My head is killing me, I’ve had a muscle spasm in my shoulder that makes turning my head or lifting my arm into one of the damned Labors of Hercules for two days now, and I’ve pretty much hit the saturation point on my ability to tolerate political idiocy for the immediate future.
So let’s talk about the original Spider-Man film trilogy.
Sam Raimi doesn’t understand Spider-Man. That’s the title of the piece, after all, even if it’s not true. Not entirely true, at any rate.
His Spider-Man films tend to be pretty highly rated amongst geek film geeks, but they benefit from the same sort of reverence accorded to Tolkien; they were among the first of what has become a tidal wave of superhero movies.
But he doesn’t understand Spider-Man. Not fully.
Because to understand the hero, you have to understand his villains. And that is where Raimi utterly missed the mark.
“With great power comes great responsibility” is the core of the character, the phrase that defines Spider-Man. But it also defines his opposition in their refusal to accept it.
Peter Parker finds himself gifted with enormous power, and uses it for personal gain, until his negligence and spitefulness costs him the life of his uncle and surrogate father Ben. He then dedicates his life to helping others, even when the people are turned against him.
His villains, the counterpoint to his character, are all failed Spider-Men. They’ve come into power through accidents or effort, and without exception have turned aside from the needs of their fellow man and instead focused on satisfying their own desires.
Raimi missed the mark there badly, because with only one exception, his villains are all tragic figures. More than that, however, is that he removes responsibility from the equation entirely. His version leaves them without agency, without choice, which is the purpose they serve in the Spider-Man mythos to begin with; underlining the fact that many, perhaps most people who are given power will not use it for good. Peter Parker himself does not, after all, until confronted with the consequences of his actions.
To make things even worse, in the end, Raimi’s villains often choose to do the right thing. It may make them more sympathetic, but again, it undermines the notion of Spider-Man to begin with. In removing their agency, he removes responsibility, and in returning it only to grant them redemption, he removes the exceptionality of Peter Parker.
Raimi renders the extraordinary merely ordinary, and takes the hero out of superhero.