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(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for a poem balancing the gifts you were born with and some kind of curse. I started out with that goal, but I’m not sure the result quite matches the prompt today. Still, in going more general, I think I tapped into why I’m an optimist.)

It’s tempting to wish for a different life,
To notice how easy another’s would be.
If I were not stuck
With such miserable luck…
As if the potential were some guarantee.

Yet when I feel like that, beguiled by grief,
Envisioning tragedy somehow undone,
I catch such a muse,
So intent to abuse,
And show it each smile from trials I’ve won.

The good that I’ve seen and at least tried to do
Could likewise be gone, both the sorrow and gifts.
Life’s not simplified
Looking on the bright side,
But I’ll take what’s true over trading in ifs.

MPA rating: PG-13

I can’t seem to find much agreement on whether The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is better or worse than its predecessor. I’ve read reviews that acclaim Andrew Garfield’s charisma when wearing his Spidey suit, and it certainly does have more personality than the somewhat bland first film. Yet I’ve also seen certain scenes mercilessly mocked, like the unresolved ending with Paul Giamatti as a hammy Russian Rhino. Personally, I think the second film does improve on the first, at least in answering some of the lingering questions, and it certainly took guts to put to film one of the most famous and gut-wrenching twists from the comics.

Garfield may still be the third best Peter Parker (sorry!), but he’s still quite a good one, especially alongside Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy. Haunted by the dying words of Gwen’s father (Denis Leary), he still fears for her safety, and with good reason as numerous supervillains threaten the city. Like many other nerds-turned-villains, Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) starts out idolizing Spider-Man before an accident and a misunderstanding turn him into the vengeful Electro, while Peter’s old pal Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan as a pale stand-in for James Franco) is spurred by a terminal illness into Green Goblin-hood.

There’s much to enjoy in Garfield’s second outing, from several outstanding action set pieces to the continued winsome chemistry between Peter and Gwen. While the backstory about Peter’s father isn’t the most interesting aspect, it does supply a logical answer to an unspoken question. I like to say that the freak accidents in these movies, like a radioactive spider bite or falling into a tank of electric eels, either kill you or give you superpowers, and there’s a pretty good reason why it was the latter for Peter specifically. The plot is rather long and busy with all the villains and laying the groundwork for future sequels that never materialized (Felicity Jones never gets to do much as Felicia Hardy), but I can appreciate how much this film tries since the first seemed content to be underwhelming.

It’s notable how both Garfield’s series and Tobey Maguire’s run as Spider-Man both ended on rather dour notes. Neither Spider-Man 3 nor Amazing Spider-Man 2 end very happily, so it’s all the better that No Way Home managed to provide some much-needed closure for some of its predecessors’ loose or less-than-satisfying ends. I’m still hoping for more, though, and with the renewed appreciation that No Way Home inspired for Spider-Men past, perhaps we’ll see even more of Garfield’s Peter Parker.

Best line: (Gwen Stacy’s valedictorian speech) “It’s easy to feel hopeful on a beautiful day like today, but there will be dark days ahead of us too. There will be days where you feel all alone, and that’s when hope is needed most. No matter how buried it gets, or how lost you feel, you must promise me that you will hold on to hope. Keep it alive. We have to be greater than what we suffer. My wish for you is to become hope; people need that. And even if we fail, what better way is there to live? As we look around here today, at all of the people who helped make us who we are, I know it feels like we’re saying goodbye, but we will carry a piece of each other into everything that we do next, to remind us of who we are, and of who we’re meant to be.”

Rank: List Runner-Up

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