The value of Spiderman films

– by Samuel Thambusamy

He came. He spun and He conquered.

Spider-man is a teenage superhero created by Stan Lee and Steve Dikto for Marvel comics. The friendly neighbourhood Spider-man made his first appearance as a comic book hero in the comic book The Amazing Spider-Man in 1967. Marvel has published several Spider-Man comic book series ever since. From its ordinary origins as a ‘teen concept’- dealing with inadequacy, rejection and lonliness – Spider-man has achieved a cultural iconic status. Spider-man has made appearances in other media as well. However, a film version of Spider-man was long overdue. Thanks to Sony Pictures, we have a film version of the Spider-man story. The Spider-Man film series, began with the blockbuster Spider-Man (2002) and continued with its sequels Spider-Man 2 (2004) and Spider-Man 3 (2007).

All the three Spider-man movies have been a phenomenal success. The movies have earned a whopping $ 2.470 billion dollars at the box office worldwide. Sam Raimi has re-told the story to contemporary audiences and the story has connected well with our generation as well. Stories have the power not only to entertain but also to excite and enrich ones imagination. Robert Johnston writes, “”Film, especially for those under 35, is the medium through which we get our primary stories, our myths, our read on reality.” An ingenious blend of teenage drama, technology sophistry, and relevant message have helped to capture the social and/or spiritual imagination of its audience worldwide.

The need for a hero

What makes Spider-man such a phenomenal success after 40 years of his creation? Perhaps, it’s simply the need for a hero – who speaks to our contemporary fears and hopes. David Lewis, writer and producer of contemporary comics, contends

“ We’re seeing a return to the spirit of heroism. We need heroes again. We want to believe in heroes. We’ll see a return to the spirit of heroism but not the actual military expression of it. Right now, we see enough of that in the news.”

It’s undoubtedly the love for a hero that has made Spider-man an enduring hero. Sam Raimi has made a “visual stamp” on our imagination through his contemporary re-telling of the comic book story.

Spider-man: Everyman’s hero

Secondly, Spiderman’s appeal is also due to his “commonness”. Despite the film’s fair share of superhero action, the story is related to aspects of contemporary working class life. We are introduced to a ordinary working superhero ( much unlike Batman who comes from a rich family and Superman who is a successful journalist) who struggles with the realities of a complex web of personal and social relationships. Peter Parker lives in small house, does the odd jobs to support himself and has to deal with demanding bosses at workplace. He is the typical “boy-next-door” who goes through the same experiences that everyone else gets to experiences one way or another. Stan Lee, the creator contends:

I wanted the character to be a very human guy, someone who makes mistakes, who worries, who gets acne, has trouble with his girlfriend, things like that. [Goodman replied,] ‘He’s a hero! He’s not an average man!’ I said, “No, we make him an average man who happens to have super powers, that’s what will make him good’.

Peter Parker strikes a chord with the audiences at the psychological level. Audiences worldwide are easily able to relate to the same growing pains of adolescence, the sudden discovery of hidden potentials and the discomfiture with the mounting responsibilities of adulthood. Peter Parker (Spider-man’s alter-ego) fights with his own fears, doubts and uncertainties before finding courage to fight for the greater good, even at the cost of letting go his dreams. In Spiderman, we meet our own daily tryst with identity, doubt, insecurity, guilt, relationships and power. Perhaps, this could explain why Spiderman so easily becomes everyman’s hero.

Spider-man: A mirror of our inner moral conflicts

Thirdly, the Spiderman films powerfully speak about “morality” within contemporary culture that suffers moral impoverishment. It makes you think about “morality” even if you are a “just-there-to-watch” kind of a guy”. Uncle Ben and Aunt are the voice of conscience within the movie. They speak to us powerfuly at various points and question both our ignorance and arrogance. Peter Parker’s Peter Parker’s personal struggle to juggle between ‘social responsibility’ and ‘ personal goals” mirrors our own struggles living in contemporary India.

Spider-man and and a host of other characters remind us that there is a battle between good and evil in every person’s heart. Spiderman’s continuing negotiation with the allure of evil mirrors our own inner conflicts and failures. The “ dark suited” Spiderman is a powerful visual metaphor of struggle with evil. The films come so close to expressing theological truths in contemporary language. The real success of Spider-man movies is its packaging of moral themes for popular consumption. In fact, the films raise it to a new level with possibilities for a transforming experience.

Spider-man: A vehicle for personal transformation

Fourthly, Spiderman’s struggle with his own vulnerabilities invites the viewer to undertake a spiritual journey at a much deeper level. Strangely, this superhero is not all about brute power, invincibility and ‘stand alone-ness’. Spiderman is about “growing up”, “moving on in life” , and finding life’s elusive meaning and purpose ‘and’ our existential struggle with the swirling tempest of the evil within. Megan Basham in her world magazine article Complex Webs contends,“ Spider-Man’s preeminence, at least in part, no doubt resides in the audience’s ability to see themselves in his adventures. As you watch the movie, you can easily make the connection and see how it applies to your situation.

Cinematic myths permeate our reality and make us engage in meaning-making, patterns forming and significance giving. It provides a transforming moral and spiritual experience. Herein lies the power of the story. Robert Johnston writes “As the culture has moved from a modern to a postmodern era, we have moved from wanting to understand truth rationally to understanding truth as it’s embedded in story”. Spiderman is more than a morality tale that conveys ethical images/messages to its worldwide audiences. Spiderman as a contemporary myth assumes greater significance for young people in the context of loss of meaning in everyday life – by Samuel Thambusamy


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