"It's easy to feel hopeful on a beautiful day like today, but there will be dark days ahead of us too, and they'll be days where you feel all alone, and that's when hope is needed most. Keep it alive. We have to be greater than what we suffer.”

Those inspiring, challenging words are spoken by Gwen Stacy in a valedictorian speech to her high school graduating class. For as much as they reflect the personal loss she’s had to endure, those sentiments also serve as the core message of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a movie that’s bigger and more ambitious than its predecessor in every respect, not just in style and scope but also in what it’s trying to wrestle with. It’s propelled by a superhero who’s in full-on swagger mode at the height of his powers, and a romantic chemistry that has more electricity than its primary (but not only) villain, Electro.

In a sit-down with the cast, director, and producers following the film's NYC press screening, the anticipation they expressed over what they were about to unleash on the world was palpable. "I had a very specific intention to embrace the spectacle," returning director Marc Webb said, with noticeable glee. "Not to just 'make it bigger,' but that comes from a feeling. That comes from being a kid and reading comic books and, between panels, imagining yourself doing the things that Spider-Man was doing and the fantasy of that."

Producer Matt Tolmach shared Webb’s enthusiasm. “We felt liberated. In the last movie, we felt obligated to tell the origin story. We’re proud of that,” Tolmach emphasized, “but now we’re free to tell a Spider-Man story in whatever way we want to tell it.” Yet in the same breath, everyone involved – to a person – emphasized how much this movie pulls from the comic’s 50-year history. Emma Stone, who returns as Gwen, would even make unconscious references like "Issue 121, obviously," as if its story details are common knowledge (caution: if you want to avoid spoilers, don’t Google it).

That reverence, adds Tolmach, was just as much about honoring the spirit of the comics as well as the history. “A big part of that,” Tolmach explains, “was two things. One, it was going to be fun again. So the tone of it right from the beginning is that Peter Parker loves his job, he’s come into his own (as Spider-Man). And two, we were also very conscious about building up Oscorp (the cross-species genetics lab where Peter contracted his spider powers) and the idea that there’s this place from whence really bad characters come" (more on that and the expanding Spider-Man universe in a bit).

The bad characters in this chapter are Electro, Green Goblin, and Rhino – although Electro remains the film’s primary nemesis as the arc for the other two (portrayed by up-and-comer Dane DeHaan and screen veteran Paul Giamatti) is more about how trust-fund hipster Harry Osborn (throughout the course of the film) and crazed criminal Aleksei Sytsevich (in narrative bookends) become their respective alter egos.

Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx plays the nerdy Oscorp loner Max Dillon (complete with, as Foxx puts it, "the first black man comb-over") who is transformed into the revenge-bent Electro. It was the broader Spider-Man mythos of how different people respond to power that drew Foxx to the franchise. "These guys don't start off as evil, they don't start off as angry. In this,” Foxx says, with a weight of someone who's thought a lot about the disparities of human nature, "you see the tale of three people – Peter Parker, Harry Osborn, and Max Dillon - that all start off in the same place: something’s wrong. And now they've been blessed with incredible powers, but not everybody responds to power in the same way." Tolmach adds that this also speaks to our current, relevant fears about "the over-reachers who misuse science. Peter Parker ends up on the right side of these complicated moral decisions" while the villains "make the wrong decision on how to use that science."