Saturday, November 3, 2012

SPIDER MOVIE - PART IV: Spider-man (Cocky Little Wall-Crawler)

In regards to the origin and depiction of Peter Parker as a nerd, Sam Raimi may not have hit the mark 100%, but he wasn't that far off either.  Today I'm going to point out where the Raimi films really started to drop the ball.  "Where?" you ask.  "Perhaps the Villains?"  No, not for the most part.

I refuse to acknowledge that this ever happened.

"Perchance it was the relationships which you feel were so unjustly handled?" you ponder. Again, No- well... Yeah, but I'll get to that next time.  "Then What!? Where did the original Spidey films go so horribly awry?"  Sadly the answer lay in what is arguably one of the most important aspects of any story.  The title character, Spider-man. 

That's right, you heard me. They got Spider-man WRONG.

Okay Raimi fans, calm down and hear me out for a sec.  I'm not referring to the costume, or the fight sequences, or even the agile movements of the character.  Admittedly all of those are important, and if I'm being honest both franchises got all of those things right.  No, I'm talking about the CHARACTER of Spider-man; only one Spidey film got him completely right and none of them were directed by Sam Raimi.

[Side note: concerning the costume.  Some people complain that Andrew Garfield's Spidey costume was 'inaccurate' when really, with a couple of minor tweaks that don't matter, it was perfectly accurate.  Never once was I confused as to who Spider-man was, and once the film was underway I barely noticed the few 'changes' that were made.  I guess if you didn't like the costume that's up to you, but to say it was "completely inaccurate", as some have, is nothing less than an overstatement.  Period.]

Before I go into who did what right or wrong, I'm going to first clarify what it is about Spidey that is so distinctive aside from his tendencies to wear a specific costume and bounce off walls like an insect-monkey on a sugar high.  The element in question is an aspect of the character so important that it's probably why you liked him in the first place.  What is it?


Spider-man is a cocky asshole.

Don't get me wrong, he's a GREAT guy, and a much better human being than I am, but he's kind of an enormous asshole too.  He's constantly smack-talking his enemies, taunting them about their criminal inadequacies and bad fashion sense, and defeating them with well-timed wedgies.  He's a hero with the strength of a demi-god, zero shame, and wears a full body leotard that provides all the anonymity of a public internet forum.

Because, much like the internet, masks offer fool proof anonymity... as long as no one exposes you.

To be fair, telling Venom he needs a mint, or Doctor Octopus that his haircut sucks makes a lot of sense.  It may not be very magnanimous, but trying to distract or psyche out your adversary in the heat of a life or death battle may mean the difference between... well, life and death.  But it's not just the super villains and thugs who get the brunt of his smug posturing.  Everyone from police officers, rescued captives, and members of the press have felt the wrath of his searing wit.

"They deserved it!  He put his life on the line and the people still hate him for it!"



But then really think about it.  Why wouldn't they a little bit?  How many times has someone put on a fake Spidey suit and robbed a bank?  How much property damage has Spider-man been involved in?  Sure, the truth may be obvious to us, the reader, but in the real world even the most open-minded individual would be unwise not to have at least a few doubts.  You'd think Spidey would consider that.  And do you know what Superman would do in the same situation?  He would sadly shake his head at the silly humans and majestically fly away without argument, his super-dignity intact. 

"And then, when no one is looking, I poop on them from really high up.  Bastards."

What would Batman do?  Probably grumble and fade into the shadows because he doesn't have time to deal with this kind of bat-bullshit.  Spider-man?  He's not nearly so gracious.  He certainly doesn't resort to violence, which is good, but he's not above name-calling, and there have certainly been more than a few instances of someone getting their mouth webbed shut or having their bum glued to the seat because they were rude.   That response would probably be considered assault in most places.  Definitely not evil. Usually justified.  Kind of a dick.

And we fracking LOVE it!

We do!  Because we would TOTALLY do that if we could get away with it.  Hell, most of us would likely do much worse.  But boy does it feel good to see J. Jonah Jameson get hung up by his trousers for the better part of an hour.  ‘Cause he had it coming, and THAT'S how justice works.’  ...Well, not really.  But screw it.  Jameson is a bitch anyways.

And that is the specific combination, timid Peter and cocky Spidey, that holds him together as a character.  You can't have one without the other and still maintain the audiences sympathy/interest.  Remember what I said about Peter Parker before?  How Peter is the part of the character that makes us love Spider-man instead of hate him?  The reverse is also true.  If Peter was JUST a manifestation of his weaker self we would almost hate him MORE.  Even with his powers if Pete's persona doesn't properly transform along with his costume change he becomes ineffectual as a protagonist.

Allow me to explain.

We've already established that we initially feel bad for Peter because he's an orphan who gets beat up at school.  That starts us off with a lot of sympathy mileage for the character, but it only gets us so far because we (the audience) don't really like stories about victims.  We like underdogs.  We hate victims. 

Let's compare two random characters, Lana Lang (from the TV show Smallville) and Ellen Ripley (from the Alien franchise).

Lana Lang is a character that many people don't like (at least not beyond her physical appearance) because all she does is complain, and judge, and bitch and moan about her lot in life.  Lana Lang lost her parents in a brutal accident when she was young, which is a tragic thing that normally we would feel bad about. But we don't.  We don't because it always seems like life is just never good enough for her, and even when things are going well she continuously focuses on the tragedies in her life.

Clark warns her to stay away from a dude who is apparently dangerous?  Obviously Clark is just jealous. Clark saves her life? He must be keeping secrets.  She constantly blames other people or circumstances for her misery and then waits for other people or circumstances to fix it.  Life is always full of woe for her in spite of the fact that she has been lucky to survive more head injuries and attempted killings than anyone has a right to, and all thanks to the myriad beefy handsome men who love, adore, and worship her.  Yet somehow her life is tragic.

There there.

What makes it truly annoying is that we aren't supposed to hate her.  She is supposed to be a desirable character; a good guy.  All of the characters speak her praises because of how amazing she's supposed to be, but we, the audience, see the truth.  She's useless.  Her defining attribute is that she is helpless and needs saving, and that is very frustrating to watch.

Conversely we have Ellen Ripley, a woman who (within a DAY) has her Doctor try to kill her with a magazine, witnesses the brutal murders of her entire crew, and goes toe-to-toe with the savage phallic-headed monster that has been stalking her incessantly with the intent of space rape.  As if that isn't enough, her hyper-sleep survival comes at the cost of her sanity, relationship with her daughter (who died during Ellen's 57 year absence), and ultimately her life.  For all intents and purposes this woman SHOULD be considered a victim, but she's not.  She never once claims that her life is harder anyone else's (even though it is), she never expects special treatment or privileges (even though she should), has to live without men fawning all over her (which is weird because she's Sigourney Weaver), and even when things AREN'T going well, all she focuses on is the hope of something good (newt, life, saving others, survival, etc.).

Constantly we are SHOWN examples of how awful this woman's life is.  Death and misery follow her around until her own horrific death, and yet up to her final breath she NEVER gives up in spite of insurmountable odds, a complete lack of combat training, and emotional pain that neither you or I could ever understand.

Just a day in the life...

Back to Spider-man

Peter Parker, on his own, is a slightly less annoying Lana Lang.  We will initially feel bad for him, but only to a point.  Eventually, however, being an outcast wouldn't be enough to maintain our sympathy and we'd start to feel irritated with him for being so weak and gutless, which is a problem you don't want your protagonist to have.  Spider-man is the answer to that problem.  Spider-man turns Peter from a Lana into an Ellen. 

Now when kids are mean to Peter we admire him for not lashing out because we know he COULD turn them into paste if he wanted to (and we almost wouldn't blame him).  In the same vein of thinking we forgive and even applaud Spider-man's snarky mouth and attitude because we like seeing him get the final word in after all the crap he's had to put up with.  It's what we would do, and it makes him come off as funny instead of whiny.

The transition and contrast from down-on-his-luck-Pete to happy-go-lucky-Spidey is vital to remind us that Spider-man is Pete's answer to having a bad day.  If Peter gets teased by the jock at school and then has a grim and serious fight with Doc Ock he kind of comes across as an over serious crime fighter who forgot to dress up in something respectable.  If he goes into battle and starts teasing the Doc for "overcompensating 4 times more than other people" we feel more endeared to him because "Look, his life sucks but he just keeps making jokes!  I tell ya', that guy never gives up!"  That makes him likeable. That's what makes him an Underdog and, as I've said before, we love underdogs.

Except maybe this one.

So what's the problem?  The Problem is I've noticed a recent trend where people dismiss Spider-man as a bit of a wimp.  I've had a number of conversations dealing with "which Superhero is the most bestest superhero EVER" or other similar subjects.  Unsurprisingly many people choose Batman as their favorite; and I don't blame them.  I too am an avid Bat-Fan,  but my issue isn't that anyone would pick him as their favorite, but that, when asked to compare why he was better than Spider-man, they wrote the web head off as "a whiner who can't get a date, and mopes around about his dead uncle.  Boo Hoo!  Get over it already!"  Because apparently Batman's tenacity to punch every bad guy in the face with his vengeance boner has NOTHING to do with his inablity to move on from the death of his parents.

"My parents brutal murder? Of course I'm over it.  Why do you ask?"

Where did this reputation come from? Let's take a look at how the films approached the web-head, shall we?


Many things about the portrayal of Spider-man are right here, enough things that even to this day I still enjoy the film on a whole.  He is, of course, ever the hero, standing up for what is right at the cost of his own personal gain.  He is a true friend to those around him, and lives with the burden of his guilt and responsibility without complaint.  And of course things do go wrong for him all the time, but that is the burden of being a hero after all.  And what a burden it is.

So what's wrong? That sounds pretty dead on, right? Where do I get off complaining about that? That's exactly what happens to Spider-man in the comics all the time!

What went wrong is that THIS...

HAH! What a jokester.

...became the public's perception of Spider-man.

In the Raimi films we still rooted for our hero because he was fighting the good fight, but at the same time you just couldn't help but wish that he'd quit acting so freaking depressed all the time.  In the first film he did sort of have a couple quips and a general 'happy-go-lucky' feel to him, so it wasn't a bad start, but he became increasingly morose as the series carried into the sequels.  The result was a Spider-man who almost never cracked wise.  It was like he was so busy being responsible that he forgot to have fun doing it.

In the comics Spider-man doesn't just bear his pain like a martyr, he makes jokes about it.  Sure sometimes he has it rough, his costume gets a tear, he misses a date, and naturally it bums him out when that happens, but he also takes it in stride, because he's your friendly neighborhood Spider-man.  It's how he roles.

Spider-man doesn't have the same grim obsession that allows Batman to brood for half his screen time.  So, when you make Spider-man brood ANYWAY it makes him seem like a wimp.  It disrupts the balance between Peter and Spider-man causing him to act a bit more like a victim than a fighter.

They overplayed their hand with making Peter 'down on his luck' and had him spend most of the films sulking about his misfortune.  Spider-man is supposed to be the fun guy, not a brooding avenger.  Or sobbing defender, as the case may be.


For the Portrayal of Spider-man in 'Spider-man 1-3' I give:  6.5 out of 10

And it only gets THAT a mark because of the first film.

Sure the costume and acrobatics were spot on.   As such the visual spectacle was often enough to distract us, but back flips do not a character make, and for all his physical bravado this character was largely without fun.  Some will argue that Raimi's films had plenty of funny moments, which is true, but Spider-man didn't, and that's my point.

So what about...?


Peter/Spider-man was a smart ass.  He cracked jokes, made fun of car thieves, spoke flippantly to the Lizard and even the cops.  He was still the hero, doing what was right (or what he felt was right) at his own personal expense, but he had fun doing it.  He also made more mistakes this time around, often jumping headlong into situations without thinking things through first.  In short; he acted like an impetuous teenager or young adult, like Spider-man should.  And all of that made him fun.


For the Portrayal of Spider-man in 'The Amazing Spider-man' I give:  10 out of 10

For the first time I felt like I was actually watching Spider-man, instead of a really good stunt man dressed up in a Spider-man costume.


Thus far I've given all the reasons why the portrayal of the lead character is more competently handled in the reboot.  What I haven't touched on very much is the supporting characters, specifically that of the leading ladies.  My next post will touch on Peter's relationships with Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy in their respective films.  Come on back next time for:

Is it just me or does Pete look kind of stoked about this?

See you then.

Thanks for reading


  1. Hey man, great breakdown of the movies. I'm curious though, are you gonna be touching on the villains at some point? While not necessarily bad characters, I really think Raimi's movies missed the mark (even in 2 and 1) and would love to see your analysis of the characters.

    1. I'm glad you're enjoying them Danny! And yes I will be comparing the Green Goblin and the Lizard specifically, in Part VI right after I compare Gwen and MJ.

  2. FENSKE. What you need to do is review The Amazing Spider-man sequel! :D I'd also love to here your insight on The Superior Spider-man comic series (that was shortly lived).