Oh to be Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy as The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opens.
They’re young. They’re beautiful and/or handsome. They have keen minds and bright futures ahead of them, one in a career in science and the other as a secret web-slinger.
And they’re in love. Sweetly, innocently, desperately, consumingly in love.
The chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, real life sweethearts playing onscreen sweethearts, makes the movie work. You just can’t help but root for them.
It’s the kind of love that blooms at 19, in the first blush of adulthood. Beyond it, this Peter Parker just oozes superhero teen angst, a lighter, younger Spider-Man than Tobey Magurire’s turn ten years ago.
He longs for his deceased parents and frets about the safety of his girl, but not enough to mute his wise-cracks or temper his sheer physical joy at swooping and swinging around New York City high-rises. He doesn’t sit in remote webs brooding or carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. He just wants to thwart criminals and take Gwen to the mall, not necessarily in that order.
The film exults with him, using the full force of 3D CGI to plunge with him through city canyons, skim the roofs of yellow cabs, and swoop up on his silken thread to dizzying heights. The only thing missing is the wind in our hair.
But alas! Life, as we all discover eventually, is never that simple. Parker is frantically worried that his crime-fighting ways will endanger Gwen, a possibility that becomes reality when not one but two villains arise: Electro (Jamie Foxx) and the Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan).
Electro is something much, much more interesting. In Foxx’s hands, with help from a powerful script, Electro is a villain that embodies black rage, more Malcolm X than mutant.
The parallels aren’t subtle. He begins as an invisible man, a nobody, an unnamed, unthanked worker in the power grid. He builds the foundations of power but has none on his own. Suddenly empowered, he becomes dangerous to the eye of the authorities, even though he himself has not as yet used his power to hurt anyone. He is automatically a threat. But once he realizes that the general world will never accept him, he grows into his power. And then, watch out. He wants nothing more than to shut the system down.
Electro’s whole being is a metaphor.
It’s a fantastic performance by Jamie Foxx and the most interesting part of the movie. In a movie that was more concerned with ideas, it could have been a fascinating and illuminating (excuse the pun) look at racial identity. This is not the Dark Knight trilogy, however, and the movie never fully steps into the promise of this thread.
What it is, however, is fun and frothy, something you could share with a child. Rated PG-13, the rating comes from sci-fi violence and action along with a storyline involving deep loss. The rest is squeaky-clean. The language is clear, the romance chaste. Better yet, Garfield’s Peter Parker and Stone’s Gwen Stacy are the type of recent high school grads we’d all like our kids to be: earnest, hopeful, sincere, kind, and self-sacrificial.
It may not be the most meaty treatment of the comic subject matter, but we already have Batman and Wolverine for dark heroes. There’s nothing wrong with lightening it up a bit, for the kiddos or for the sometimes overly-serious adults who accompany them.