In New York City, high school senior Peter Parker, suffering through the vagaries of high school life, has a life-changing experience at a science museum in New York. Bitten by a genetically engineered Super-Spider, Peter Parker’s DNA is mutated in such a way that gives him spider-like powers. While he finds some joy in their use, his hubris leads to his caretaker Ben Parker’s death. To atone for his mistakes, he becomes the vigilante Spiderman and fights crime.
Elsewhere, Norman Osbourne is in fierce competition with Quest Aerospace for a big military contract. Seeing his major project falling apart around him, Norman takes the formula at the center of the project. The serum works, but the side-effects would surface as a malevolent personality that would take revenge on those who wronged either Norman or his son Harry. He also attempts to recruit Spiderman to help him. When Spiderman refuses, Norman attempts to kill him and uses Mary Jane as bait when he discovers that Peter and Spiderman are one and the same.
After Spiderman foils Norman’s plan to make him suffer, the two of them have a knockdown, drag out fight. Spiderman eventually wins by evading Norman’s glider, which impales him. Spiderman delivers the body back to the Osbourne penthouse, where Harry watches Spiderman leave. He has since sworn vengeance against Spiderman for killing his father.
Review and Analysis:
This was one of the first reviews I started on when began Movies That Hate You, because this one kept gnawing at my sensibilities. There was a time where I wanted to like the Spiderman franchise, in particular Peter Parker, because he was presented as being an underdog that struggled to take on life.
However, every viewing of this movie kept me asking why I did not like this adaptation. At first, I thought it was because this movie was a poor rehash of Superman: The Movie (1979). It follows the same structure all throughout, only descaled and compressed into one city all the way to the end.
Then I thought it was the love triangle between Peter Parker, Harry Osbourne, and Mary Jane Watson – which, by the way, played out too much like the Clark Kent/Lex Luthor/Lana Lang triangle on Smallville…which was nothing more than a carbon copy of the Dawson/Pacey/Joey triangle from Dawson’s Creek. Speaking of carbon copies, Norman’s treatment of Peter Parker versus that of his own son Harry…too much like that of Lionel Luthor with Clark Kent versus son Lex…in Smallville.
Then I thought it was the ridiculous moments that were supposed to endear us to Peter. Like the opening scene with the bus driver. A legal shark would have had the driver fired and the Parkers would be as rich as the Osbournes by the time s/he were done with the New York School System. Or, how about how shabbily Peter ended up treating his uncle Ben and aunt May, especially before he gets his spider-powers?
However, even accounting for all of that, there was still something very wrong with this movie. And this issue turns out to be the root cause in the end, where even if you fixed all the other issues with the film, this issue would still torpedo the story.
Taking the Scriptwriter Tips on Creating a Hero Far Too Literally:
One of the things that screenwriting classes will tell you about as far as creating a likable hero is to either show the hero doing something good (which even applies to anti-heroes) for a child or the downtrodden, or to have the eventual hero be derided by many other characters in general. The former is usually called “Petting the Dog.”
The latter is simply “Cinderella.” In these cases, the protagonist/hero is put upon by the world. While these characters are not necessarily loners (where movies like “Laserblast” takes to an extreme), they are often downtrodden to the point where the few friends they do have are unable to help the hero.
In the case of Spiderman, we are supposed to identify with Peter Parker because with the exception of Harry Osborne and Mary Jane Watson, he is hated throughout the school by the other students. Indeed, he is so loathed, that even “girl nerds” want nothing to do with him.
The Bad, Bad Goblin – But What Was His Motivation?
The most important character in the story is not the hero, but the antagonist and the motivation to advance their goals at the expense of the hero. And it is here that Raimi and company not only dropped the ball, but allowed the ball to roll into the gutter…about 12 times.
Norman’s motivation to become the Goblin, when it all comes down to it, was a limited one. His mental “instability” came about from the stress of his work and the pressure to keep OsCorp running. With him putting all of his fortunes into seeing the Super-Serum succeed, he takes it himself – but found that his lead scientist had altered the formula…which probably caused the previous human trial to falter. Norman, in his altered state of rage, killed the scientist. The Army General who derided OsCorp (because he probably received kickbacks from Quest Aerospace) was eager to test the prototype from Quest Aerospace. Norman takes his Goblin armor and completely destroys both General Slocum and the armor from Quest during their trials. When he found that even his own board of directors had been working to depose him from the company, he uses the Goblin armor to kill the members of the board who stood against him.
Basically, Norman Osbourne/Green Goblin accomplished what he had originally set out to do. His primary motivation was to get revenge on all of those who have wronged him, or set out to destroy him. And he succeeded.
In other words, the Bad Guy Won.
And Now for Something Completely…Lost on the Audience:
Watch the scene where we meet Ben and May Parker and listen to what Ben Parker used to do before he got laid off.
Keep that in mind as you look at this picture:
How many comic book fans believe they can write a good story? This was a very subtle, but quite old, joke. And, yes, Sam takes the time to answer the question about the light-bulb…and the electrician.
So how does Raimi get Spiderman and Goblin to come to blows? By adding a subplot that Harry, despite growing up a trust-fund kid, is really someone who doesn’t like to flaunt his wealth, probably thanks to his friendship with working-class Peter. But he becomes smitten with Mary Jane, and makes a move before Peter does (sound familiar?). Norman, for some reason, having only just met Mary Jane, decides that she is nothing more than a gold-digger and disparages her to his son, who does very little to defend her “honor.”
This moment was necessary to provide the audience the rationale for Peter and Mary Jane to get closer together without Mary Jane looking like an undesirable woman. Unfortunately, the seeds were sown before then – and Mary Jane herself watered the plants.
The attack by Green Goblin on the Unity Day festival, when she is kidnapped by Spiderman. This was supposed to be romantic on some level, but it ultimately only serves to show that both Peter and Mary Jane are mentally unbalanced. Peter, for leaving the scene of chaos with the girl he’s pined over for years; and Mary Jane, for all but tossing Harry overboard – remember, she wouldn’t stop talking about Spiderman to Harry, who was worried about her. Harry himself was incapacitated by a stone during the attack. And then…she hangs up on Harry. Peter and Mary Jane are easily distracted, and the story’s attempt to revolve around them merely exposes the thin plot.
And The Plot Thins Even More:
When Harry goes home heartbroken from the hospital, he tells his father that Mary Jane dumped him for Peter Parker. Before we continue, let’s remember that this was what Norman Osbourne wanted from the very beginning. So, in response, Norman grabs the Goblin costume and kidnaps Mary Jane – and just happens to be at Mary Jane’s house when Peter calls her for Goblin to be able to answer. He then gives Peter an ultimatum to show up at the Brooklyn Bridge where he is holding Mary Jane and a tram full of kids (that were apparently coming home from a ballgame that has run extremely late) hostage.
Since I like pointing out similarities here, this was Raimi’s version of the “2 Nuclear Missiles” moment from Superman: The Movie. I disparage the Spiderman movies for compressing things into small events because this “Sadistic Choice” wasn’t really a choice to make at all. Admittedly, Parker also handled the situation very poorly. But it’s not like Norman really had any valid motivation at this point; his attempts to recruit Spiderman were nothing more than a means to reduce Norman to a typical “Kill Them All, Especially the Hero’s Girlfriend” psycho. This serves only to cheapen Norman/Goblin, instead of transforming him into an actual villain.
And, showing that no thought was given to consequences, Goblin declares Spiderman’s love for Mary Jane and there is no follow-up, except that now Mary Jane does not like Spiderman…but Peter Parker.
Moral of the Story? If you show concern for Mary Jane when she is in personal danger of dying, then she will dump you for someone else.
The Bugle’s Roll:
The Daily Bugle is supposed to be a low-volume mid-major newspaper in New York City, whose circulation didn’t even match the tabloid New York Post on a good day.
So how is it able to make accusations of Spiderman being a criminal – and having those accusations taken seriously by the New York City Police Department?
JJJ must have quite the pull somewhere.
The Incredible Whiteness of Privilege, White Women’s Tears Edition:
The scene where Spiderman demonstrates his rescue skills to re-endear us to his heroism includes a woman who has somehow left her baby in her apartment.
The woman in question:
As I have stated in other reviews and analyses, nothing in Hollywood productions are chosen by accident. This was supposed to be the scene where we as Spiderman fans would be heartened by the fact that Peter/Spiderman is willing to risk his life once more to save others, even though the NYPD supposedly has a warrant out for his arrest.
Yet…no one asks how or why this woman evacuated herself from the apartment, run down 4 flights of stairs, gotten herself across the street, only to turn around and attempt to rescue her kid AFTER the fire department shows up. This leaves 2 explanations – and BOTH would lead to charges of Reckless Endangerment; Endangering the Welfare of a Child; and Child Abandonment:
First, she left her child alone when she left to perform some kind of errand. However, her dress does not seem to indicate as such. This does not seem like a case of a fire that spontaneously ignited and grabbed an accelerant to engulf 2 whole floors of an apartment building. But, even assuming that this is the case, this woman does not reach the building in question until after the first units had already arrived on scene and had begun evacuating residents from the building. Also, keep in mind that that Fire Captain on scene had already made the determination that the roof was going to collapse because of the fire. So we are talking about a 5 to 10-minute window between 911 call and her showing up under scenario 1.
Second, the fire starts close to her location. She immediately grabs the nearest warm sweater top and runs out the building and across the street. It is possible that she made some weird assumption that the fire department was going to be able to put out this fire and she could return to her apartment. When, however, she saw the other residents being evacuated, she immediately runs towards the door to “rescue” her child.
Remember that the kid is less than 18 months old, as Spiderman has to keep the kid bundled in a blanket when he performs the rescue.
No one bothers to ask the woman why she left her kid in the apartment before or during the fire in the first place.
In other words, short of her being teleported away by some idiot super-vigilante before she do anything, there is no reason why she should not have had her child removed from her custody and sent to Protective Services.
Wait…there is one. And it is one that is not available to Women of Color.
Also, note that with the exception of the faceless Asian store owners, Spiderman does not intervene to help anyone who is not a small child or an attractive woman.
More Gender Notes:
In Spiderworld, you will not find a single Woman who works for the Police Department. There are also none in the New York Fire Department. EMTs? Nope.
But they are allowed to be Mothers. And damsels in distress. And newsroom secretaries. And caretakers. And voiceless members of a dead board of directors.
Oh, and as this:
Una Damon plays the lab tour guide who explains the various spiders whose genetic material would be combined into one of the “Super-Spiders” that bites Peter, giving him powers.
Or as, unfortunately, this:
Macy Gray…portraying herself: An overdressed entertainer.
The Ending of Complete Embarassment:
After Goblin dies from the business end of his glider, Spiderman has decided to take Norman’s body and deliver it back to the Osbourne’s Penthouse, where he is noticed by Harry.
Now, this scene’s only motivation was to have Harry swear unholy vengeance onto Spiderman, and have the audience leave with an “Aww, poor Peter” moment again because Peter’s best friend now hates his secret identity.
So now, the questions:
- How does Harry beat the eventual rap that he would have surely had to face? Unless he somehow finds evidence that his father was a Supervillain that he was willing and able to turn over, all of the evidence would have pointed to Harry himself…and blaming it on Spiderman to throw investigators off the trail?
- Given that OsCorp exists in Spiderman 2, where was the Congressional investigation in OsCorp’s activities? Did they even perform one? Given that the project that they worked on for the military resulted in the deaths of several military and political figures, as well as millions of dollars worth of damage and destruction of private and public property, who runs the company now? And who allowed Norman’s own son to enter into the company?
- Also, how does the butler clean Norman’s wound? Did Harry run to the other room to call the police without even checking on his father to see if he was actually dead or not?
- No autopsy? No examination into the actual cause of death?
Once again, basic questions that had to be ignored in order to give us a throwaway moment.
This movie is a mess. There is not much of a plot, the bad guy accomplishes his primary objectives and generally got everything he wanted. The script had to give him an overreach in order for him and the “hero” to fight. Women are background fodder. Women of color are even reduced to stereotypes beyond that. The basic structure of this story does not even stand up to basic scrutiny of motivations and results.
This movie made lots of money and is considered a very good movie by those who like the main character. On top of this, Peter Parker is considered to be easier to relate to because he has “regular issues.” Unfortunately, Peter and the rest of the cast bring these issues upon themselves and never seem to really work through them, except for Norman. Everyone else, however, goes through the usual “Woe is me, woe upon to me” rigmarole found in these melodramas. That is, when this movie isn’t tugging on Superman’s cape.
Leave this movie on the shelf. Or lob cannon shells at it.