I will never understand the hatred this movie has accumulated, not because there are FAR worse superhero films out there, but because The Amazing Spider-man 2 is an honest-to-God outstanding exploration of the themes of abandonment and hope that has fantastic character arcs, stunning action sequences, and a great narrative that's surprisingly complex in its structure.
In this sequel to the also-underappreciated "The Amazing Spider-man," Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone return as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, respectively, and, once again, their chemistry lights up every scene with joy, honesty, and love (it doesn't hurt that they were actually dating in real life). Peter is having difficulties adjusting to his life of happiness with Gwen as his girlfriend given that he had promised to honor her dying father, Captain George Stacy (played by Dennis Leary), and his last request to keep her out of his life for fear that she would suffer the violence Peter attracts as Spider-man. Though Gwen believes that it's only her and Peter's decision to be together, Peter is conflicted morally and ethically about continuing their relationship, despite completely loving her. Already, the movie gives us a complex emotional core that isn't going to be simply solved with a bad-guy/good-guy fist fight (it's that complexity which I think most detractors of the film don't like).
Alongside the main (no pun intended) thread of the film, Harry Osborn (played outstandingly by Dane Dehaan), Peter's buddy from his childhood returns to New York to run his recently deceased father's business, despite his hatred for the company and for his father's strict, cold upbringing. Harry is dying of a rare genetic disease that will eventually kill him like it did his father and needs Spider-man's blood (for reasons that are well-explained in the film) to save him. This also brings in a fresh set of moral/ethical complications for Peter since the last time he had given someone the key to his genetics, he helped create a monster that terrorized the city. There's also the sub-plot of Peter's Aunt May (Sally Fields) who is struggling both with the finances of their living situation (that Peter tries to help with) and her fear that Peter's dedication to find out more about his parents means that she will be left behind.
Peter's narrative arc runs parallel with Harry's desperate search and Max Dillons' (Jamie Foxx) turn from rabid fanboy into supervillain. Mentally unstable and tragically pathetic, Max is a firm believer in the good of Spider-man ever since he was personally saved by the hero, giving him a delusion that he and Spidey are best friends. Due to an accident, Max is turned into a electricity-laden superpowered individual who views Spidey's attempts to stop him as a betrayal for his own personal glory (though this is a far more complicated matter in the film than how I'm explaining it). ALL of those story threads together AND Paul Giamatti delivering a fun, chewing-the-scenery performance as the Russian mobster Alexsi who actually becomes the important narrative bookends for the story that I won't go into here out of spoilers.
There are some elements that feel a little off, like the overly-villainous Dr. Kafka, the rather quick ending to Peter's search for his parents, and the underutilization of Felicity Jones as Felicia Hardy, but all of the choices (even the ones that don't entirely "click") are done for the sake of telling the story and character development. I had been unfortunately spoiled on a "big scene" in the film that's an emotional roller-coaster, but the film is so expertly written that, watching it, I felt as though I were experiencing it as freshly as someone who had never seen the film before.
This film (moreso than any other superhero film or Spidey movie) portrays Spider-man as the common man's hero. A guy not only willing to foil a robbery or save people from a car crash, but intrigued and happy to talk with the people on the street. The filmmakers show that it's more than his responsibility to protect the citizens of New York - it's his joy. It's also important to note that with the evolution of the series, the character of Peter Parker has become more confident and thoughtful without losing any of the charming every-man quality in the previous film. With more confidence growing up as a man, we also get a Spider-man who FINALLY nails the dramatic/comedic balance that the hero has been synonymous with over the years. Andrew Garfield performs Peter Parker with boundless charisma, enthusiasm, and effortless humor that, if not THE defining iteration of the character, is one of the best realized adaptations of the character in the history of the Spider-man franchise.
As clichéd and tired as this sounds, "The Amazing Spider-man 2" lives up to the adjective in its title by being emotional, complex, thrilling, mature, and thought-provoking in a way that we don't see in superhero films, all while showcasing the need for true optimism and hope even in the face of overwhelming despair.
To Marc Webb, the crew and cast of the film, the studio execs who took a risk on this material, and everyone who helped get this movie done and into theaters, I say, "Thank you." You've given me the Spider-man film that reminded me why Peter Parker is one of my favorite characters of all time, and why Spider-man is my favorite superhero.