With a blockbuster-sized budget and the reliable hand of Sam Raimi at the helm of the first live action adaptation of Marvel’s flagship character, Spider-Man was expected to be a success from the very beginning. Despite its accomplishments, the film still had to deal with the now-cliché messages that are integral of the comic books. Like many movies, Spider-Man had to deal with problem messages that result as fallout of the cliché.
The cliché message in the film has become a cliché almost in and of itself. “With great power comes great responsibility” have become more than just the wise words of Uncle Ben; the phrase has become a message that is synonymous with superhero movies and has been thoroughly explored in many other genres as well. ‘A protagonist has to deal with the expectations and responsibilities of being a figure of power’ is a synopsis that we have seen all too often, yet Spider-Man approaches the challenge that shows us that you can show an old dog new tricks. (See what I did there?)
In “Everything’s an Argument,” identifying the target audience is one of the most important elements when presenting an argument. So, a key factor in determining whether or not the movie succeeded in overcoming the problem messages is identifying that audience. For a normal superhero movie, this would be males anywhere from 5-year-olds who love superheroes or 35-year-olds that used to read the comics. For a movie with this advertising budget, however, the target audience was more generalized but with a strong emphasis on younger kids.
I believe that the “responsibility” cliché is very important for young viewers and was used well in the film. The whole reason that Stan Lee created Spider Man in the first place was so that young readers could relate more closely to a superhero. This was Tobey Maguire’s first blockbuster movie, so the “essence of the character” had not yet been established by the audience, as suggested in Giannetti’s “Understanding Movies.” This ethos-driven help allowed Maguire to create a real, fresh character that the audience could admire. In the movie as well as the comics, Peter Parker is a teenage boy who deals with the same issues that many young Americans deal with. Responsibility is a trait that we value as Americans, and wish for our children to value. Because kids can relate so closely to Parker, however, this can also cause problems involving other messages.
A major problem message in the movie is stems from the responsibility aspect. When Peter Parker first acquires his superpowers, he uses them only for himself. He tries to make money by wrestling and doesn’t use them for the benefit of others, which leads to the death of his uncle. This message says, “As long as we haven’t messed up yet, we can do whatever we want.” This isn’t what young people should be hearing, especially when they are supposed to be utilizing logos to prepare themselves to work hard for a career. This problem message brings a sense of reality to yet another cliché, “it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.”
The other and more important problem message implied in the movie is the idea that “revenge is an acceptable value.” Parker is angered by the murder of his uncle, a pathos-driven desire, which is the primary reason he hunts down the killer and decides to become Spider Man. Should the primary catalyst for our admirable behavior be bloodthirsty revenge? Surely we don’t want kids to think that if they are trespassed against, they should hit back even harder.
These negative messages are present in the film, but the primary cliché overpowers them. Peter Parker is a wonderfully heroic young man that people of all ages can admire. Although our mistakes may not be as serious as the mishap with his uncle, he shows us that anger and a thirst for vengeance can be quenched with justice and integrity.