A brief look at the conflict of the superhero identity.
New York, with its buildings hemmed with threads of webbing, hinges so slightly on the fringe betwixt the real world and your imagination, it almost seems impossibly possible that you might literally touch it. Better yet, you may be bitten by a genetically mutated spider, and although a realist would inform you that you’re unlikely to turn into a form of superhero, something, a thought of perchance in the back of your mind supposes that the ridiculous fantasy might perhaps come true regardless – especially for those who wholeheartedly believe in the philosophy of Spider-Man.
As a child, I semi-believed that the fantasy of Spider-man was real – as much belief as a kid of 8 years would permit to himself. I could not fly like Superman or Batman; I am neither a son of Krypton nor a multi-billionaire philanthropist, the same goes for Iron Man. However, being bitten by a spider is irrelevant to your status. Therefore, I, a growing boy, a soon to be teenage boy, might develop superpowers through some freak accident. I was definitely willing to convince myself that this was plausible. Regardless of truth, I certainly could pretend. And then one Christmas I opened a present; a Spider-Man web-shooter. It shot foam straight across the room, in the same fashion Peter does when he discovers his powers; by performing the iconic two pronged, heavy metal finger motion, foam-webbing would come flying out the contraption, thrusting across the room and only once up on the ceiling. The blueish webbing stayed in my home for years, until I eventually moved house; I would bet it’s still there right now. In reality, Spider-Man was the only superhero a small kid could truly pretend to be. His abilities were borderline physically possible, and then they became my abilities too.
When I became a teenager, and then an adult, I didn’t consider Spider-man much. A few years ago, perhaps in 2015 (age 19-ish), a strange itch began to form in my mind; an inescapable hum of misunderstood potential. So, I decided to reconsider my first impressions. After nearly 10 years of never once thinking of the web-swinger’s sequel, I found myself in a haze. I felt like I was inspecting my younger self under a magnifying glass – “what was wrong with you? To have so blindly missed so much”. It seems the case is: the lens in which you use to store your memories is greatly important indeed. The size of a lens completely changes the way an image comes to be understood; it determines the scope of what you can capture from a particular point of view.
The eyes of an 8 year old child cannot develop with clarity the significance of Spider-man 2, as strange as that may sound. It took me 18 years to seriously develop enough ability to capture, in my mind, the truth within the story – both as a sequel and an original film – that the world needs more from you than what you are willing to give to yourself, and that both Spider-Man and Doc Ock are willing to fight for this truth. This is the essential conflict of the superhero lifestyle; the genre of superhero films, at their core, tend to tell a heightened, hyperbolic parable of human problems. And Spider-Man 2 does this the best.
In the sequel, this ‘Webbed York’ reality reaches a new state of pensiveness – it’s restructuring the fun of realism into a carefully constructed epiphany; Peter’s inescapable responsibility and promise to prioritise other people over himself is the biggest conflict to his need to live a life beyond a super-heroic slave.
In his eagerness and arrogance to save the world, Rosalie Octavious saw her husband ignite an untested artificial sun to a small public crowd. Quickly, the sun began to consume everything. She cautioned him with fear, yet he persisted without consideration, insisting that stopping the experiment now world deny the world of potential infinite energy. Consequently, the sun’s consumption killed her and destroyed his mental dominance over the artificial tentacles designed to manage the sun’s energy. After this, his motivation changes as Doc Ock dominates his consciousness. A desire to create meaning in his wife’s death by re-attempting his failed experiment drives his villainy. Although the central plot revolves around getting tridium to recreate the artificial power, it is important to remember that at its core, the story revolves around dysfunctional relationships with power itself. Although Doc Ock’s end goal is quite well-meaning, the real world consequences are disastrous. Doc Ock is the representation of power without humanity, an intelligent mechanism that is incapable of recognising the repercussions of great power; essentially the opposite of Spider-Man, it has great power with no sense of responsibility.
Spidey and Ock’s battle is to find harmony within their power, a recognition of one’s hubris and of one’s need to remain human, each one being a result of the corruption of artificial abstraction or of social excommunication. Ultimately, each foe is engaged in a quest for internal peace with one’s purpose in life and their sense of duty to do something bigger than themselves. If the first Spider-Man film is about Peter Parker discovering his great power, then Spider-Man 2 is where he realises his great responsibility. As Peter battles with Doc Ock’s corruption in the hopes that this may return him to the path of good, both must reach a point of fulfilling the desires of their humanity.
On the spectrum of bad and evil, the curse of power penetrates Peter and Octavious’ lives to varying yet exemplarily similar ways. As mentioned, Mrs. Octavious dies; an outcome of Octavious’ conquest for power. And Peter loses his love too, Mary Jane. Unlike Doc Ock’s selfishness, it’s selflessness that is Peter’s flaw. To be more specific, his flaw is that his selflessness does not reach the right people. It’s easy, as an audience, to be the omniscient observer of Peter’s story; it is a tragic irony that Mary Jane cannot. In this mini sub-narrative, it seems obvious that Octavious and Peter would benefit from empathising with their loved ones, to save them and themselves from self-destructive behaviour, regardless of how well intentioned their behaviours might be.
Herein Spider-man 2, Raimi repurposes the original’s realism into a tragedy of how an idealistic fantasy may become trapped in a new truth, our reality.
Apologies for the mini-depression but it’s important to think seriously about how things touch our lives in important ways. I was strongly affected by Spider-Man as a child. I played Spider-Man 2 on the Playstation 2 for hours at a time, only swinging around the city. But as an adult I learned the harsh realities what being a superhero entails – or on a more relatable note, what being a person with responsibilities entails. It’s that age old irony of the child wishing to be free like the adult and the adult wishing to be free like a child, how “youth is wasted on the youthful” – a fable-like moral that addresses the problems of perspective and expectation.
We fail to see how our intentions appear to in the eyes of others; that Peter ignores Mary Jane by becoming consumed by Spider-Man; and that Doc Ock neglects to see that he is consumed by a guilt derived from good intention. Had these characters understood how others see them, what expectations were set for them by others, there wouldn’t be such a consumption of their human selves; they might have survived to be the hero befitting their capabilities, and not the heroes they think they are supposed to sacrifice themselves to be. If there’s one thing to take away from the fable of Spider-Man 2, it’s this: allow yourself to make the priorities you want to make – give yourself the freedom to live, for you have more than likely earned it from all the positive efforts you have made for the lives of others.
I hope that you have enjoyed reading this, as I have enjoyed writing it. Feel free to let me know what you thought of this piece; I’m thinking of developing it into a longer, more in depth discussion – to be published here – and I’d love to hear what you think about it.
As always, if you wish, you can fight me on Twitter @JoeFilmJourno.
Have a great day.