Tangled webs

by Henry on July 4, 2004

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.[1] 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.

{ 30 comments }

1

Rob 07.04.04 at 6:18 pm

In the animated series, Harry becomes the Hobgoblin right after discovering his fathr was the Green Goblin so it maybe quasi-canon in the Marvel universe now.

2

Moleman 07.04.04 at 6:43 pm

I’m reasonably sure that the hobgoblin is generally a third person- in fact, the Green goblin has been three people (at least- there was a short stint where either Norman or Harry’s psychiatrist picked it up). The Spiderman comics have between 4 and 10 -goblin characters, depending on how you want to do the counting, which complicates things immensely.

On the subject of MJ and Peter, the dynamic works much better if you toss in Gwen Stacy’s death. Just saying that his loved ones could be in danger is one thing, but in the comics he’s actually been a secondary cause of not only his girlfriend but her father (fails to catch her in time when GG tosses her off the Brooklyn bridge, her father was previously killed by falling debris during a battle with Dr. Octopus).

3

Kevin Donoghue 07.04.04 at 7:43 pm

I have neither read the comics nor seen the first movie. Is it a complete waste of time to go to the second?

4

Jaybird 07.04.04 at 8:08 pm

If you have not seen the first, do not yet see the second.

It’s a true sequel in that events from the first movie are built upon in the second.

As for this being the second movie in a trilogy, as I understand it, they’ve got Tobey and Kristen on contract for *SEVEN* films. Now, this doesn’t mean that seven films will be made… but if 2 makes as much as or more than 1, and if 3 makes as much as or more than 2… well, there will be a 4.

Peter’s Professor Connors shares the name of the guy who became The Lizard in the comic books, a guy called Eddie Brock was mentioned off-handedly in the first movie… There are a lot of (potential) villains to go through.

5

WillieStyle 07.04.04 at 9:49 pm

I doubt there’ll only be 3 movies.
For one thing, I can’t see the series ending without Venom making an appearance.

6

Erik 07.04.04 at 10:24 pm

The problem with making seven films is that there are very few truly iconic Spidey supervillains left. Who the heck wants to see him battle the Vulture, or Stilt-Man?

With Harry donning the GG mask for the third movie, and Kingpin already wasted on Daredevil, that really leaves only a few good choices for dangerous nemeses: Venom, and possibly Mysterio or Kraven. Villains like Sand-Man or Scorpion are really nothing more than muscle, and once you start teaming up bad guys you’ve headed down the path of suck that swallowed the Batman films.

7

WillieStyle 07.04.04 at 10:46 pm

I don’t know about that. You’ve got:

Venom,
Carnage,
Mysterio,
Kraven,
Morbius,
The Lizard,

That’s Eight movies right there.

8

asg 07.05.04 at 12:37 am

Scourge, while more obscure, is also a possibility.

9

virgin alert 07.05.04 at 12:53 am

Look, they’ll never use venom, because venom’s origin involves spiderman visiting a distant planet. If they don’t want to do that, they have to write their own origin story explaining how a semi-sentient substance that forms a black spidey-suit enters the life of peter parker. Add to this the fact that the only practical use spiderman got from the venom suit was that he didn’t need web-shooting devices anymore, and it’s pretty clear that venom isn’t going to be needed. Without venom, there will be no carnage, since they’re both the same basic schtick.

The other bad guys on your list are hardly iconic. You need villains that are recognisable to the most casual spiderman reader. Kraven is subhumanly lame. morbius is a vampire, which would make the film look like it was really scraping the dregs out of the ideas barrel. The lizard is just too weak an idea. Mysterio might make the cut, but they’d have to fix the stupid helmet. He looks like Dr. Lightbulb, or something.

Venom and Carnage in separate movies…what’s wrong with you?

10

Jaybird 07.05.04 at 1:17 am

Apparently, the cartoon series had Spidey getting the symbiote suit from outerspace… when he had to perform a rescue on a crash-landing Space Shuttle that contained Flash Jameson.

No Secret Wars necessary.

11

Doctor Memory 07.05.04 at 2:33 am

What Jaybird said: Jameson fils is pretty obviously being set up as the carrier for Venom, should the series last long enough to merit his entry.

(Geeky, moi?)

12

complete nerd 07.05.04 at 2:35 am

Virgin Alert, I’ll grant you that Kraven is inhumanly lame — indeed, the single lamest old-school Spider-Man villain, with the possible exception of the Vulture, who now comes off so campy that he would have been laughed off the live-action Batman TV series — but the Lizard, weak? Come on! The Lizard is a classic beast-within monster, complete with a crying wife pleading for understanding! Plus, the tattered white labcoat is a really striking look. If I was Raimi, he’d be the very next on my list after the Goblin dynasties are subdued.

I can’t believe you’d rank Mysterio above the Lizard. Mysterio is a former special effects worker whose powers mostly revolve around medicated sprays. Please!

13

Erik 07.05.04 at 3:38 am

There is absolutely nothing lame about the ‘Kraven’s Last Hunt’ storyline. Sure, they’d have to ditch/heavily modify the silly lion’s-head costume, but that’s just cosmetics.

In fact if the cinema-toy-industrial complex didn’t require supervillains, there are all kinds of good Spidey storylines that could be adapted to a movie — the Sin-Eater/Death of Jean DeWolf arc, for instance. Just so long as they don’t go the clone, or extra arms, route…

14

random 07.05.04 at 5:26 am

I agree with complete nerd. Kraven and Mysterio would be terrible choices.

The changes to Doc Ock show that Raimi’s villains are required to be emotionally complex, and the Lizard was one of the only early villains with any depth at all. Not to mention that they already introduced Connors.

Kraven is by far the lamest of the major villains. If he’s introduced as anything but a joke, I’ll be very disappointed. The only worse twist I can imagine would be the introduction of the even lamer minor villains, like the Hypno-Hustler, or John Jameson as “Man-Wolf”… (ohgodno)

15

Jim Henley 07.05.04 at 3:02 pm

Am I the only one who saw the final image of Dunst leaning against the weathered window-frame and thought: Helga picture?

16

Keith 07.05.04 at 3:57 pm

Come on! Who doesn’t want to se the Rhino on screen? or the Shocker?

Seriously though, Connors is there, plus the Marvel Universe is vast and Spidy live sin Newe York so there’s room for the Juggernaut, Kingpin, and others. Though, personally, i like finite movie cycles and would be happy if they just did a third, wrapping up the osbornes, with Doc Connors as an asside, perhaps manipulated by Harry.

17

Matt Brown 07.05.04 at 6:08 pm

Something else to consider about MJ and Peter—to get where they are at the end of the movie, MJ has to hurt someone (Jameson) who didn’t do anything bad to her. I’m not sure how this will play out, but odds are it will be the cause of something bad for her.

18

Kris McDaniel 07.05.04 at 8:15 pm

Another interesting theme was this: Doc Ock became a monster because he lost everything he cared about. (So perhaps the only way for Spiderman not to be a monster is for him to have something to care about?)

Two things I want in SM3: (1) more of the people from the bugle. Let’s actually see Ned Leeds, Betty Brant, Jonah, Robbie, etc., having real conversations with each other and with Peter. The casting is there, so let’s have them have some lines!

(2) A supervillian that’s not mentally unbalanced or irrational. (I guess that’s unlikely if Harry becomes the main focus of SM3…)

19

JP 07.05.04 at 10:24 pm

How is everyone forgetting Dr. Doom here?

20

Gary Farber 07.06.04 at 12:50 am

Having just posted this at Matthew’s site, it belongs here even more:

“Henry Farrell notes that I’m writing about part two of a trilogy here without having seen part three….”

That’s completely false, of course. No one concerned has ever said it was a trilogy, and it’s not. It’s a series, and they hope to keep going as long as they can, as both Avi Arad and Sam Raimi have said many times, as I’ve blogged on several occasions. The only specific figure mentioned so far is “nine,” but that’s just a vague guess on their point.

There has never, ever, been a stated intention of doing a thematic trilogy. I’d ask where you got that from, but you seem to have gotten it from Henry Farrell, who seems to have gotten it from his teeth. His teeth are incorrect.

Are you aware, Henry, of some interview or source that contradicts endless articles and interviews with Arad and Raimi, that I am not?

It’s very weird to read this comics thread, with all this speculation about stuff that is, largely, issues Arad and Raimi have long been on record about. See here, and here, for example. It’s like reading people speculating about Bush, Blair, and Kerry, without having ever bothered to look at a newspaper or magazine. (And I’m just an entirely casual reader of comics/movie news, who last bought a Spider-Man comic over thirty years ago.)

21

Doctor Memory 07.06.04 at 12:53 am

JP: There’s a Fantastic Four movie in development at Marvel and 20th Century Fox, allegedly due to start filming soon.

No way in hell do they use Doom in a Spider-Man movie while there is any chance at all of F4 getting made.

22

Gary Farber 07.06.04 at 1:04 am

To make clear here something I left in a link (that probably most won’t click on), Arad and Raimi have explicitly stated, multiple times, that the only villains to be used in the movies will come out of being rooted in Peter Parker’s life. That’s an absolute rule they’ve laid down.

23

Gary Farber 07.06.04 at 1:06 am

“How is everyone forgetting Dr. Doom here?”

Because he’s the villain of the Fantastic Four film that will begin filming shortly, of course. Sheesh. (And he was always the key FF villain; his dealings with Spider-Man were incidental.)

24

Kate Nepveu 07.06.04 at 3:12 am

Even if more than three movies are planned, that doesn’t negate the basic point–there’s clearly an ongoing arc about Peter Parker’s relationship with Spiderman, and that’s going to be continued in the next movie.

Also, Maguire and Dunst are signed on for three and not more than that yet, which is another reason why it’s natural to think of these three as one thing and then future movies as possibly something else.

25

Gary Farber 07.06.04 at 5:30 am

“Even if more than three movies are planned, that doesn’t negate the basic point—there’s clearly an ongoing arc about Peter Parker’s relationship with Spiderman, and that’s going to be continued in the next movie.”

Sure, but that’s just saying that the Spider-Man (Not “Spiderman,” by the way) movies are being authentic to the story of Peter Parker/Spider-Man; it’s like observing as a great insight that a Superman movie is going to stand for Truth, Justice, and the American Way, or a Hulk movie is going to be dealing with anger issues, or an X-Men series is going to deal with the plight of the persecuted outsider; not a revelation or insight unless you expect an extremely revisionist or inauthentic version (such as, say, the horrible Sixties Batman tv series). (Hi, Kate!; hey, come by my blog! :-))

Maguire has specifically not ruled out doing a fourth and more (nor committed); clearly, of course, if they can keep going towards seven or nine, sooner or later both Parker and Mary Jane would have to be recast, as the characters can’t get too old, as I’ve previously observed.

26

Jeff Begley 07.06.04 at 2:14 pm

Actually, the characters CAN age well into their early thirties. The did it in the comic book. While I don’t recall reading any specific ages in the later issues, Peter and MJ grow into a very mature relationship and have careers, not pizza jobs. They don’t have to stay college age for very long at all (maybe 2 or 3 more movies).

I don’t understand the rest of your response to Kate’s post. She brought up a good point. This seems to be a story arc. Perhaps the reference to comic plotting was lost on you.

The theme is what you were discussing (truth, justice, etc) and continues through the entire series while the story arc is something that characters endure for a few issues.

It would seem the theme is as it has always been: Great power/Great responsibility and how it affects people on a human level. The arc, however, is Peter growing into his role as a superhero and learning how to be BOTH Parker and city savior. That would make movie 3 the synthesis as previously postulated and would be following in grand comic book tradition which I believe Raimi has spoken about and, so far, done magnificently.

27

Jeff Begley 07.06.04 at 3:18 pm

While pessimism seems to rule the day, you CAN do what’s right, get the girl and have a great life just by doing what’s right.

And you don’t have to be intimidated into it with promises of heaven or hell.

http://neospooky.blogspot.com/2004/07/in-real-world-you-can-do-go-for-goods.html

28

Gary Farber 07.06.04 at 6:51 pm

“Perhaps the reference to comic plotting was lost on you.”

Um, yes, well, let’s count up the number of comics and sf/comics genre posts on my blog and CT and compare, before coming to such a conclusion, eh? Or look into my background in professional science fiction editing?

I don’t want to make too much of it; all I was saying is that “The arc, however, is Peter growing into his role as a superhero and learning how to be BOTH Parker and city savior” isn’t just a temporary arc in the Spider-Man story, but a permanent essence of it. It’s something his story always comes back to. It first was played to the limit in the #50 issue of the original comic that is used as the basis for this movie, but it has been returned to time and again, and always will be.

One of the essences of Spider-Man’s story, and one that made it original in its time, is the ever-recurring strain between his two identities, causing so much personal anguish and neurosis, in a way that only fleetingly ever struck, say, Batman, Superman, or any of the DC heros of the era. (Though Tim Burton lifted some of that for his movie, and by the late Sixties there was some grafting of an inner life onto Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen.)

It’s built into his origin story.

In Spider-Man’s life, that’s not a temporary arc, and never can be. Spider-Man doesn’t get to learn to swing happily ever after, and never will do so on a long-term basis. (For brief periods here and there, sure.)

Seeing his story as one that will bring him to such a satisfying long-term adjustment is an erroneous analysis.

That’s all.

(Beyond that, my original comment was simply because I gawked at Henry’s assertion that the movies were a trilogy, when that’s simply false, and Raimi and Arad are on the record at such verbose length, in so many places, on it being a long-term series; I apologize if I hit that nail too hard.)

29

NASA drone 07.07.04 at 5:57 pm

More evidence that CT’s commenters suck: no one has mentioned the Sandman as a potential Spidey movie villain.

30

Ampersand 07.08.04 at 10:22 pm

Nasa, someone did mention it, but he dismissed the idea. I think you’re right and he’s wrong; the Sandman would be a great villain, both because he’s very suited to CGI special effects and because he’s lower-class and from Queens, which gives him more in common with Peter and MJ than most of Spiderman’s villains.

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