Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace
(Sony Pictures; US theatrical: 4 May 2007 (General release); 2007)
Despite exploiting Hollywood’s time-honored race-baiting, and employing ‘other’ hating tricks- the fallen hero wears black, gels his hair like a sissy, sways his hips to funk and works it out in beatnik jazz scenes - Spider-man III does manage to offer a timely critique of the socio-political world that characterized those times. As the ensuing election proved, Americans were indeed fatigued of their own arrogance and propensity towards global domination. Arguably, these sorts of films helped pave the way by building awareness of the need for, and utility of coalition and dialogue, which are so central to the new administration.
Hidden beneath the more superficial narratives is the superhero’s mortal alter-ego Peter Parker’s rejection of a ‘normal’ life however romanticized by the aged widow. Spidey prefers to be a hero. Or, is it that we really do need to reject the Mary Magdalene, the savior’s wife. Must our heroes be ascetics?
“Revenge,” Aunt May cautions young Peter Parker, “is like a poison. It can take you over…turn us into something ugly.” Our protagonist had gloated in the now trademark cowboy slogan We got ‘em after his alter-ego’s alter-ego (the dark-suited Spider-man), acted as judge, jury, and executioner of his uncle’s alleged murderer. In the earlier Spider-man entries, our hero deals out capital punishment to the sand demon Flint Marco, AKA the Sandman, a criminal on the run for general crimes, and especially for widowing Aunt May and slaying the unlikely hero’s only patriarchal figure- the benevolent Uncle Ben. Yet the issue here is Spidey’s self-righteous mandate to defeat the axis of evil, which, like writer David S. Goyer’s Batmans (2005 & 2008) and arguably the newer Harry Potter’s Order of the Phoenix, only emerges in response to the hero’s arrogance.
Summer 2007’s blockbuster sequel asks the audience to sympathize with Uncle Ben’s killer, who became criminal impulsively under duress from poverty and finding a way to secure life-saving medical care for his withering young daughter. We are shown a lengthy scene of Flint gently caressing his sickly offspring, resisting the distraught mother’s accusation that the Sandman is a common criminal along with ensuing connotation that he is a bad person, all of which transpires in front of their daughter. His image has been demonized and demoralized. What seems an increasing and urgent trend in these trying times is that just like in the film John Q. Moviegoers are asked to ponder who’s ultimately responsible for the societal destitute that gives rise to such desperation in the face of such opulent wealth, such as the sort found in the film’s other villain. Interesting that filmmakers choose health care to resonate with mainstream audiences. Our health care system is premised upon an individual’s ability to produce wealth. Yet without any cash to begin with, living and eating well is itself a challenge, not a right, which, like our economy, wrecks havoc around the world. Only those with wealth may survive, LITERALLY.
“With great power comes great responsibility,” repeats Uncle Ben in Spidey’s visions. Visually, the filmmaker almost over emphasizes the ghostly nature of Uncle Ben as Peter Parker/Spider-man recalls the fateful night of the patriarch’s untimely death in Spider-man. It is a testament to the holiness of his words, like God entrusting Jesus to communicate with humanity- go forth and save ‘them’ for they know not how sorely they sin. In our cinematic fantasies we believe that we will be saved by a super-being who can walk on water and, perhaps, change water into wine, or at least live beyond reproach like an ascetic. Again, the Jesus/Oedipus narrative gets repeated here in all too convenient ways. Uncle Ben and Aunt May don’t have their own kids, so their parenting young Spidey is almost immaculate, and unsurprisingly the couple are portrayed as such. Ben appears in Spidey’s mind like divine inspiration, like God speaking directly to his son the savior. And poor May is just a weeping old woman whose heart is pure, and forgiving- worthy of adoration one supposes à la Mary. And for Hollywood’s sake, romantic love is threaded through.
Aunt May is steadfast in her convictions even when her young savior reveals that her husband’s violent death has been violently avenged. Do we feel any safer with capital punishment? Aunt May says no to our leader, our modern martyr. It is the classic Oedipus triad where the son can only come to terms with his humanity by realizing his father’s omnipotence through his demise. The (almighty, infallible) father must exist however ethereally. Consequently, he cannot exist on this planet, cannot be shown to be near humanity, if the ideology of patriarchy is to exist: We must have faith in there being one perfect man, that he is white and wise. To fulfill all of this He cannot walk amongst us, otherwise He would in some way face his own fallibility and humanity, therefore He must at some point perish, and His son must be super, if we are to all persist in the belief in the highness of man, and here I additionally cite Superman and ethereal visions of his parents, and a similar narrative in Superman Returns. In other words: our belief system is reduced to God with a big “G”, and patriarchy with a big “P”.
“Well, miss Vale”/“Ever dance with the devil in the pale moon light?”
“I always ask that of all my prey”/“I just like the sound of it”/(screams)
Resolution to this conflict arrives when Peter Parker finally heeds his Aunt’s advice: to place his ego behind the needs of other. Notably, this is just as the Sandman had done, albeit initially through criminal tides. Facing loosing his friend, Spider-man put aside his ego and asked for help. He allied himself with friends old and new to defeat his own arrogant, self-righteous, vengeful ego, which had spread and taken an even more insidious form: Venom. Spidey’s arrogance caught up with him when his enemies decided to take sides with one another. Alongside the Sandman, there’s Venom, who came to being due to the scorn of mutual arrogance and competition. To reiterate, Venom and Spidey, as well as Sandman and Spidey came to blows over money and power, too. Their egos raged over money and (power over) pussy. The two villains teamed-up and threatened Spidey’s only friend.
The real battle was resolved when Spider-man’s own consciousness was raised, the internal battle over the famous tagline about responsibility and power. Only when he sheds his mean, funky, hip black persona can he re-ally himself with friends in order to prevail, and save his city from the menace. Guess where this redemption will take place?
Crowds will sit perched on their seats for the final showdown- so action ridden is the scene. After having suffered from his own follies, isolation and arrogance, our hero learned the value of coalition building, Spider-man demonstrates the most powerful attribute accumulated from all of his great power: Forgiveness. Interestingly the internal struggle took place in a religious place of worship, where the most compelling social commentary of the film went down. In this scene our protagonist’s new archenemy enters church, and at the pulpit on bended knee, in the most ardent and heartfelt, he manner whispers this prayer: God, please kill Spider-man. Is even God against ‘our’ enemies? Isn’t the same God with them? Isn’t this the modern day Crusades.
Strengthened with the power of vengeance, Peter Parker/Spider-man breeds his own enemies, much, without much conjecture, like America’s arrogance fed Al Qaeda. Irrespective of one’s socio-religio belief system, praying for the death of another cannot sit easily.
Compassion triumphs in this flic, where even Spidey and his patriarch figure’s murderer come to peaceful terms, each finally able to see the other’s humanity through finally accepting their own. Like in real life, such arrogance and self-righteousness only succumbs to its own match. Rarely are we introspective enough to question our own beliefs and arrive at our own (in)humanity unless provoked. Yet, in Spider-man III, even the bad guys aren’t so bad if we can just see beyond our own egos. What’s more, it friendship, rather than romantic love, than conquers all.