I think I had this same reaction to watching the Amazing Spider-Man 2 as when I went to see the Winter Soldier a few weeks ago. I am absolutely NOT in the correct place in my life to be watching super hero movies.
I think I’ve only watched the Amazing Spider-Man twice now – once when it first came out in theaters and I think we watched it for one of our movie nights on my last extended research trip before I was sent home early for my injury. But even so, that was months ago. So I’m very glad that they had a lot of scenes from the first movie in the second movie because it really helped to jog my memory with some of the key parts that I might not have remembered.
I guess the biggest thing that stuck with me about both these movies is what a strong pull the every day people had on my emotions. In the Amazing Spider-Man, I have teared up both times I’ve watched the movie at the part where all the average, every day construction workers work together to make it so that Spider-Man can get to where he needs to go in order to save the city. The same thing happened with the Amazing Spider-Man 2, where there were several times average people were saved and it made me very moved. The movie really showed how a person could be living their normal life and how something could happen that’s completely out of their realm of responsibilities that could kill them just because they chose to take the bus that day, or because they wanted to see a movie, or some other very small and simple reason for them to be in the exact wrong place. And I was happy for every average person Spider-Man saved, and even more so for those who were saved because other average people were diligent with their own jobs. Average people, helping and saving other average people. For me, these two movies and their subtle shift from the life and times of the super hero towards the average person being able to make a difference and help other average people out really hit me hard.
The reason I said at the beginning of this post that I really am not in the right place to be watching movies like this is mostly because of how hard things have been for the last several months. And in that time, it hasn’t been those that matter to me the most that have been there to help me – it’s mostly been strangers or professionals. People who have no vested interest in what actually happens to me as a person. People who are designed to be disposable and temporary. And as the days pass by, I realize more and more that I really am supposed to accept that friendship isn’t a binding contract and that I am supposed to work harder to not form emotional attachments. But then I watch movies like this, where strangers help each other out, but also where the intense bond of real love breaks beyond the limits of temporary relationships.
I guess that’s part of what makes this movie so emotionally draining for me right now. I know exactly how that kind of love feels. It’s addictive and powerful and doesn’t like being denied or ignored. It’s been my experience that trying to deny it or ignore it only makes things worse, but at the same time, emotions that intense sometimes need a break or they will consume everyone involved.
Which brings me to the really interesting part about this movie.
This movie demonstrated the villain-creates-hero-creates-villain loop that causes so much emotional heartache and bystander confusion. And, in my opinion, that’s what makes movies with villains and heroes so powerful to the average viewer.
I’ve written a couple entries here where I talk about what makes a hero or a villain and how those labels tend to affect the interaction between the characters. It’s a topic that I feel strongly about, but that I often feel I am not articulating correctly, so I’m going to try again here.
In this movie, we meet Max. Spider-Man is Max’s hero. Spider-Man saves Max and makes him feel important, needed, and noticed. Spider-Man is doing the best he can to save everyone, even kids getting bullied. He doesn’t just save them, though, he also tries to help them put their own lives back together by providing those small tidbits of encouragement and telling people things that are positive and useful. And this is what he does for Max. I felt sorry for Max right from the beginning for the situation that he was in, and I’m fairly certain there are so many people in so many places that are in similar situations. Jobs where they are underappreciated or not noticed. Lives where it feels like you’re a nobody and no one would notice if you just disappeared.
And then, suddenly, poof! You’re given this remarkable gift or this incredible curse. You find yourself fighting your hero in the center of downtown and just as suddenly, you’re the villain. You have brand new powers that you really don’t understand and those powers came with some sort of cost that you haven’t figured out yet, or are potentially completely oblivious to. Your hero doesn’t actually remember you and somebody takes a shot. You feel like the world is turned against you. The crowd is cheering for Spider-Man and booing you. Everyone perceives you as the villain, and so the villain is what you become. You’ve gone from being in a world where no one sees you to being in a world where everyone sees you and judges you and no one believes in you.
The same thing happens with your childhood friend. You realize that your father had a terrible genetic disease and that you are now dying. You ask your friend to help you and your friend tries to save you by preventing you from becoming a monster. But that’s not how you see it. You see your friend walking away and basically saying that you mean nothing to them. That they would rather see you suffer and die than to help you. The old guys that ran your father’s company betray you and lock you out of everything your father built. The world totally sucks. Your father’s dead. You lost your job and money. And you’re going to die in a slow and painful way because your old childhood friend won’t give you something you feel could save your life. Your world is completely black and white and the only solution to your problems was for your childhood friend to save you, but he refused. You’ve been discarded by your father and now your old friend.
Peter is trying to do the right thing when he saves Max from the car, and again when he refuses to give his blood to Harry. He sees what kind of damage his blood could do if it fell into the wrong hands. But in trying to do the right thing, he creates the villains in the movie.
Meanwhile, Spider-Man is the hero of the story because the people in the city believe he is the hero. It’s a perpetuating cycle of hope and heroes. Because the people believe in him, he believes in himself. Because Gwen believes in and loves Peter, she gives him hope. Because she gives him hope, he gives hope to the people in the city.
It seems to me as though the difference between what really makes a hero or a villain is sacrifice. The villains may have originally started out with good intentions, but in the end, their motives are purely selfish. Harry doesn’t want to die and Max wants to get revenge on Spider-Man for setting him up to be the bad guy. Neither one of them care how much damage they cause to the city or to other people. They don’t think of anyone except their own needs and wants.
Everything that Peter and Gwen accomplish is because they are attempting to save the lives of the people in the city. But it all comes down to sacrifice. In both movies, Peter and Gwen are both willing to risk themselves to either save the city or each other. It’s a lot harder to watch the person you love sacrifice themselves than it is to sacrifice your own self. You know that what you’re doing is for the best and that you are trying to save people, but it’s so hard on your heart to even think about losing the person you love. Gwen chose to take a risk and help Peter restore power to the city and save countless lives. She knew the dangers involved and that she didn’t have Peter’s special powers, but she also knew that he needed her help. She was every bit as much of a hero in both movies as Spider-Man because she used her knowledge to save the city. She just didn’t use super powers and a costume to do it.
There seems to be this trend in comic books and movies that the hero isn’t really a hero until they’ve lost everyone who matters to them. I feel sometimes like the message these stories send goes along the lines of how you must be isolated and alone in order to truly be a hero because you will lose everyone you love and it will be all your fault. But then when you are on your own, your perception of humanity changes and you become less likely to help people. You become darker because your cause for hope is gone. And so, eventually, the hero becomes the villain. The hero makes a mistake and saves the wrong person or fails to save someone completely. The hero is then ostracized and people’s perceptions change the hero to a villain. But someone has to stand up to the new villain, so new heroes are created. It’s a very emotionally exhaustive cycle.
Overall, the movie was okay. Obviously, I seem to get more out of the philosophical aspects of movies like this than was probably originally intended. I’d have to rate it as a low three. It’s good to watch and I’ll probably buy it when it’s on sale when it comes out, but I’m not entirely certain I’ll have the heart to watch it repeatedly.