Why Engineers Shouldn’t Watch TV: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

It should come as no surprise that I love watching fantasy and superhero movies and shows. While most of these types of stories require some acceptance and some imagination, one of the cardinal rules of good fiction is a need to get your basic facts straight. As an engineer, I often find gaps in the science and therefore can’t in good conscience recommend any of these programs to anyone expecting to properly suspend their disbelief. So here begins a new series on “Why Engineers Shouldn’t Watch TV.”

Spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen these programs and want to be surprised when you do, please stop reading now. I’m not responsible for ruining the entertainment value of a good surprise even if the science is flawed.

First show up is The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

In Amazing Spiderman 2, the engineer, played by Jamie Foxx, who ultimately becomes the villain Electro (as if you didn’t see that coming), visits the plant area after hours and then performs a maintenance task that goes (pun intended) shockingly wrong. Everyone should have been expecting that, since it was critical to moving the plot forward: the movie needed a villain. But let’s look at some finer points:

  1. A facility that costs that much to build is expected to produce a good return on its investment. Most chemical plants operate 24/7 and would be staffed accordingly, so there’s no after-hours-no-one-but-the-engineer-to-do-the-work.
  2. This last point brings up another critical problem. Engineers aren’t usually the ones turning the wrenches, at least not in any plant I’ve ever visited or worked in. We might assist, but there are people designated as facility operators and technicians who are likelier to be climbing up on the handrails (OSHA violation waiting to happen, there) and who would be calling up their labor representatives. Often, operators and techs are unionized workers, and it is forbidden under contract for someone else to be doing their tasks. So this engineer had no business turning wrenches at the time of his accident. And, really, where was his fall protection equipment? I’m not certain he was even wearing a hard hat or appropriate shoes for the job at hand.

So there are some of the technical failures in Amazing Spiderman 2. Did you catch any others?

Stay tuned next time for a dissection of a chemical plant visit in Smallville.

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