“Is this the greatest superhero movie ever?”
That’s the question that I asked myself as I sat in the theater last night, just a few minutes into the epicosity of Spider-Man’s aerial acrobatics and the thrill of his heroics. The movie is amazing, true to its title. But I also had a bigger picture in mind. I wondered if, in the pursuit of making this movie and this franchise set apart from its predecessors, would it sacrifice the aspects which, in the original Spider-Man trilogy, made the protagonist the most Christ-like costumed vigilante to date?
Well, in a way, it did. Yet in others it didn’t. The thing that made Spider-Man’s story so reminiscent of the Christian worldview was how he risked his life to save the people of New York City while simultaneously being slandered for it. That aspect isn’t here. Actually, it’s quite the opposite.
After a more detailed account of Richard Parker’s attempt at escape from OsCorp, we’re thrown back into Spider-Man’s swinging life at full-speed. He’s chasing down a deranged Paul Giamatti, releasing numerous counts of beautiful smart-aleck banter typical of our favorite web-slinger. Eventually, as would be expected, he stops the mentally unstable trucker and makes it just in time for his graduation. The story further develops as we’re introduced to Max Dillon, an overlooked OsCorp engineer, clearly unstable and obsessed with Spider-Man. Which is why, in this film, Spider-Man is a celebrity.
This franchise is not as much about Spider-Man versus the villain of the day as it is Spider-Man versus OsCorp. That’s where all of the baddies are coming from, and that’s where the Sinister Six will undoubtedly spring from. However, the city’s perspective on the wall crawler is defined, from a writer’s perspective, from a need to push Dillon, that is, Electro, over the edge. He’s obsessed with Spider-Man, claiming that they’re best friends. So when the cops don’t listen to Spidey and shoot at Electro anyway, he takes this is a personal betrayal, and vows to squash the spider.
But he’s locked up for a time. That brings us to Harry. The film might not have James Franco, but it does have a perfectly convincing Harry Osborn, bent on finding a cure for the disease that claimed his father’s life. When Spider-Man won’t donate his blood, which Harry thinks will cure him, he snaps. And therein lies the catalyst for the epic battle for New York City’s soul.
Of course, there’s more going on in the background, as well. Peter is still haunted by Gwen’s father’s dying wishes, and it results in him constantly swinging (pun intended) back and forth, unable to reconcile his love for Gwen and his promise to her father to keep her out of it.
Of course, Spider-Man fans know Gwen’s story.
Simultaneously, there’s also the secrets that Richard Parker was trying to keep from OsCorp. OsCorp is ultimately the real villain here, and when Peter’s life is a confusing mess, he takes to solving the mystery of his father.
As you can tell, there’s a lot happening at once. But that’s not a weakness of the film. You don’t really notice it until you sit down and start to map it all out, which is a sign of the film’s strong writing. It has some of the most realistic interactions between characters on film, between Peter and Gwen’s breakup at the beginning of the film, Peter and Harry’s reunion, and Peter’s obsession over founding the truth about his father. That extends to the villains as well. There were a lot of complaints that the movie was going to be too crowded, and just a repeat of Spider-Man 3. That’s not what happens. The Rhino is more of a cameo than anything, and Harry’s Green Goblin is only in the film for one brief fight, tense though it may be. Electro is the primary villain, unquestionably so, and undoubtedly more powerful than The Lizard ever could be.
Which is part of the problem. Most of Electro’s powers are understandable, but how does the ability to shoot electric bolts make you fly? Even more hokey, what gives him the ability to de-materialize into pure electricity, and then reform as a human-ish thing—still having his suit on? Electro is cool, but it seems as though the makers took a few shortcuts in order to make him what is, if we’re honest, quite overpowered.
But maybe that’s what makes this battle so compelling. Electro says to Spider-Man in their finally battle that he will be “like a god to them.” To which Spider-Man replies “A god named Sparkles?” Electro is more powerful than Spider-Man. That much is obvious. But let’s take a step back and compare their personas for a moment. Both have powers. How do they use them? Spider-Man could have forced them to boy to him as a god. But what did he do? He chose to save them.
So even though Spider-Man is more appreciated than before, the filmmakers did not rob him of the positive message which fits perfectly with the Christian worldview. Instead, they simply gave him a different, just as valuable one. The prior Spider-Man films said that we have a responsibility to do good even when we’re scorned for it. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 says we have a responsibility to use our talents for good, not to simply draw attention to ourselves.
So is it the greatest superhero movie ever? I don’t know that I would go that far. It still didn’t wow me quite as much as The Avengers. But it’s certainly a valuable lesson, and one that should be a part of everyone’s collection.
Also, the Sinister Six is totally happening in The Amazing Spider-Man 3.