Spider-man 2: Hollywood Better Raiding Marvel and DC Comic than Spoiling the Canon

Don’t kill the messenger, but comic books are today’s classics – especially as far as summer blockbusters go.

Tobey Maguire’s Spider-man spanks Brad Pitt’s Achilles all the way to the bank and Spider-man 2 is this summer’s real big-budget hero. I think we should give a moment of silence to allow Homer to roll over in his grave as Stan Lee soaks up the spotlight.

There. Doesn’t it feel good to let go of all that guilt?

Highbrow college professors may use the overwhelming success of Spider-man 2 to illustrate that us common monkeys can’t understand something as sophisticated as the Iliad or to say that Homer can’t be translated to the lowly form of film, but I would argue that each age has its heroes, and most of us can identify with a Spider-man much easier than a Odysseus. Hollywood is better off raiding Marvel and DC comic than spoiling the canon.

Spider-man 2 follows a pattern of comic book film sequels improving on their originals. (X-Men 2 was also considerably better than the film it followed, and I believe that Daredevil 2 will carry on this tradition if they replace Ben Affleck with anything this side of a lampshade.) Both the effects and plot are better in the newest Spider-man film, and the acting remains very good.

This film feels more violent than its predecessor, but all the truly bloody events are left off screen, where your imagination can present as gory a scene as you want. Parents should be advised, however, that some of the scenes are powerfully uncanny for a film targeted to youngsters.

The special effects are so good that they’re almost invisible, folding back into the storyline where they belong. This isn’t to say you won’t get a giddy feeling in your stomach watching the web head sling from building to building, but it won’t be the same sort of motion sickness you might have received from last year’s Hulk movie or the recent Matrix films.

The film takes place several years after the events of the first Spider-man. Young Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is at college and his alter ego Spider-man has become a regular fixture in New York. Parker’s romantic interest, M.J. (Kirsten Dunst), has become an actress on Broadway, and although she’s courting an “ordinary” sort of hero – the astronaut son of Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) and the first man to play football on the moon – she still pines away for Parker.

Peter and M.J.’s millionaire friend Harry Osborn (James Franco) is taking off where his dad left off in the first film, financing alternative sources of power and weapons systems for Osborn Industries. Harry hires prominent physicist Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) to develop a new form of energy, but the good doctor cracks up when an experiment goes haywire and blows up his lab and wife in the process. Using mechanical arms originally intended only as tools to harness the new power source, Dr. Oct goes on a rampage through the Big Apple in a misguided desire to duplicate his error on a larger scale.

While Dr. Oct runs amok, Parker decides that it may be time to hang up the costume and go straight.

You see Peter Parker’s life is in shambles. He can’t even hold down a job as a pizza delivery boy, is underachieving at college and as a photographer, and can’t commit to a relationship with M.J., even when she makes it easy for him. Rushing from one calamity to another, Parker is a fragmented mess, and the film does a very good job of showing that even superheroes would have real problems.

Parker blames Spider-man for making his life difficult. Being a superhero takes up too much time and emotional energy. He wants to live simply as himself – a nerdy nobody with ordinary gifts – not as a sort of role model and superhuman guardian. He doesn’t want the responsibility that comes with his power, but he also doesn’t understand that Spider-man and Peter Parker are not discreetly separate people.

Parker gives up Spider-man to try to embody his inner geek, but the web slinger is only one complication in his life. His grades improve, but his relationships with friends and family remain troubled, and although he feels less frazzled, something is missing. The world can live without Spider-man, after all, but is it possible for Parker to live with all his great gifts and shortcomings, and not serve humanity?
It’s only because he lives an ordinary life – with everyday fears, anxieties, and problems – that Parker can embody the Spider-man identity. The film carefully shows that Parker’s real problem isn’t

Spider-man per se, but his inability to assimilate different parts of his life and personality into a whole.
Power complicates life only when it’s meaning is misunderstood. Dr. Octopus becomes a monster, not because he has superhuman gifts, but because he allows these powers to overwhelm him. He gives up his humanity when he is seduced by power and allows it determine his meaning.

The cinematic Spider-man does what the comic book version never seems to do. He grows up and learns that to be fully yourself means to stitch different parts of your life and personality together. He accepts the responsibilities that come with his power, not only as a burden on his life, but as gifts – characteristics that allow him to display his most noble self.

Isn’t that what being a hero is all about?


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