The Spider-Man franchise recently received a refreshing reboot in “The Amazing Spider-Man,” the newest take on the super-hero’s mythology. Although the previous trilogy that gave Spider-Man a cinematic depiction ended less than a decade ago, Marc Webb’s new interpretation seeks to provide a more detailed and character-driven origin story that stays truer to the comic books. In addition to being a far superior film to Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man,” released in 2002, the film’s thematic choices make it a notable contribution to any genre. Although not always obvious, the “The Amazing Spider-Man” contains subversive ideas too important to ignore. Spoilers follow.
The central characters of the movie are Peter Parker, a teenager who has been raised by his aunt and uncle since the disappearance of his parents, and Dr. Curtis Connors, a brilliant one-armed geneticist. Their alter egos (Spider-Man and the Lizard) seem to possess the typical Good vs. Evil dualism of a super-hero film. However, the relationship between these two characters great contrast to the hero/villain relationships of similar recent films. Unlike Bane and Batman or Loki and the Avengers, Peter and Connors are fundamentally similar characters. They are driven, somewhat reckless, generally moral people, who are motivated by scientific pursuit of truth and progress.
The differences in their superhuman identities can be reduced to circumstance. Peter gains his abilities attempting to discover information about the scientific research conducted by his father. Wandering into a lab, he is bitten by a genetically modified spider. As a result, he gains spider-like abilities. Connors gains his powers by injecting himself with a serum that is intended to give humans regenerative abilities. The serum proves to be severely flawed as he is quickly transformed into a massive lizard-like monster.
Both of these origins are unintentionally self-inflicted and both are related to the work of Peter’s father. If anything, Connors’ origin is more benevolent, as he is trying to keep one of his superiors from testing the serum on innocents. It is only by chance that Peter ends up with controllable abilities while Connors loses his mind in addition to his body.
Toward the end of the movie, a previously skeptical character tells Peter that the city does indeed need Spider-Man. But why? All Peter really does is undo the terror that he himself created. It was only by his efforts that Connors was able to create the serum at all. His truly heroic and important acts throughout the movie are necessary only because of his own actions. Why then is this story important and insightful? What insight can be gained through this narrative? The core of the film’s theme lies in a key similarity between the two characters. They are both damaged individuals. Peter never really recovered from the trauma of his parents’ disappearance. Connors is highly affected and motivated by the absence of his arm. All of their aforementioned traits and actions are in some way connected to those two voids. Peter completes his being by becoming Spider-Man, filling his existential gap with his superhuman persona. But a hero needs something to save.
The city doesn’t truly need Spider-Man until he has a worthy adversary. Peter doesn’t consciously intend to create a monster to do battle with. His quest to complete himself naturally opens the door to a world that actually needs Spider-Man.
The Lizard, Connors’ failed attempt to complete his own being, is thus existentially conjoined with the existence of Spider-Man. “The Amazing Spider-Man” is a super-hero film not afraid to depict the evil within good and the good within evil. We will always be driven to alleviate our brokenness through our pursuits and creations. Stories like this remind us that these endeavors come with a price. We can never afford to forget that a savior can only complete itself by opening the door to the existence of a devil.
Thomas Millary, Contributing Writer