Sunday, June 17, 2007

Spiderman 3

I have also put this review on and Escape Pod.

I saw Spiderman 3 recently and enjoyed it greatly for the special effects and for the new bad guys it introduces.

Most of all I empathised with and cheered for Thomas Haden Church's Sandman. His creation scene was sad and poignant: a poor man battling so much bad luck. He couldn't keep his family together and now cannot even keep himself together! I found Sandman's creation scene emotionally resonant with the sand blown scene in Altered States - which I imagined to be an allegory for two people who loved each other but were growing apart so slowly they didn't notice it any more.

An aspect of the first and second Spiderman movies that I most enjoyed was the emotional wrangling Peter Parker went through with his love for MJ. He loves her, but he feels as though he should reject that love, because he cannot protect her from the evil in his life. Ironically, he has brought the evil into his own life by choosing to "fight crime", to be a hero.

By implication, he is choosing the life of a hero over the life of a lover, a partner.

Why does he make this choice? What can make Spiderman reject the love of a good woman? Does he find the draw of being a hero, of having power and glory to be greater than the joy and satisfaction of having a partner? I won't mention the sex. Or does the emotional and moral imperative to help people form an irresistible urge that draws him to the inevitable conclusion that since he can't both help people and have a lover whom he can protect, helping people is what must win out.

I think the first and third movies present different answers to this question. In the first movie I felt that Peter Parker was irresistibly drawn to helping people. But in the third movie, he was after the glory! He fights so hard to make sure Spiderman gets good news paper coverage. Sure, he was under the influence of the black gunk - but it just exaggerates what is already there, so Peter loves the power and glory too.

Escape Pod has a very thoughtful review of Spiderman 3. It questions how easily Peter Parker rids himself of evil. He can strip off the black gunk and is immediately absolved of the evil he has committed (at least in the eyes of the audience). "We always have a choice", Peter says, yet in the words of the reviewer Jonathon Sullivan, Peter Parker paid the smallest price for his own evil.

The problem, Sullivan says, is that true evil comes from humans, not from external objects like black gunk from the sky. By relegating the source of Peter Parker's evil actions to the black gunk, we don't get to examine the true source of evil - the dark thoughts and desires in our hearts.

I find this to be a valid and important point. I was thrilled when Spidey managed to wipe the gunk off himself and "gong it to death", and I enjoyed the resolution he found with Sandman at the end.

However, as I was walking out I wondered "how many people died in the scenes they portrayed?" The movie showed lots of buildings and property getting destroyed - but surely all that damage would have taken quite a few people out as well. The aspect of "Collateral Damage" wasn't addressed - did Peter Parker have nightmares about the innocents who died while he was wearing the black suit? Perhaps this is common enough for all superheroes (or police, or soldiers..): in trying to do good deeds, sometimes innocent people get hurt.

Something I really wanted from Spiderman 3 was a bit more acknowledgment that tearing off the black suit doesn't mean Spiderman has torn all evil thoughts from his heart. It just means they aren't being amplified anymore. Some people will say that was reflected by his statement that "we always have a choice" - the choice to follow through with our dark desires or not. That is true, but I still wanted something more: something I see in shows like Law & Order. That final look on the face of the main character, a lawyer, cop, DA, coffee boy etc: thoughtful but uncomfortable. They are thinking: "something bad has happened, unavoidable, necessary perhaps, but bad - and it can never be taken back.. I hope I can live with myself."

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