[Spoiler alert: If you haven’t watched The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and intend to do so, don’t read this until you have done so.]
Bernice and I went to see The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) last night. Didn’t work for us. The movie felt like a collection of jigsaw puzzle pieces that didn’t quite fit into a coherent whole. The pieces included: who were Peter Parker’s parents, really, and why did they leave him when he was just a child; the origin of Electro and why he ends up hating Spider-Man; the origin of the Rhino; the story of Harry Osborn and how he becomes the Green Goblin; and the romance between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey. The last piece was a big piece and there were moments I cringed because I thought I had gone into the wrong hall and was watching a teenage romance story of Korean drama proportions.
The movie reminded me a bit of Spider-Man 3 (2007) in the previous franchise; just too much stuff crammed into one movie with none of the promising plot lines allowed to mature. The story of Peter Parker’s parents or the rise of the Green Goblin alone would have provided enough material for the development of a proper story line so that the viewer would actually care for what happens to the main characters. But like Spider-Man 3 we have an over-stuffed plot with too many villains. It didn’t help that there were a number of clichéd characters. Good grief, I haven’t encountered an “evil German scientist who enjoys torturing people” like Dr. Kafka (sic) of the Ravencroft Sanitarium for the Criminally Insane, for a long time, and I wasn’t happy to see one again. And Spidey’s main antagonist, Electro, was just two-dimensional. No Winter Soldier here.
Perhaps one sign that the movie didn’t work for me is that I was not moved by Gwen Stacey’s death. I hadn’t read the previews and didn’t know this was going to happen in this movie. In the canonical Spider-man comics, Gwen Stacy dies in issue 122 (June 1973) of The Amazing Spider-Man, an event that shocked the comic reading world. Here was a comic company that allowed a key character to actually die. (This kind of realism was why I, and many of my friends, preferred Marvel Comics to DC comics.) I had already mourned for Gwen Stacey in 1973. I didn’t this time.
In all the pyrotechnics expected of a high-budget sequel, one bit of heroism touched me. Peter Parker’s Aunt May is just a supporting character but we hear of her working two shifts to make enough money for Peter and herself. We hear of her struggling to qualify as a nurse in her middle age, so that she can earn more to be able to afford to help Peter continue his education. And all this is happening as she continues to soldier on without Ben, her husband. Here is heroism I understand. This is the kind of heroism the world needs.
My mum doesn’t drive now. But she recalls fondly how she would drive all over the place to do extra work. She taught in a teacher’s college and she remembers driving from Penang where we lived, to towns like Alor Setar, Bukit Mertajam, Taiping, Sungai Petani, etc., to supervise students from her college. Remember this was pre-highway days and here was a woman driving alone to places far from home. Why did she push herself? Why did she work so hard? I only realized why when I was older. She was trying to make extra money for the family. We were not rich. My late father was a school clerk. But mum’s sacrificial work meant that we were able to own our own home eventually, and I was able to go to dental school. My mum is a hero.
Real heroism is not flashy. It is not done against the backdrop of an appropriate soundtrack. It often goes unnoticed. It is people who, day after day, show up and do what needs to be done, often at great personal cost. All true heroism is an echo of the Cross. So while Spider-Man may be a great hero in comic books and now on screen, it is the Aunty Mays that keep life going. So while you may not get bitten by a radioactive spider and get endowed with special powers, you can be a hero. To quote Aunt May in Spider-Man 2 (2004):
I believe there’s a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble, and finally allows us to die with pride.