.
Harry's the same. After a five-minute meeting in which Spider-Man refuses give him his blood--which he truly believes, based on a single night's research on a single computer file, is the only thing that can save him from a horrible death that won't happen for another 40 years--Harry decides that Spider-Man needs to die right now. And everyone who dies in the process of saving his own old-age skin is perfectly okay. This despite Harry having been Peter's best friend only 48 hours before--though not because they have a long history together, but because they talked for a few hours and remembered how they were friends eight years ago. And it's not like either of them developed any other close relationships over their entire time in high school and college. (Let that be the only mention I will make of this film's preposterous set of causes and effects--and its Attack-of-the-Clones-inspired need to intellectually dictate emotional importance rather than meaningfully display it.)
The original Spider-Man had a single moment of narcissism. Count 'em: one. Only once did Peter Parker step up for glory, himself, and his own objectives, and he immediately paid for it with the death of one of the only three people he loved. This new Peter Parker steps up for himself every day as a part of his playground vision of a hero, and not a single screenwriter or billion-dollar audience member seems to care. This Spider-Man says the world should glorify you for being you, and if that doesn't happen, it's the world that needs to change, not you. And that is what truly terrifies me.
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