November 3, 2012

Queer Review: Spiderman (2002)

Director: Sam Raimi
Writers: David Koepp. Based upon the Marvel Comics by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Cliff Robertson, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons

Sam Raimis' first Spiderman movie represents the perfect summer flick. It is big, bold, and comes with some rather interesting queer subtexts.

When Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is bitten by a genetically engineered spider, he becomes a superhuman with powers resembling those of an arachnid. At first, Peter attempts to use his powers for selfish ends, but when his beloved uncle Ben Parker (Cliff Robertson) is murdered, he decides (in the grand tradition of superheros everywhere) to fight for the greater good. Unfortunately, while Peter Parker is becoming Spiderman, Norman Osborn (William Dafoe) is turning into the psychotic Green Goblin and his plans do not include allowing Spiderman to continue fighting evil.

The Queering
Spiderman to me is the best example of a "pure" summer flick one could hope to find. The action sequences are big and bold and the characters larger than life. There is humor and a nicely developed straight romance. Tobey Maguire was the perfect choice to play the famous web slinger and the ending even manages to generate some legitimate pathos.

Admittedly, Spiderman is a 100% heteronormative film on the surface. Peter spends a lot of time longing over Mary Jane (Kristen Dunst) while she gets romanced by his best friend Harry Osborne (James Franco). The opening lines include "But let me assure you, this story, like any story worth telling, is all about a girl. That girl. Mary-Jane Watson. The girl I loved since before I even liked girls." Peter even taunts one of his opponents with the line, "That's a cute outfit. Did your husband give it to you?"

But once you delve beneath the surface, there are more than a few interesting subtexts swinging around. For starters, there is something more than a little queer about a guy who dresses up in spandex, running around the city of New York at night. Then there is the need for superheros, in general, to have a secret identity, much like the way queers must hide their sexuality or gender identity in the closet.

I could also put this in the context of the Isophyls - when Spiderman is nearly arrested after saving a baby from a burning building, my thoughts immediately went to Alan Turing. As the Green Goblin says to Spiderman "Well, to each his own. I chose my path, you chose the way of the hero. And they found you amusing for a while, the people of this city. But the one thing they love more than a hero is to see a hero fail, fall, die trying. In spite of everything you've done for them, eventually they will hate you. Why bother?"

In a more general sense, there is a connection between Peter Parkers' conversion to Spiderman and the onset of puberty. One scene has Peter acting like he just got caught masturbating by his Aunt May, when he had in fact been testing out his newly acquired web slinging abilities.

On the other side of the spectrum is Norman Osborne, who takes an immediate and strong liking to Peter. While their relationship can be read in the context of father and son, once Norman becomes the Green Goblin, there is a certain seduction to the way the Green Goblin attempts to convert Peter to evil. It is also possible to read the emergence of the Green Goblin personality as the result of Norman repressing his gay urges. During one attack as the Green Goblin, he yells out to the board members that had just fired him, "OUT, AM I?" Then there is the fact that Norman never considers the possibility that Peter might be in love with a girl until Harry tells Norman that Peter is in love with Mary Jane; the first female loved one of Peter that the Green Goblin attacks is Aunt May.

Worth hacking through at least a few spider webs to see.

The Rating
*** out of ****


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1 comment:

  1. I have a blog post that attacks the first line: "Like all stories, this story is about a girl."


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