I have been reading a bunch of articles and reviews about Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and I posted my own review of the film, going against the current and finding it underrated. It's a fun movie and captures the spirit of the comics, perhaps more than any other Spider-Man before it. But one trend that I've noticed is that no one seems to understand the motive of the film's primary antagonist, Electro (played by Jamie Foxx).
In the film, Max Dillon is a nobody. No one remembers his name when they see him, he's constantly asked to stay and work late, even on his birthday, and his ideas are often ignored or stolen without due credit. After having his life saved by Spider-Man, who tells him, "You're my eyes and ears, I need you," Max becomes an avid fan of the wall-crawler. After a freak accident that changes the matter in his body to become electric (because science) and gives him the ability to manipulate electricity. After escaping into public and having guns pointed at him, Max gets scared. In swings Spider-Man to save the day. And, to Max's chagrin, Spidey doesn't recognize him at first. Even after Spidey acknowledges who Max is, Max still goes berserk and blows up Times Square. Throughout the film, he takes the name Electro and teams up with the film's secondary villain to dethrone Spider-man and take revenge on all who have wronged him.
Now, on the surface, it would appear that the motive is simple and shallow: Someone didn't remember his name, so he snaps. And it would seem that that's all people have taken away from Electro. Everywhere I look, people say "Electro was weak. He gets mad because someone doesn't remember his name?" Umm, really? To me, at least, it was really obvious what his motive was.
His motive has very little to do with someone remembering his name. When Spider-Man rescues Max in the beginning of the film, he says, "I need you." Clearly, Max hasn't been told this very often, if ever. He never feels like anyone needs him. At work, at home, walking the street, Max has never been needed, and is often ignored.
So when he gets in an accident that seriously messes him up, what does the company do? They try to hide him. They don't want people to see. When he finally gets out in public he's seen as a monster. People shoot at him. They corner him, they vilify him. He goes from being nobody to somebody that people want dead. And what's more, his hero comes in to save the day... but doesn't recognize him.
Max has gone his whole life not being recognized for anything. He's a nobody, and regarded as such by everyone in his life. And when he makes some brilliant designs for work, not only do his bosses steal them, they give him no credit for them whatsoever, and then try to hide him when he becomes deformed.
This is where it gets nerdy and analytical, alright? Take a look at this graph.
Many of you will recognize this as Maslow's heirarchy of human needs. The way this works is that, in order to feel fulfillment, or self-actualization, all of your other basic needs must be met, and before any of those is met, the one before it must be met.
So let's break Electro down here.
- His physiological needs are taken care of, as throughout his life, we can assume he's had food and water, you know, because he's alive.
- Safety: He has a house, so that covers shelter, and he has a job, so he has some stable income. For the most part, his life is pretty safe until his accident, where he loses all sense of security and fears for his life as he's shot at.
- Belonging: This is the main point I've been addressing. We never see Electro/Max as having any sort of family to speak of. Clearly, his only friend his Spider-Man after one encounter. The man is a shut-in. And as for community, NO ONE ACKNOWLEDGES HIM. There is no belonging in his life.
- Self-Esteem: Recognition is actually part of this one. People need to be recognized, they need to know that they are loved and needed. And when he is transformed, he loses any trace of that feeling that he ever had completely. And as for achievement and mastery, we see very early on that he has some designs for a new power grid that he's proud of. But, as I said before, those are stolen by his bosses. Add all of that to being called a monster and shot at and you can say goodbye to any sense of self-esteem.
As you can see, not only is Electro a far stretch from being self-actualized, he's a royal mess. He has no self-esteem, no sense of belonging, and any sense of security and worth that he once had disappears when he's seen as a villain in the eyes of everyone he knows, including his hero.
He wants to be noticed.
Electro's needs aren't being met. He's scared. He's hopeless. He's been pushed around all his life and he is finished with it. Plus being mentally unstable, it's enough to push him over the edge. His rampage and multiple counts of murder aren't justified, but they're understandable. The world, his bosses, Spider-Man, they all helped to take away his life. So he feels that the only adequate response is to take theirs.
A good villain in this day and age is hard to pull off, and it's unfortunate when you try your best and many people in the audience completely miss the point.