Monday, November 26, 2012

SPIDER-MOVIE - PART VI: Green Goblin vs. the Lizard

I've said it before and I'll say it again; without a relationship there can be no story.  But while many people think of love and romance when they hear the 'R' word, there is one kind of relationship that we secretly thrive off as a race.  It has nothing to do with love, kindred spirits, or familial bonds.  In fact it's the exact opposite of all of those; we relish the 'relationships of adversarial conflict.'

That's right.  We love BAD GUYS.

Just to be clear I'm NOT talking about the appeal of 'radical outcasts of society,' or 'individuals with a sense of danger and nothing else to do.'

Like some sort of 'rebel without a cause', if you will.

No no no.  I'm talking about evil, pure and unadulterated.  I'm talking about bloodshed and the slaughter of innocence.  Because deep down in a dark chasm of ourselves we simply delight in macabre fantasies filled with dread and terror.  Of monsters so unthinkable that, after we've checked under our children's bed's and assured them of their safety, we ourselves will secretly hide under a blanket, trembling in fear.

It's all very deep I assure you.  And I could go on about inner darkness and our cultural need to grasp at the idea of a greater evil than ourselves-yadda yadda yadda.  But who really cares about that?  We're here to talk about movie villains who insist upon spandex and the colour green as fashion statements. Because if there's one thing we definitely care about it's fashionably challenged lunatics with buckets of charisma.  Villains are awesome.

Hate this film as vocally as you will, but deep down you still think this scene was the shit.

It would seem people don't really care too much about stories where things go easily for everyone.  The more rigorous a trial by fire is for our hero the more we will invest.   It's that whole conflict craze that all the kids seem to be into these days.  And while great story conflicts can come from many types of relationships, the most effective, potent, and visceral of all conflicting relationships, is that of the main character and his nemesis. The Protagonist and the Antagonist.  The Hero and The Villain.

Good Guys and Bad Guys.

Well that clears that up.

It may surprise you to know that Spider-man has a reputation as a hero (it's kind of obscure, I know), and as such his best adventures feature him in battle with villains who effectively disrupt his life with alarming regularity.  Naturally some of his villains hold greater emotional resonance than others, which is where you get the distinction between 'A and B list villains'.  Some are better for shorter stories, and some will have a tendency to arc over numerous chapters (or issues), taking more time to resolve.

When making a film about a comic book character the trick is to pick a villain who is worth featuring for an entire film, as apposed to a 20 minute television episode.  As villains play such a key role in a good action flick it's no surprise that when Marc Webb's first installment hit the theaters one of the FIRST things audience’s compared to Raimi's films was the villain.  In this case the Lizard. Clearly the Lizard does have his fans, but there were many who felt that The Green Goblin or Doctor Octopus were far more suitable adversaries for a feature film.

Do these naysayers have a point?  Was the Lizard too anticlimactic a choice after the previous filmic offerings?  Is it better to stick with the heavy hitter A-list villains and leave the B-listers for the comics and Saturday morning cartoons?

How could you NOT want to see this on the big screen?

Well, it depends actually.  Let's bring out the contestants shall we?


Nothing terrifies people like the garish combination of Green and Purple.

The Green Goblin has a long tradition of being one of Spidey's most notorious foes.  When he first arrived on the comic book scene he was a figure shrouded in mystery whose primary goal seemed to be to control the criminal underworld.  Spider-man was able to consistently foil the Goblin's plans, but apprehending him proved to be more difficult.  Ultimately the Green Goblin was able to deduce Spidey's true identity and, upon capturing the webhead, revealed himself to be Norman Osborn, the father of Peter's best friend.  Even though Spider-man was able to defeat every time, each of their subsequent fights continued to escalate until their final battle resulted in the death of Peter's first true love, Gwen Stacy, and in the death of Norman himself (until, in true comic form, he returned some 20 odd years later).

As a villain he was effective simply on the grounds that he posed a serious threat to Spider-man physically.  It was his knowledge of Peter's secret, however, coupled with his familial connection to Pete's friend that really affirmed the Goblin's position as a key figure in Spider-man's rogue gallery.  When you take into account Norman's considerable wealth, and public anonymity as a crime figure, it's easy to see why even heavy hitters like Doctor Octopus or Venom are amongst the few to even compare with the Goblin's reputation.


What did I tell you? Green and Purple.  Simply Bone-chilling.

The Lizard is one of those foes who comes with the complication of not TRULY being a foe, at least deep down.  In his human state, Doctor Curt Connors, is not an evil man at all, but in fact a kindly chemist and family man who accidentally transformed himself into a giant man-lizard hybrid.  In his reptilian state, however, he is hell-bent on the destruction of all mammals and seeks to create an army of giant Lizards with which to destroy all mankind (seriously).

Physically the Lizard is quite powerful, easily outmatching Spider-man, whereas his mental faculties may vary depending on the adaptation.  Emotionally his connection to Peter tends to be that of mentor or teacher, although that element of the relationship developed slowly in the comics.  Any other emotional consideration is usually tied to that of his tortured family, a wife and son, who have suffered the trauma of Curt's repeated transformations.

And that's 'the bad guys' in a nutshell.

In all honesty it shouldn't be too hard to tell which of these two adversaries provides a greater emotional and physical challenge to the fledgling Superhero.  Both are strong (lethally so) but only one has the added threat of advanced weaponry while also holding the psychological edge of having killed Spider-man's girlfriend.  Apparently that has an affect on some people.

Oh get over it.

So who is the better choice of feature film villain?  To answer that it's not actually enough just to pick based on the merit of the characters longstanding history, but to look at the context of the film they're being picked for.

First lets take a look at...


Let's say that, hypothetically, a film producer came up to me and said:

"Fenske, we need YOU to write us a Spider-man screenplay.  You may have ABSOLUTE creative control and use whichever characters you want and even pick your dream cast, BUT... there is ONE catch.  You will only get to make the one film.  Neither you or anyone else will be allowed to make a sequel to the movie you make, not even if it is a masterpiece.  That is to say, you must make a single self-contained film that competently tells the story of Spider-man, while choosing a villain and supporting cast that embody the essence of the trials and tribulations of the character's diverse 40-50 year history."

If someone gave me those restrictions and guidelines I can tell you that I would almost certainly pick the Green Goblin as my villain.  He has tons of 'gnarly aesthetic appeal', there are many opportunities to show him in aerial battle with Spidey, and of course there's his history as one of the big time A-listers.   Just the fact that Norman being Harry's father would put him in direct correlation with Peter's high-school/college gang adds enormous incentive to use him because it provides an excellent opportunity tie the Goblin's back story in with Peter's.

And you know what?  Sam Raimi did EXACTLY that.  And you know what else?  It actually worked out okay.  It didn't work out perfect, but it worked out better than some people would have you believe.  There are two main flaws, however, which I'm about to delve into.

[NOTE: I'm sure many of you are expecting me to bring up the subject of the 'Power Ranger suit'.  And no.  I am not going to.  At least not beyond right now, in this little aside.  Keep in mind I'm talking about the written aspect of the films as it pertains to the villains, and although the costume itself wasn't very good it also has little to do with the Goblin's development as a character.  In this respect it was hardly the Goblin's greatest weakness or flaw.]

This is a complaint that you've no doubt heard already.  Sam Raimi had an unfortunate tendency to shy away from making his supervillains truly villainous.  In the comics Norman Osborn went crazy because of the goblin serum, but he had already been evil (or at least greedy and 'not nice') before hand.  In the movie Norman Osborn is played off as an altruistic business man and scientist who's just put in a bad situation, and makes a poor choice.  Once he becomes the Green Goblin he sort of goes bad 'against his will' which weakens the strength his of choices as a character.

It's not like it TOTALLY destroyed the Green Goblin for me, but it's more engaging when a character gets caught in a trap of their own deliberate making.  By taking away Norman's 100% involvement in his Goblin persona it left us with a sort of 'Goblin Light' version of the character.  It wasn't totally bad, but it wasn't quite as good as it COULD have been.

Well, obviously they had SOMEwhere to go, but by using the Green Goblin in the movie Same Raimi had blown his main filmic load a tad prematurely.

"I TOLD you we should have used Doctor Octopus first"

It's not that Raimi didn't have any choice villains left to use, but he didn't leave himself a great structure to build on either.  True, he did try to build upon the 'Harry as the next Goblin' angle, but Harry was always the poor man's Green Goblin, which means you're building to a second rate version of the character you started with.  It also didn't help that Raimi's resolution of Harry's story was pretty anticlimactic and brushed aside in favor putting (the lamest version of) Venom in the spotlight for the last 30 minutes.

Typically, if you want to make a film franchise with a serial arc, you Introduce your main ANTAGONIST as a character or concept in one of the earlier films, and then have your series BUILD into the final confrontation near the end.  But don't take my word for it, let's look at one of the most famous serial franchises currently in existence; STAR WARS.

You can calm down.  I'm not going to bring up the prequels.

"Oh.  I'm calm."

Star Wars actually has two main villains, and both of them follow the same rules.  First we have the 'personal' bad guy (Darth Vader; father to the hero, killer of the hero's mentor, and tormentor of the hero's friends), and then there's the 'boss' bad guy (The Emperor; the guy in charge, and the only person who can pull Darth Vader's strings).  Both of these characters build substantially until their final confrontation with Luke (the aforementioned 'hero'... in case you've never seen Star Wars... for some reason).

A NEW HOPE: In the first film we're introduced to Darth Vader right off the bat.  We even meet him before we meet Luke, the primary protagonist.  So how is that any different than Green Goblin being in the first Spidey movie?  Simple.  

Answer me this; how many times do Luke and Darth Vader interact DIRECTLY in 'A New Hope'? 

Never. Luke only BARELY sees Vader kill Obi Wan, and at that point they're separated by a massive corridor, and hoards of Stormtroopers.  Beyond that, the closest they come to a confrontation is during the very end of the dogfight right before Luke blows up the Death Star.  Even THEN neither party has any certain knowledge that the other is present.

Sure, the force may be strong with this guy, but it's not like he's my own flesh and blood or anything...

And where's the Emperor in all this?  He's merely mentioned.  As a character he's clearly important to the universe, but beyond that he's nothing more than a horrifying idea.

EMPIRE STRIKES BACK:  This is the movie where things finally get personal.  Darth Vader all out kidnaps and tortures Luke's friends, culminating in Luke's first battle with Vader himself.

It could have gone better.

 Of course we all know what happens next, and upon finding out that he's been fighting Papa Skywalker all along, the fight is cut short, and by the end of the film Luke has a whole DIFFERENT fight ahead of him.  Instead of facing Darth Vader as Obi Wan's killer he now has to face Darth Vader as his father (ie.  Somewhere to build).

And the Emperor?  FINALLY gets introduced.  In one scene.  And is still shrouded in mystery. (More TENSION!  oooooh.)

RETURN OF THE JEDI:  And of course this is where EVERYTHING comes to a head.  Luke goes into one last battle against his father, but this time it's not a matter of beating one man, but also the Emperor himself.  Now there are TWO villains, and one of them has never been seen getting his hands dirty.  Because he's never had to.  Of course we all know that Luke not only wins the day, but also in proves Obi Wan wrong;  there WAS still good in Vader.

For all of Star War's flaws (many of which have been covered exhaustively by others) the character arcs for the two Antagonists is not one of them.  With each film we are given a relationship that progresses while allowing for further development until the END of the series.

With the Spider-man movies we...
  1. Begin with the Green Goblin (a major villain, with physical and emotional challenges for the hero), move on to...
  2. Doc Ock (a major villain with SOME emotional challenges, but mostly physical), and end with...
  3. Sandman (Not a major villain), Goblin mark 2 (a bit anticlimactic compared to Norman, not to mention grossly mishandled) and Venom (A main villain, unless he's played by Topher Grace with 30 minutes of screen time).

This just... It makes me so ANGRY!

If Raimi had started with Sandman, followed with Doc Ock, and finished with Green Goblin, all while keeping Norman as background 'puppet-master' type character for the first two films, he would have had WAY more mileage for both his series, and the character.  A character, mind you, who is supposedly one of Spider-man's most prolific enemies.  Spidey's Darth Vader, if you will.

So what's my verdict?  It wouldn't be entirely fair to judge the Green Goblin based on his role in the series, especially when you consider that Raimi DIDN'T know if he'd have a second chance.  When Spider-man came out there had only been a small handful of successful comic book movies, and there was no way to be certain those hadn't been flukes.  As far as he knew he had ONE shot to get this right, and in his position I can't say that I would waste it on a second stringer like Sandman, or even the Lizard for that matter.

For the sake of fairness I have to give the ol' Goblin two grades.  One for his effectiveness as a character in a stand-alone film, and a second for his effectiveness as a character in a larger franchise.


As a CINEMATIC VILLAIN IN GENERAL I give the Green Goblin: 7.5 out 10
He still wasn't perfect, and the watering down of his character knocks off a couple points, which sucks because there's no reason he shouldn't have been a 10.   That said, he still gets credit as one of the more memorable superhero movie villains around, and it didn't hurt that Willem Dafoe ran with the material he had and produced a solid performance out of it.


As THE FIRST VILLAIN IN A LARGER SERIES I'd have to give him: 5 out of 10

Even when I first saw the film as a wide-eyed and awestruck teenager, there was one tiny nagging thought which occurred to me upon completing the film;

"It kinda sucks that they can never use the Green Goblin again".

At the time I let it go because I was too busy basking in the afterglow of all having seen all my fantasies coming to life right before my very eyes (disclaimer: except for sex.  That would come later in life, and would be in no way affiliated with Spider-man).  But now, looking back I realize that I had (unknowingly) recognized the inherent flaw with using a character like the Goblin right up front. 

THIS Green Goblin wasn't going to get a chance to reach the same level of notoriety that he had in the comics, because THIS Green Goblin died just as his relationship with Spider-man was being firmly cemented.  His longstanding history with the character is part what makes him deserving of being picked for a movie.  In the comics he was 'one of the BIG ones', whereas in the film series he was merely 'the first of many'.  For that matter, the Green Goblin was never mentioned once in either of the sequels.  Norman Osborn was, but the Goblin fell by the wayside.  And why wouldn't he?  The last time the public saw him he was dragging Spider-man off to god-knows-where and was never seen again.  As Spider-man obviously did survive I'm guess the citizens of New York just assumed that Spider-man killed the Goblin, and buried the body somewhere.  Which is kind of a lame way to go out.  Even if they'd used him in the first movie but ended it by leaving him alive and able to return (perhaps in the third film) it would have allowed for a considerably more climactic finish, instead of the anticlimactic thud that we got.

Oh well.


I know you're thinking that I'm going to just automatically give the Lizard another 10 out of 10 and chalk it up to another automatic victory by Marc Webb, but it's not quite that simple.  Don't misunderstand, I really did like the Lizard in this movie, but there are also some things that need to be brought to light before I can just chalk it up as superior.

I implied before that the Lizard is a member of Spider-man's B-list villains roster, and it's true.  He's a high ranking B-lister for sure, and certainly one of Spidey's oldest foes (older than the Goblin himself by roughly eight months) but he belongs on the B-list all the same.  That, of course, has been my entire argument in the preceding billion paragraphs; that a character like the Lizard is perfect for an opening movie, leaving the sequels open for bigger and better villains. 

However, there's one other more practical reason beyond my aforementioned points.   Simply put, The Lizard doesn't demand the same amount explanation that the Green Goblin requires.   Remember that Spider-man also spends a good chunk of the film having an origin story, and stuff.  The fewer characters vying for attention the better.

The Lizard provides an ample threat to the hero while not demanding all that precious screen time.  To sweeten the deal they also threw in several references of the ever-elusive 'Mr. Osborn', which naturally provides the foundation for the sequels (again, fitting nicely into what I've been saying).  So far so good.  Any problems?  Weeeell, maybe.  A little one.


Not as watered down as the Green Goblin, mind you, but it should be said that Webb (or the studio) pretty much put the kibosh on showing us Connors family life.  There is a deleted scene that features his son, but the fact remains that in the final cut of the film it's something that never really comes up.  It's kind of a shame because the Lizard is one of the villains that's actually SUPPOSED to be a good guy deep down inside, and although Connors isn't evil in this film, he is maybe a BIT cold.  It was his family, in the comics, that really helped anchor us to the more sensitive side of the character, which would have been nice to add here.

It also would have given Spider-man an extra emotional obstacle to consider during their battle.  It's bad enough that his Girlfriend's father is a casualty of their fight, and that the city is on the verge of becoming infested by giant Lizard men (seriously),

Yeah.  I know it sounds silly, but in the movie it's actually REALLY cool.

but when you add in Curt Connors family into the equation it really puts Spidey in a nasty position.  Now instead of just trying to save the city he would also be trying to avoid harming the man responsible for putting it in danger, lest he accidentally orphan a five-year-old boy.

It still worked out.  And thankfully Webb and Vanderbilt were able to successfully incorporate Peter's relationship with Connors.  Also, connecting him to Pete's parents was a nice touch as it did give Peter that added familial investment, firmly cementing the mentor/student relationship between them I mentioned earlier.  So yes, there was still a lot of solid character work, but it would have been nice to add the family in there to REALLY sweeten the deal. 

Maybe I'm being picky, but this is my sixth entry about the characterization and story structure in the Spider-man films.  Picky is what this is all about.

With that said lets check out the...


As a CINEMATIC VILLAIN IN GENERAL I give the Lizard:  7 out of 10

I really enjoyed the Lizard.  Sure he may not be the most memorable villain in the world, but I had a good time watching him and Spidey kick the shit out of each other, and the relationship between Peter and Connors was solid.  Had they included Connors' family he may have received an 8, but things being what they are, 7 is where the Lizard sits for me.


As THE FIRST VILLAIN IN A LARGER SERIES I'd have to give him: 8 out of 10

As the 'the first of many' I actually enjoyed the Lizard way more, and it was in this sense I found myself very impressed with the handling of the character. For starters they didn't kill him, so even if they NEVER use the Lizard again there is definitely a sense that Connors isn't going to be forgotten.  I also can't stress enough how much I loved Connors' connection to Osborn.  The implication that his work may be partly responsible for the creation of the Green Goblin later down the road is pretty sweet and establishes a nice sense of continuity.

Of course, he's no Green Goblin, and we will have to wait to see how well it all plays out in the sequels.  I think it's also fair to say that the Lizard won't be making any 'top 10 movie villain' lists any time soon, but for an establishing villain the Lizard felt just about right.

Well folks, we're nearing the end of the SPIDER-MOVIE series.  There is still one area to cover, however.  Next time around I'll be discussing 'Spider-man' and 'The Amazing Spider-man' and how they compare as films on their own right.  Often people complain about Superhero flicks while comparing them to the comics, but all 'source material' aside... How are the movies AS movies?

I bet you can't wait to find out in:

See you then

Thanks for reading.


  1. Eeeeh, I gotta disagree on the Goblin here, man. I mean, when you get down to it, his motivations in the movie (even as a stand-alone) don't make much sense. His initial motivation is revenge, and before the movie even takes off, or their first spar, Norman's goal is accomplished. His motivation is then shifted from trying to rule the city on two fronts (business and criminal) to just causing random chaos and getting Spidey to join him for whatever strange reason. In the Marvel Universe at large, that works. There's other superpowered thugs running around, massive crime empires belonging to Silvermane and the Kingpin respectively, and even a sizable chunk being started by Hammerhead at the time. Plus there's other superheroes. Trying to initially get Spidey to work with him , especially since he was indeed viewed by the public at large as a criminal, made sense. But here? The people love him enough to start chucking things off a bridge at the Goblin when he's attacking, the cops make one attempt to snag him which they relent on immediately (and only begin after an unfounded accusation in the newspaper, oddly enough)and this is supposed to be our conflict. Hell, we never even get a sense that he's remotely conflicted or tempted by the Goblin (which given that they make it a major plot point, we should have seen; it would have driven home the GP,GR message too.) and it's all there just for the sake of being there.

    Add to that the bizarre choice to swap Norman's temporary amnesia for a split personality (neither of which was needed for the purposes of a single film) and the butchery of some frankly iconic scenes and honestly, the Goblin was handled about as badly as Venom was. Or, well... as any of them were.

    Certainly far worse than a lack of Curt Connors' family hurt him.

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