Spiderman Gen X movie reviewThe new Spider-man movie almost makes the Marvel comic book hero obsolete.

There was a time when certain realities could only be represented in comic books or literature. If you wanted to “see” a man fly, you had to imagine it -- god forbid! -- or wait for Jack Kirby to come up with a Silver Surfer. Doodling half-naked Wonder Women into the margin of our English homework, my generation had to suffer through cartoons such as the Superfriends and Batman and Scooby Doo just to hear what our favorite heroes really sounded like.

Spider-man is the best comic book adaptation yet. Combining great acting, innovative special effects and a genuine quality that’s difficult to put your finger on, this Spider-man lives in our world.
The movie is so good, in fact, so wonderfully true to the genre, that it makes the comic book hero somehow seem flat and lifeless by comparison. Tobey Maguire, who plays Spider-man and his alter-ago Peter Parker, is absolutely convincing as the webslinger. Pathetically likable, Maguire makes Parker live in a way that even Christopher Reeves and Michael Keaton couldn’t duplicate with Spidey’s DC counterparts, Superman and Batman.

Spider-man is wonderfully unreal. Leaping from building to building in a kind of graceful fall, he is plastic, fluid, full of energy. This is the Spider-man I’d always imagined: Lithe, mercurial and charismatic. Swinging on spider webs and slithering up walls like a salamander, Spider-man is really a groundbreaking special effects event.

(Yes, he does sometimes look a little goofy, but so what? People can’t do these kinds of things in the real world, you know?)

The story has been changed a little, since we now know that radiation won’t imbue a person with superhuman strength, invisibility or god-like intelligence. In this version, Spider-man is bitten by a genetically altered spider. Spidey’s myth of origin is unchanged other than this slight alteration and I don’t see how even purists could object to this update.

When Parker discovers that he’s somehow acquired superhuman powers he tests his new body like any science geek. These early scenes are a perfect blend of David Cronenberg’s The Fly and Superman. Parker is astonished by his new abilities, but there’s also a lingering disquiet in his actions, as though he is terrified by what he is becoming.

His world is upturned just as he becomes confident with his new powers and by the time a strange green supervillian (the Green Goblin, played by William Dafoe) has made his appearance our friendly neighborhood Spider-man has embarked on a career in crime fighting.

The Green Goblin is more than Spider-man’s foil: He also stands in as his rolemodel, his father figure. This sets up a peculiar dynamic as orphan Parker comes to grip with the responsibility that goes hand-in-hand with power. Goblin offers an example to the younger man, an opportunity to express his deepest, most horrific desires.

Spider-man plays with the idea of the power of masks and alter identities. A costume can help transform a nerdy wallflower into a superhero, but it also has the power to humble great men. The mask empowers a kind of violence in people. They have the weird ability to free some from their social responsibility, unleashing the very worst id desires into the world, as in the Green Goblin, and yet they can also bind individuals to a somewhat unrealistic social altruism.

The hero is mostly just a projection of the super ego. Spider-man, however, is as much a victim to the mask’s power as the Green Goblin. Both men give up something of their personalities to play their roles. Neither individual can assimilate their personalities into their new, powerful bodies. Scientist businessman Norman Osborn, who is the Goblin’s better half, whimpers to the mask, begging it for guidance, and Parker is so diminished by the power of his Spider-man persona that he doesn’t trust anyone with his secret.

At one point Goblin calls Parker on the phone asking, “Can Spider-man come out to play?” Both men understand the meaning of these counterfeit selves, the fragile mother-bonds that hold their worlds apart. But Spider-man / Parker is still a boy coming to grips with reality and his place in the world whereas the Green Goblin / Osborn is a man who has allowed his worse psychotic desires to rule his life.

And this is, I think, the point. Spider-man is appealing because it’s about all us little boys flirting with power, madness and an indomitable desire to fly.


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