Why I Liked The Amazing Spider-Man

If you are anything like me, when you heard they were rebooting the Spider-Man franchise only ten years after the first Tobey Maguire version was released, you were pretty confused.  Is this really necessary?  Why do we need another origin story about Spider-Man so soon?  Won’t this essentially be the exact same thing?

Well, I saw it last week and it really is pretty much the same thing.  Peter Parker is a nerd living with Aunt May and Uncle Ben, he goes to a science lab, gets bitten by a radioactive spider, gains powers, is full of typical teenage angst, and indirectly causes his uncle’s death.  After that, there’s more angst and then he grows up and becomes a big boy.  Oh yeah, and there’s a cute girl and a monster thrown in there as well.

If you have any familiarity with superheroes at all, none of this is new or surprising.  And yet, I really enjoyed the movie.  Was it the adorable Andrew Garfield?  Was it the always lovable Emma Stone?  Was it the most practical stunts and limited CGI?  As I thought back on my experience watching it, I managed to pinpoint a single moment that, for me, made the retread of a familiar story worth the time.

Just in case you care, here be spoilers.

After Uncle Ben is killed, Peter does not become a hero.  He becomes a vigilante, hunting only the person who shot Uncle Ben.  Although he thinks he is doing good, he is really only seeking revenge.  He does not care about the people of New York or the greater good; he is merely acting out of his own self-interest.  He argues with Captain Stacy about whether the guy scaling buildings in YouTube videos is a hero or a villain, and is offended by Stacy’s view of him as a nuisance who only adds to the chaos.

But even that frank assessment does not change Peter.  He still thinks that he is doing nothing wrong, that because he has the ability to seek revenge he also has the right to seek it.  And then the giant lizard shows up and terrorizes people on the Williamsburg bridge.

When Peter sees innocent people that he has no connection to being threatened, and realizes that he is able to help them, he steps in.  He saves cars from plunging into the water below and attempts to fight off the giant lizard.  But the real moment of truth comes when he rescues a boy from a falling car and returns him to his father.  It is in that moment that Peter finds within himself the thing that motivates true heroes: empathy.

It is not an argument about law and order or a philosophical enlightenment that turns Peter Parker, nerd with a vendetta, into Spider-Man, protector of New York City.  It is that moment when the abstract “people” become concrete names and faces.  The problems facing the city are no longer hypothetical; they are actual and Peter is compelled to act.

It is a beautiful picture of what needs to happen in all teenagers (and people), not just the ones who are bitten by radioactive spiders.  It is what I hope to build into my students – that ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and understand their thoughts and emotions.  Because that is where change begins.  When stereotypes and statistics become faces and personalities, that is when we truly begin to fight.

The Amazing Spider-Man is about fighting monsters and getting the girl and becoming a superhero, but we’ve seen all that before.  More than those things, it is a story about empathy, and that’s a story I don’t mind watching over and over and over.

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  • A collection of ramblings and musings on Jesus, life, education, family, and anything else that pops into my head.

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