Standing Up for the Least of These…To An Extent

The latest installment of the Spider-Man series reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, continues to carve out space for the web-slinging superhero in the Marvel film cosmos. With three villains in the latest film and rumors of work on an upcoming film about the Sinister Six, it’s clear that, like the Avengers, these super-heroes and villains are here to stay.

On the surface, things seem to be going swingingly for Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield): he’s ridding New York of crime and, as Peter Parker, about to graduate high school. Just below the surface, however, this isn’t the case: he’s still distraught over the disappearance of his parents years ago, and his relationship with girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) is falling apart because of a promise to stay away from her that he made to her dying father (in the previous film). Peter doesn’t want to put Gwen in danger should the enemies of Spider-Man find out about their relationship.

As Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper) is dying, his son, Harry (Dane Dehaan) returns to take over the Oscorp empire. Norman tells Harry that he will suffer from the same genetic disease that is slowly killing him. Gradually, Harry becomes convinced that Spider-Man’s blood will save him. Around the same time, Max Dillon  (Jamie Foxx), a lowly, but brilliant, Oscorp engineer is involved in a workplace accident that gives him electrical super-powers. Harry Osborn recruits Max, now the villain Electro, to help him take down Spider-Man. Along the way, we learn more about both what happened to Peter’s parents and the work that his father and Norman Osborn were up to at Oscorp before their mysterious disappearance.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is full of dazzling special effects and intense action sequences from the very beginning. Throughout the fight and chase scenes, the filmmakers are especially fond of following Spider-Man as he swings through the streets of New York in high, tumbling, slow motion arcs. Although Paul Giamatti is shown in trailers as the Rhino, we don’t see him until the very end, more of a nod to the Sinister Six than a crucial villain in this film. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone play off their real-world chemistry to positive effect. Jamie Foxx is effective as Max Dillon/Electro but undervalued. His development happens all too quickly and we never get to sympathize with what could have been a more complex character. Dane Dehaan (as fans of his might expect) is brilliant, and his performance as Harry adds gravity to the film.

Jamie Foxx as Max Dillon/Electro

As with most superhero films, there are numerous spiritual and/or ethical themes on display. Early in the film, through Gwen’s graduation speech, audiences are encouraged to think about the brevity of life, the importance of following your own path, and, perhaps most importantly, being hope for others. For me, this was one of the more inspirational themes of the film: the insistence that we don’t only have hope or witness signs of hope, but that we can actually live lives of hope for others.

Big Spider-Man looks out for the little guy.

There’s also the consistent them of recognizing and standing up for the “least of these.” Throughout the film, even in the midst of chaotic action, Spider-Man sees and responds to the vulnerable, be it Max Dillon hurriedly on his way to work, or a young boy caught in awe of the destruction raining down around him. Spider-Man frequently puts himself in harm’s way to not only save them from danger, but even to, in Max’s case, affirm their worth as individuals. Unfortunately, this film shifts focus from this theme in the final act as Spider-Man simply dispatches the villains as usual.

As with all of the Spider-Man films, the nature of power is on full display, but in this case it’s not just the usual “to whom much is given, much is required” theme prevalent in the previous films. Here, there is a three-fold analysis of the nature of power. Four characters embody various themes: as best he can, Spider-Man/Peter Parker uses his power for good, while Harry and Aleksei Sytsevich/the Rhino use theirs for evil. Caught in the middle, and far more interesting, is Max Dillon/Electro, who longs for influence and power in his work, but obtains it in a way that he never expected. Caught between his admiration of Spider-Man and Harry’s manipulation of his emotional needs, Max/Electro gives in to the dark side, so to speak, and joins forces with the latter.

Of course, some critics might say talking about these themes is a bit over the top for a simple blockbuster film, but for families who might watch the film together, these could be points of discussion to think deeper about the film. Along with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 sets audiences off on a good start to this year’s iteration of the superhero summer blockbuster genre.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (142 mins) is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence and is in theaters everywhere starting tonight.