“A reboot? Already?”
Well . . . yeah. After all, Sony had to know that they could squeeze a few extra million out of Spidey, right? Fortunately, the result was a pretty awesome movie.
I’m a huge Spider-Man fan. Like, really huge. I read the comics, I watch the movies, I watched the animated show religiously when I was a kid, and I spend way too much time on Wikipedia reading about the comics I can’t read. I liked the first three movies (no, honestly, I really did), but there are a few ways in which this movie was a breath of fresh air. Allow me to extricate my nerdiness and explain way.
First, there are several inaccuracies that have been fixed this time around. There are three that had really bugged me and are solved in this film: webbing packets, Gwen Stacy, and high school. Spider-Man’s webbing is not and never has been an effect from the radioactive spider. It has always been something that Peter made himself, so it was cool to see that reinstated. Gwen was Peter’s first love. In fact, he was going to marry her when the writers had the Green Goblin kill her off, which was an extremely controversial move. I wasn’t upset that they went straight to Mary Jane with the first movies, but I was upset that they portrayed Gwen as the girl that tempts him while he’s with Mary Jane. As for high school, most of Peter’s journey in the first Spider-Man movie takes place in college. One of the biggest appeals about Spider-Man for me has always been that he has to juggle so many things to keep being Spider-Man. High school makes that a lot more real than college.
With that behind us, let’s look at the film from a fresh perspective, evaluating it on its own merit.
Far from a perfect and holy superhero with all of his problems figured out, Peter Parker is a very teenagery-teenager at the beginning of the film, with very teenagery problems. He likes to skateboard, has a crush on a girl, gets picked on at school, and wonders why his parents left him with his aunt and uncle. I’ve never seen a boy stutter more in a movie when asking out a girl, and I’ve never seen it portrayed so realistically either. This highlights what makes Peter so attractive as a character – he’s normal. That is, as normal as a guy with super strength and agility that can climb sheer walls ever can be. In a way, he represents us.
That’s a double-edged sword, however. Shortly after receiving his abilities, courtesy of a radioactive spider, he has a drawn-out fight with his Uncle Ben and storms off (after shattering the glass storm door). There are two curious things about this argument. One is that Uncle Ben struggles to punch out a convoluted line which is the studio’s way of avoiding the previous Spider-Man’s tagline “With great power comes great responsibility” (although that line is originally from the comics, so they’d have been better off to have used it anyway). The second is that Peter’s frustrations are understandable. In the end it becomes about his father abandoning him (or so he thinks) and his refusal to accept Uncle Ben as his father. This is very natural for someone in Peter’s position, but he still puts them forth in a way that is both selfish and arrogant. This brings out an important point: being right doesn’t give us a license to treat anyone any way we want.
After Uncle Ben is killed and Peter’s transformation into a hero is complete, we get a better look at The Lizard, this film’s villain. Dr. Connors was a known associate of Peter’s father, which is how Peter first becomes acquainted with him. The good doctor gets desperate, since he’s being blackmailed by men working for Norman Osbourne, who is apparently dying. Unfortunately, we don’t see Norman in this film, but he’s the motivation for Dr. Connors injecting his magic drug into himself, which regenerates his missing arm. Unfortunately, it also turns him into a reptilian killing machine.
Things quickly turn in a darker and more devastating direction for Peter, as his job description goes from stopping muggings and robberies to stopping a monster from destroying the city. His sense of humor remains intact, with numerous smart-aleck lines that we’d expect from Spidey: “Oh no, that’s my weakness! Small knives!”, “Really? You seriously think I’m a cop? Cop in a skin-tight red and blue suit?” “You should see the other guy. The other guy, in this instance, being a giant mutant lizard.”
Collateral damage soon becomes the least of the city’s problems, however, as Connors plans to turn the entire city into creatures like him, citing the weaknesses of humanity as his reason for doing so. The final scene of the conflict is very intense, and shows Gwen being more than just a useless girlfriend. That’s after she tends to his wounds. You’d expect no less from a police captain’s daughter, and she doesn’t disappoint in that respect.
One of the conflicts that superheroes films always have yet never seem to own up to is their status as vigilantes. Are they doing good, or are they simply loose cannons? Peter and Captain Stacy (Gwen’s father) confront this issue directly by discussing it at the dinner table. The discussion doesn’t go very well, but it’s cool that one of these films finally brings the issue up.
So how does this film measure up in terms of its worldview? True to the classic superhero form, Spider-Man stands for integrity and virtue and doing all you can to help humanity. There’s something deeper here, though. Peter tells Gwen “I have to stop him (Lizard) because I created him.” While Peter was working with Dr. Connors, he gave him a formula that made the Doctor’s serum possible. More than just being about doing good things, this film is about owning up to responsibility. Nobody would blame Peter, a high school student, for bowing out and hoping the cops could stop him. But he didn’t. He resolved to fix his own wrongs.
There are lots of other issues addressed in the movie. Aunt May, played brilliantly by Sally Field, reminds Peter that secrets have a cost, and we can see the cost in his eyes, in his demeanor, in the wounds that are tended to in Gwen’s bedroom. Is it worth it? In Peter’s case, it is. Because everything takes a back seat when saving the world is possible. Maybe that focused mentality should ours, as well. Shouldn’t everything else take a back seat when we’ve been given the task of taking God’s saving message to the world? (Matthew 28:18-20). It’s worth some thought.