Matt Yglesias gives us a “long philosophical rant” about the inconsistencies in Spiderman 2. More power to him, I say – but he’s still very likely wrong. Spiderman is not only a really, really good movie, it’s not necessarily making the claims that Matt suggests it does. Warning: spoilers follow.
Matt’s problem with the movie is its suggestion that you can be a good guy, devoting your waking and sleeping hours to fighting crime, and still get the girl.
For most of the film, Spiderman 2 is very good at dramatizing the reality of this ideal. Being the good guy—doing the right thing—really sucks, because doing the right thing doesn’t just mean avoiding wrongdoing, it means taking affirmative action to prevent it. There’s no time left for Peter’s life, and his life is miserable. Virtue is not its own reward, it’s virtue, the rewards go to the less consciencious. There’s no implication that it’s all worthwhile because God will make it right in the End Times, the life of the good guy is a bleak one. It’s an interesting (and, I think, a correct) view and it’s certainly one that deserves a skilled dramatization, which is what the film gives you right up until the very end. But then—ta da!—it turns out that everyone does get to be happy after all. A huge letdown.
There’s a good argument to be made for Matt’s interpretation. Throughout its end sequence, Spiderman and Peter Parker seem to be morphing into each other, as more and more of Spiderman’s outfit gets ripped away. And he does get the girl, and go swinging gloriously through the skyscrapers at the end of the movie. But what Matt doesn’t take into account is that this is the second of three, closely interconnected movies. The first movie provides a thesis – that Spiderman has to renounce love in order to fight evil-doers, and take what joy he can from the solitary pleasures of web-slinging. The second is the antithesis – that he can too get Mary-Jane and swing between the roof-tops. The third, one can confidently predict, is going to be the synthesis – the discovery that balancing different responsibilities is a lot more difficult than Peter Parker thinks at the end of Spiderman 2. First witness for the prosecution: the mixed feelings playing across M-J’s face as Spiderman leaves her to chase after the cop-sirens, 30 seconds after she’s declared her undying love, engaged in passionate clinch etc etc. If Sam Raimi doesn’t do more with this in the third movie, I’ll be very surprised indeed.
fn1. The closing stages of Spiderman 2 set up the villain for the third – Harry discovers his father’s lair, to become the second incarnation of the Green Goblin (or perhaps the Hobgoblin if they want to play a bit fast and loose) in the next installment.