Spider-Man returned to theaters last weekend in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Columbia Pictures’ latest foray featuring everybody’s favorite wall-crawler based on Marvel Comics. Along with continuing the story from the first Amazing Spider-Man movie, it’s a respectful adaptation of the source material: visually exciting, with an understanding that what makes Spider-Man great isn’t just his super-human abilities, but the person underneath the mask.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opens with the title character seemingly on top of the world. Peter Parker, aka Spidey (Andrew Garfield), is more than holding his own as a super-hero (in New York City, no less!), he is about to graduate high school, and he even has a burgeoning romance with his high school sweetheart, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Unfortunately, Parker is haunted by an unshakable fear that being Spider-Man will cause something terrible to happen to his love interest. The two struggle with their relationship throughout the film, but luckily, they are bonded by a web strand of emotional co-dependency mighty enough to continuously pull them together.
Meanwhile, a new bad guy named Electro (Jamie Foxx) emerges, and Peter’s childhood pal Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) discovers he has a genetic disorder that will eventually take his life. As Harry slowly goes crazy, Electro, who seems a bit unhinged from the start, suffers an accident that grants him power over electricity. Naturally, he will use this newfound godlike ability to—what else?—try and kill Spider-Man.
In general, superhero comics represent teenage fantasies of power and freedom, and most recent films based on comics understand that relationship, so there’s considerable effort to show off the characters’ fantastic powers through cool visual effects. Some of the most exhilarating moments in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 involve Peter/Spider-Man diving headlong into a busy street, and then swinging away moments before impact. There are also slow-motion sequences that demonstrate how he can react even faster than a bullet flying towards him, thanks to his spider-like agility.
After seeing this movie, very young viewers will likely see Spider-Man as someone worth aspiring to (if they didn’t already), what with his strength, ability to laugh in the face of danger, and freedom to do whatever he pleases. Seriously, here’s a SPOILER: At one point in the film, Spidey essentially helps destroy Times Square. It’s in the service of stopping Electro, and he’s definitely more conscious of civilians than, say, Batman has been in movies of late. That said, he still trashes the place and walks away afterward. END SPOILER.
On the other hand, slightly older kids may find themselves relating to the character’s emotional burdens. Along with a problematic love life, one of the film’s subplots involves Peter’s long-lost parents, who may have been up to something shocking and/or illegal. While not everyone experiences that exact situation in life, one could make the argument that coming-of-age generally involves struggling with parental legacies, and being forced to either find one’s way out from underneath that weight, or succumbing to it.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2, much like The Dark Knight, is not a superhero sequel where everything is light and breezy to the closing credits. However, one of the enduring traits of Peter Parker/Spider-Man—and what makes him a worthy role model—is how he always rises above whatever tragedies befall him. Overall, I enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but having seen it, I now think Hasbro’s toy line (see our full review of it here) could use a few “Peter Parker-in-regular-street-clothes” items—and some Gwen Stacy ones, too. Sometimes, it’s the quiet heroism that isn’t hidden beneath a red-and-blue skintight costume that’s the most important.