December 29, 2021

On Spider-Man.

How does Spider-Man emerge? An essay in heroism.

On Spider-Man.

Tis the season, and in the interest of sentimentality I have allowed myself to publish this semi-philosophical take on a figure who has been important in my upbringing: Spider-Man.

Recently I rewatched Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy starring Tobey Maguire after having seen Maguire appear in the latest instalment of Spidey films. And I think I realised something: The old and new movies leave me feeling different.

Here I aim to discuss the stories that the movies tell, and what their messages are. I am not interested in saying that one film is better than any other. I simply want to discuss the message of the stories, and the effect it has on at least one person: me.

When I watch the superhero movies of today, they leave me feeling different compared to the movies of the early 2000s. Today's movies make me feel like I need a superpower, or a lot of money, or a genius-level intellect; preferably all three. But I have none of those, so I just hope that someone else will have those properties. And that they will decide to use them for good.

On the other hand, the movies of the early 2000s leave me with a rather different feeling.

I was eight years old when I saw Spider-Man (2002) at the cinema. I remember being so scared during the first fight with The Green Goblin that I asked my dad for us to leave. But he just told me to cover my ears a little, as the sound is usually what feels overwhelming. I did, and it helped. And boy was I glad that I stayed.

Seeing a live-action Spidey swing around was amazing. Cartoons are great, but seeing such a realistic rendition made it all appear truer. And the movies still are amazing. Not because the CGI has held up with time, but because of the stories being told. Those stories left me feeling something important. I did not realise the importance of it at the time as I was too caught up in dreaming about swinging around like Spidey. But now I do.

When tragedy strikes Peter Parker twice in the form of Uncle Ben’s death, and then his sinister quest for revenge, we are about to see the emergence of Spider-Man. And it is the way that Spider-Man emerges that is important.

He does not emerge by avenging his uncle. In fact, this is a detriment to the character. Nor does he emerge by rising up to the villain as happens in Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man played by Andrew Garfield, where he becomes the hero by rising up to The Lizard. The Spider-Man of 2002 had emerged before The Green Goblin appeared.

Nor does he emerge as “the chosen one”, set on a quest by destiny to become a hero for all mankind, as happens in the newest films by Jon Watts, starring Tom Holland. Here, Spider-Man is chosen by Iron-Man to become his successor. Not to mention that this Spidey fights Thanos in space, which is a rather extraordinary endeavour.

These two stories do portray a hero, of that there is little doubt. However, they leave me feeling hopeless. There is no way that I can set out to do what they did. I am simply not capable of such extraordinary feats. It is in this regard that Raimi’s story of Spider-Man stands out. He leaves me not just hopeful, but inspired.

Raimi’s Spider-Man of 2002 emerges when Peter Parker decides to use his talents to help regular people. Not because he has all the time and money in the world to do it, such as Batman or Iron-Man. Nor because doing so would cost him nothing, like Superman. But because he believes that helping others is the right thing to do. He wants to help out the neighbourhood. And thus, simply by deciding to help, a struggling, broke, but moral Peter Parker becomes a figure who inspires his fellows.

The movie left me feeling inspired, too. When Spider-Man is holding onto a carriage full of children while hanging by his web from a bridge, even he finds himself helpless to the incoming deadly attack by The Green Goblin. No amount of spider-sense, strength, acrobatics, or web-spinning can get him out of this one. At the last moment, just before The Goblin’s blade is about to end Spidey’s short career, an iron bar hits The Goblin’s head. He is thrown off balance and his attack is thwarted. Spidey lives, and then we then see who came to his rescue: people. Literally just a bunch of normal people, who also likely struggle with their own lives, saved the day. I realised that even I could have been on that bridge. This proves a point: Yes, superpowers are awesome. However, so is helping out.

This made me feel like I could make a difference. No matter how small, weak, and shy I was, I could still rise up, without superpowers, and help. That is what both Parker and Spidey do. They do not set out to slay the dragon. Nor are they chosen by a higher power to fix the universe. They just set out to help. And in doing so, they both become heroes.

And what is the wonderful thing about helping? It is something that we can all do.


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