A weekly look at all the Marvel movies, right from the very beginning…
PETER PARKER: Whatever life holds in store for me, I will never forget these words: “With great power comes great responsibility.” This is my gift, my curse. Who am I? I’m Spider-Man.
I have been waiting for an opportunity to review the Spider-Man movies. In truth, I’m always looking for any forum at all to discuss Spider-Man. In the mid-80s I was a little boy running around in a Spider-Man costume. Through the 90s I was a teenager wishing I could get bitten by a radioactive or genetically modified spider – I didn’t mind which as long as the result was all the powers of a spider in a handily anthropomorphized form (that is, no extra legs or eyes – just stronger and better). In the late 90s, when I was young and inspired I got a Spider-Man tattoo.
When I was walking out of the midnight session of the first Spider-Man movie in 2002, I overheard the following conversation between two sixteen year old girls:
GIRL 1: That was the most awesome movie, like, ever.
GIRL 2: I know! Like whatever. We should totally go get Spider-Man tattoos.
GIRL 1: OMG! Totally.
It didn’t quite prompt me to go get mine lasered off, but I do hope those girls never made it to the tattoo parlor.
Now, I really love origin movies (apart from X-Men Origins: Wolverine). I love the way we get to see an ordinary person become a superhero and the way they struggle with the transition. And the constant in all origin movies is that the hero has to give something up to be super – normally, the girl.
Which makes no sense whatsoever.
Spider-Man begins with the line: ‘This story, like all worth telling, is about a girl.’ But this is clearly a lie. Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), beautiful though she is, exists as a character only so that Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) can idolize her and then fail to capitalize on his awesome super powers. Superman always understood that the correct way to woo an interested female was to take them flying – it’s pretty hard for others to compete with. But this Peter Parker really lacks a certain joie de vivre.
I understand that Peter’s beloved Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) is killed as a (tenuous) consequence of his acting like the kick-ass superhero he could be, but there is surely a middle way between being completely reckless with his loved ones and relinquishing the prospect of sexy times with Mary Jane just to protect her from some nebulous threat.
This noble behavior is misplaced because, as we all know, the superhero’s loved ones are never safe, whether s/he reveals her/his alter-ego or not. Keeping Spidey a secret does not protect Mary Jane in the second movie, so why not be out with it now? Or just give up on the childhood crush and find a girl who lets him keep the mask on? (I’m sure there would be plenty of takers.)
Which brings us to the major problem that many superhero movies encounter: having either the hero or the alter-ego be much more interesting than the other. I always found Tony Stark much more interesting than Iron Man, but Bruce Wayne is so much less engaging than Batman. In the Spider-Man universe, Spidey is really the better character. Peter Parker is anxiety-ridden, timid, always trying so hard to do the right thing, but Spider-Man … Spider-Man gets to swing across Manhattan Island on a couple of web-slingers and make out with the random girls he saves. It’s no coincidence that Mary Jane falls in love with Spidey first – when Peter puts on the mask he stops whining and starts fixing. Just like his adversary in this movie, the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Peter Parker is better and stronger as his masked self. Which says something profound about how putting a mask on gives us an opportunity to escape our weaknesses.
But what this movie could be about is how one guy went from being hopeless, from failing to fulfill any of the socially designated indicators of excellence, to being awesome. Not through any skill on his part, but instead as the result of an opportune spider bite.
And that’s the take-home message of this movie: the next time you’re on a school trip in a strange lab, make sure you’re the one who gets bitten by the creepy looking arachnid. It could change your life. Or it could keep your life exactly the same, except with more angst.
Based on characters created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Screenplay by: David Koepp | Directed: by Sam Raimi
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, Cliff Robertson and James Franco