Triumph of the nerd

The adolescent nerd in the web of identity crises: "spider-man 3"

Spider-man is back! In the third part of the cinematic saga, the superhero is confronted with three opponents at once: one "sandman" of unclear shape, a nasty alter-ego who copies all his super-spider skills, and of course his old childhood friend harry osborn, who wanted to avenge the death of his father norman osborn in part 1, for which he blames spider-man/peter parker. He already had enough to do with himself, his longing for a normal life, his changing identity crises and for his beloved "mj". So is "spider-man 3" again psychoanalysis in comic book garb and full of political subtext. Liberal mythology? No, rather more serious "caring conservatism".

Triumph of the nerd

Image: sony pictures

"You are such a nerd!" – who, if not mary jane watson ("mj") could put it better to the point? In "spider-man 2" parker’s girlfriend, who was unquestionably intellectually superior to him, had inquisitively exclaimed "you’re such a mystery!"; the dialogue sentence in the third part shows that the mystery is only half satisfactorily solved and now brings the core of the spider-man stories as well as the current overall situation in the relationship life of the two to the point. The "spider-man"-movies tell of the triumph of the nerd, omnipotence fantasies down to earth from the head of a steamed sympathetic pubescent aubenseite.

The third part begins, seemingly with a happy ending: in one of the first images of this film we see how peter parker with his beloved "mj", which he had only really conquered in the last film seconds of "spider-man 2" really conquered and prevented from marrying another fake one, lying under the starry sky and watching shooting stars. Pure romance, a bit 50s furry at first glance, but then with the hip flair of the special, the two are lying on a freshly thrown spider web – it does have its charming sides when you are a superhero.

Peter benjamin parker, aka spider-man, has seemingly arrived on his journey from childhood to adulthood. "City is safe" sums up the good boy from the neighborhood, happy to have become a star of the masses and a media phenomenon, and yet not for a second aiming at something higher, at breaking out of the allotment garden of his existence. He has well reconciled his dual lives – nice little burger nerd and superhero – and his private life is also in order. Now he’s aiming for the "spiebergluck", thinking about marriage, graduation and a permanent job at a tabloid "daily buggle". Mary jane is in a different mood, she wants to become a star as an actress, attaches importance to good press and lets bad reviews spoil more than her day.

At the beginning the end: idyll

What actually comes after the arrival in paradise, after the happy ending?? This core question of all sequels, which then answer it at least with a delay of happiness, also forms a center of "spider-man 3". Thankfully, the threat to the opening idyll is not long in coming: in a wonderful opening image, everything is already laid out: there mj plays her first leading role in a broadway musical. A glamorous star strides down the stairs of a show, dressed in a feminine robe in front of a dark background, self-confidently playing with the knowledge that she is the projection surface – of the audience, of the daydreams of her admirers. In the audience, at least two of them: in the front row sits her boyfriend peter parker, open-mouthed, parroting every sentence of dialogue. In a box further up harry osborn (james franco), rich kid, spoiled kid at the same time, the fatherless boy whose look of mj, whom he once adored but was talked out of by his father’s – "from too small proportions" prince william and kate middleton are having a dig at peter parker, which darkens harry’s dusty face even more.

Harry continues to thirst for revenge for the death of his father norman, of whose villainous role in the first part he knew nothing. They are soon joined by two more super-villains: there’s photojournalist eddie brock (topher grace), professionally peter’s fiercest competitor, who, after being exposed as a phony, falls for the black-eyed monster "venom" peter’s archenemy, who perfectly copies spider-man’s superhuman abilities and wants to take revenge on peter. And there is flint marko, an escaped convict, who by unfortunate coincidence turns into "sandman" (thomas haden church), a mutation that changes its face from man and sand and sometimes becomes a sandstorm – and yet is actually, because a loving family man, a monster with a good heart, "i am not a bad man, but i had bad luck." king kong and "hulk" resonate in this amorphous mass, from which only (and only) will and movement make a body. Peter, mirroring harry’s hatred, wants to take revenge on marko, who once killed his uncle ben…

Triumph of the nerd

Picture: sony pictures

The whole thing is set in the present and – no internet, but computers, cell phones, but phones in the hallway and apartment as a dingy steinbeck-arthur miller stage – metaphorically at the same time on the nostalgic foil of the late 50s, when the comic was created, in the time of rough broadway dreams and little people, kazanschem "on the waterfront"-spate proletarianism and early rebellion. Parker, of course, is not a rebel, not even with a cause.

Pubertal crisis: normalo turned sinister in the body

But now it’s high time to go back two or three steps. For "spider-man 3" is, and one must probably call this a disadvantage, without knowledge of the first two "spider-man"-parts to be understood only very incompletely.

"Spider-man" the film as well as the marvel comic on which it is based, created in the early 60s, are about the act of puberty. Perhaps this is what makes the pop myth invented by stan lee and steve ditko so charming: the basic romantic motif of a normal person who has become uncanny in his body, ultimately weak and held in low esteem by his environment, and who leads a double existence as a superhero. Which, although it resembles the "superman", "batman" "blade", "wonder-woman" and many other comic heroes, but unlike them, peter parker, who mutates into a spider-man, is still a high school student at the beginning. This makes identity conflict, lovesickness, fantasies of omnipotence and other things immediately more understandable and believable than if they were adults.

It is one of the rough merits of sam raimi’s so far three-part "spider-man"-filming, that it ames nothing at the beginning: no prior knowledge, no familiarity with the comics or the characters. On the contrary, the first film characterizes its main character, the pubescent orphan peter parker with pimples, horn-rimmed glasses and a fear of girls, for long stretches and tells how this small-burger boredom-sucker eventually becomes the superhero spider-man, a spider-man in the service of mankind. This is suspenseful and sam raimi, who previously made his way through a number of horror b-movies and thrillers ("a simple plan") has become a hollywood secret and a favorite of intellectuals, it is exactly the right one to be made from "spider-man" over the well entertaining "popcornmovie" to make more, the abysmal and dark sides of his story, and thus then yet to emphasize the adult in it.

In spider-man, the melancholy of a batman, the feeling of one’s own insignificance, mixes with the always unconcealed joyful surprise at one’s own abilities. Tobey maguire, before his first "spider-man"-appearance in film chamber plays like ang lee’s "the ice storm" – where he was already a marvel comics-reading youngster – and curtis hanson’s "wonder boys" maguire, who came to prominence before his first spider-man via the entertaining wonder boys, seems ideally suited for the role: basically boyish and mischievous, yet with a constantly present serious streak, his performance expresses all the facets that spider-man/parker must have. Wonderful also kirsten dunst in her role as the equally beautiful as very worldly red-haired neighbor girl mj, peter’s rough love, whose fulfillment he still denied himself – for now.

Image: sony pictures

The whole layout of the first film made it clear that this was just the prelude to several spider-man sequels. It was often noticeable that the main purpose of certain scenes was to set up motifs, to prepare something that would only unfold in the next film or the one after that. Thus, part 1 sometimes seemed like a permanent postponement, a promise that was not (yet) followed by its fulfillment. "Spider-man" was, for all that it was funny, entertaining and in some moments inspiring, a film that for long stretches was not quite with itself, that instead of focusing on the here and now, concentrated on what was yet to come.

Identity crisis: "i am spider-man no more"

In the second part spider-man/parker proved that he is the most everyday hero among superheroes. As parker, he tried to live a normal life as a student who earns his money as a pizza driver – and sometimes swings through the canyons of new york as spider-man to get the pizza to the customer in time. He had to struggle with the same problems as his fans: flexible working hours, bosses who constantly put prere on him, financial problems, ice-cold bankers, lack of job protection, unyielding teachers and landlords, fake friends and a lover who is interested in someone else – one of us… Spiderman has grown up, but he is still the good boy who has lunch at aunt may’s on sundays. Aunt may actress rosemary harris may be familiar in this country from the tv series "the long trek", but she also looks a bit like mother walton from the "walton’s", was wiederum peters john-boy-wirkung verstarkt.

But peter was under stress, because his heroic role kept getting in the way of his normal, already exhausting day of work and study. He has to save children and hunt criminals – so he can’t live like everyone else. Spider-man also had to live with a multiple lie. The worst: he wanted to give himself to his beloved m.J. Not reveal – continuation of the puberty crisis under new conditions. This motif of the superhero with an identity crisis and a secret dual nature is also familiar from batman. In this case, the inner dilemma went so far that spider-man even gave up being a hero in order to be able to live normally again. "I am spider-man no more." this came to an end quickly, when a wicked villain entered the scene. At first, parker was not in control of his abilities – he wanted to be a hero again, but he couldn’t. Only when his dream woman was endangered, this awakened again the most hidden forces.

Passionately increased "spider-man 2" to a rough finale. For a while the film seemed like a teen comedy, a play for little boys, then the images fall in love with the ground of banality. Pure spectacle, action and romance, almost atoned for with intermittent stand-offs. On the one hand, the film tells its story straight and cool, on the other hand, it continues unfinished story lines and in some respects already refers to the third part: cinema as a never-ending story. For even the opening credits, with danny elfman’s excellent music and his rapid comic-strip reconstruction of events to date, show: every spider-man movie weaves primarily on the biography of its superhero as an endless coming-of-age story. While parker/spider-man was allowed to kiss mj in the first part (but he had to look), he was now allowed to do much more: he revealed his true self to her.

Narcissistic crisis: vanity, arrogance, hubris

Konsequent greift regisseur sam raimi die motive dieser ersten beiden "spider-man"-now, divide them up, finish the unfinished business, and take them down new paths: for the greatest threat to the hero lies not in superficial enemies, but once again in himself. "Spider-man" is psychoanalysis in comic book garb, a superhero film that tells of the drama of the gifted child as well as of the suffering of average existence, of shyness as well as of the difficulty of accepting oneself. This time the narcissistic crisis is the center of attention. While parker’s identity problems in the second part were based on excessive demands, and on the refusal to engage with oneself, and to derive from special talents – in good protestant fashion – a mandate, a special obligation, the second part revolves more around the problem of inability "spider-man 3" rather revolves around the problem of the inability to engage with others. Parker’s new problem is vanity, arrogance, hubris – visualized by a malignant black substance, a symbiont and parasite that – literally – falls from the sky and becomes his own skin, reinforcing the characteristics of its host, especially aggression. Tobey maguire plays these passages with visible pleasure – here he, who has also become rounder and more self-satisfied, seems even more at home with himself than before.

Triumph of the nerd

Image: sony pictures

If spider-man now a few times with pleasure in being bose and in the tight dark rubber fetish outfit, with hair quiff in the forehead – hitler? – the hero who hops over the skyscrapers, becomes an amusing ass, says such beautiful sentences as: "you want forgiveness? Get religion!", and is no longer just the good old boy next door, then one is happy to see this, because here he is living out very everyday fantasies of omnipotence. Besides, this black spider-man is only an arrogant snob, but not really evil. In this respect, one did not like the talk of "the dark side of the hero" also no longer hear. Doesn’t everyone have their dark side? And so did the superhero. And if we look at the "bad" things he does, the little vulgarities and cynicisms and peter parker’s alleged "abyss" the game is, at best, as deep as a tumpel and corresponds to a normal working day for batman. Thus remains the "dark side" eher relativ und behauptet und spider-man auch hier immer ein harmloser spiebburger.

By the way, women are to blame for everything: the evil qualities in spider-man are awakened by the rejection of the lover, and the evil qualities in the goblin are awakened as well. Then, however, this bose indirectly makes its opponent stronger.

Bildungsroman uber die "importance of beeing earnest"

What is interesting about the content of all these stories is what they have in common: the revenge theme and the question of how one can lose oneself and find one’s way back to oneself. This is matched by the parentlessness, especially fatherlessness, of all the main characters – a stark contrast to many superheroes, if only we remember the almost manic father-obsession of batman and superman. Parker, on the other hand, is an orphan; mj doesn’t seem to have any relatives at all, except when she talks about them – and then the father is the one who never trusted her with her acting career. Harry is obsessed with his father, but with his false appearance and in the worst possible sense.

For a blockbuster "spider-man 3" astonishingly open and astonishingly socio-critical in its statement: "revenge turns us into something ugly"/"revenge turns us into something hateful" as it is once said – this is actually no longer a subtext, but a clear political statement, openly munted to the political-social conditions in bush country.

All in all, however, this bildungsroman about the "importance of beeing earnest" a bit too well-behaved and well-intentioned and far too unironic to have any subversive potential. There’s no need to talk about liberal mythology here – not everything that grins is neoliberal – but rather about matter-of-fact, caring conservatism. "I do my homework" says boyscout peter parker early on, and it then boils down to good old, ancient american insight and ideology: "i guess, one man can make a difference." not wrong, also on bush munzt, but nevertheless somewhat dunn, if this is to be the last word.

Triumph of the nerd

Image: sony pictures

And the cynicism: "you want forgiveness? Get religion!" is taken away by the fact that spider-man then goes to church at the moment of the worst crisis. His return to the good side of power is then marked by tinkling church bells and rain on them, thus a kind of baptism, a rebirth, saul becomes paul, christian metaphors thus, increased to the showdown final chord: "i forgive you".

Conservative are the sayings of the aunt, who actually already had to get a heart attack in part 2, the engagement ring that parker got from the aunt and which he still thinks of in the worst fight rather than his own safety. Conservative, after all, is the aforementioned nostalgia for the 1950s, but above all it is the fact that ethnic diversity and race are largely ignored. Almost all of them are female, there are few blacks and only on the fringes, no asians.

Not only boy cinema, but also something for girls

Stylistically "spider-man 3" the film is made as sovereign as his two actors, although the perfection of the computer tricks makes the corresponding scenes more corporeal and "perfect", less flat than in the first two parts, but therefore also less comic-like. The good: raimi wastes no time, in 2 as 3, although both films need traceable run-up: the film is very fast, varied and therein exceedingly economically staged. Sometimes you would like to know why director raimi likes to grind the outfit of his hero? Sometimes everything seems a bit overloaded, almost too much seems to be packed into this film. This is where some action scenes suffer the most: the rules of combat remain unclear and if the viewer doesn’t know why who is fighting with what weapons, a certain distance and puzzlement creeps in.

Luckily there is also mj: kirsten dunst is once again the best in the ensemble, she provides emotion and fills the nostalgic late-50s foil of the story with actuality and life: when mj comes down stairs at the beginning of her stage show, when she dances twist in the kitchen, you understand the phenomenal success of the "spider-man"-movies: intelligent entertainment they are, not only boy cinema, but also something for girls.

In the end, however, the experience remains that even if you like spider-man, you can’t really think of much about it, that these are films that you quickly forget, that don’t resonate with you, that don’t really move you.