Spoiler note: we’ve spoilers from the comics for Rhino, Electro and Gwen Stacy in this feature. Whether they all make it to the films remains to be seen!
The announcement of Paul Giamatti as The Rhino this week heavily suggests that Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 will be going the Batman Returns route, pitting its hero against two villains – Jamie Foxx having already been cast as Electro. But who are these characters? How do they fit into Spidey’s life? And more importantly, how might they figure into the film?
The Rhino, aka Aleksei Sytsevich, was a small-time thug who took on the appearance of a Rhino when a synthetic, experimental costume was bonded to his skin. With his strength, speed and endurance enhanced by the suit, The Rhino is more than a match for Spider-Man physically, but his dim wits often leave him vulnerable to defeat. Nonetheless, he’s powerful and dangerous, and often employed by other villains eager for someone with superpowers to do their dirty work.
Electro, aka Max Dillon, gained his powers when he was struck by lightning while working on a power line. Turned into a living conduit for electricity, he has numerous electricity-based powers and frequently clashes with Spider-Man in the course of his criminal schemes.
Notably, neither of these guys is exactly a criminal mastermind. They’re both simple crooks – the Rhino is often literally a thug for hire. Dillon is simply a money-grabbing thief who lacks the imagination to do more than rob banks and hold cities to ransom with his powers. This suggests that their activities will be curated by someone who knows what they’re doing. You don’t have to go far to guess who, given the fleeting appearance of Norman Osborn during the credits of the first film.Whether or not Osborn will appear in any larger capacity than the first film remains to be seen, but the presence of his son, Harry (set to be played by Chronicle‘s Dane DeHaan), means we can be fairly sure he’ll be an influence on events, even if he doesn’t appear directly.
Chances are, then, that both the Rhino and Electro will be born out of Oscorp’s Evil Science division. The Rhino may even turn out to be a product of the same cross-species DNA experiments as Spidey was, given the ‘easter egg'” visual of a Rhino on an Oscorp computer graphic in The Amazing Spider-Man. It makes sense that Oscorp, knowing that it created Spider-Man, would attempt to create similar individuals.
The best part about this is that it might even mean we do away with the oh-so-tedious need for Spider-Man and his villains to have a personal connection. That sort of thinking led us to a somewhat crowbarred-in component of the Sandman’s story in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 where we were supposed to think he killed Uncle Ben. It doesn’t need to happen. Spider-Man’s a superhero. He fights super-villains. They don’t all have to be a replacement father-figure or mentor for us to care whether he wins or loses.
It’s also worth noting that both crooks are a members of the Sinister Six, alongside other Lee/Ditko creations such as Vulture, Mysterio, Kraven and Sandman. With Marvel’s Avengers movie having given audiences (and studios) a taste for cinematic world-building, could this be the first step in realising that team of villains in a future movie? We’re inclined to say that’s unlikely (after all, the Sinister Six were largely a collection of Lee/Ditko villains, who have the advantage of being Spidey’s most familiar) but it’s still a theory worth keeping an eye on in the long-term.
Of course, this also tells us something about what won’t be in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. With Norman ‘Green Goblin’ Osborn apparently waiting in the wings for another instalment, Gwen Stacy is likely to be safe for another movie. Few characters come with a death sentence so readily stamped on their forehead, but on the other hand, her death is too iconic to waste on the Rhino or Electro.
So, if we had to guess, we’d say that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 will be a story about Norman Osborn trying to track down Spider-Man using newly-created villains Electro and The Rhino to draw him out. Gwen and Peter’s relationship will be nudged along its fateful path, but don’t expect her to die until Osborn finally suits up, probably in the third instalment.
Whether or not the sequel will deal with The Amazing Spider-Man‘s numerous dangling threads remains to be seen. It’s been widely speculated that the first film was quickly recut before release to remove a number of elements, and ‘The Untold Story’ viral marketing campaign certainly suggested something more surprising than we got. Will The Amazing Spider-Man 2 further explore the mystery behind the disappearance of Peter’s parents? Or will that material be dropped in favour of something more conventional? And for that matter, what did happen to the guy who killed Uncle Ben? The loss of Gwen’s father means there’s an entry point for their shared grief to be delved into, but it’s safe to say that with at least two super-powered villains to fight, there’s not going to be a lot of time left for poking around in filing cabinets.
Meanwhile, if you want to read up on the villains of Amazing Spider-Man 2, allow us to recommend these stories:
The Horns of the Rhino! (1966) – A three issue arc by the legendary team of Stan Lee and John Romita Sr. appearing in Amazing Spider-Man #41-#43 marks the first appearance of the Rhino – and perhaps, more famously, Mary Jane Watson! Essential reading for the character.
Rage of the Rhino/Endangered Species (2010) – Appearing in two parts across Amazing Spider-Man #617 and Amazing Spider-Man #625 (both by Joe Kelly and Max Fiumara) the recently-married and newly-reformed Sytsevich aids Spider-Man against a new Rhino, who has been tasked with killing the original. Will he succeed? Or will Sytsevich be forced to re-assume his old identity?
Flowers for Rhino (2001) – A two-part story by Peter Milligan and Duncan Fregrodo which appeared in Spider-Man’s Tangled Web #5 & #6 sees the character imbued with great intelligence. Anyone who recognises the Flowers for Algernon reference can guess where this leads, but it’s a fun story that shows the Rhino in a different light.
The Man Called Electro! (1964) – Amazing Spider-Man #9 features Electro’s first appearance, as written and drawn by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, the co-creators of Spider-Man! Although a fairly straightforward supervillain encounter, this is a classic story that will doubtlessly have some influence on Electro’s film appearance, and worth reading for that reason alone.
Rebirth of Electro (1997) – Appearing in Amazing Spider-Man #422-#425, Electro is re-powered after a long stint away from crime and makes it his business to get revenge on Spider-Man. The 90s weren’t remembered as a bastion of quality for the Spidey-books, but writer Tom Defalco gets as much mileage as possible out of the return of a classic foe. Certainly worth a look.
Power to the People (2009) – A three-part arc appearing in Amazing Spider-Man #612 -#614, written by fan-favourite Mark Waid, Electro returns, having lost control of his powers. With his money invested in the stock market, he’s gone broke as a result of the world financial crisis – and he needs money to pay for his powers to be repaired. Cue him holding Manhattan to ransom, with Spider-Man the only man who can stop him.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is set for release in the US in April 2014.