I'd like to devote a little time to the Webbed Wonder today.
In my opinion, there is no better film made about a superhero than Spider-Man 2*, directed by Sam Raimi and starring Tobey Maguire.
The reason for that is not just that the film looks good or that the cast expertly flesh out the characters, but that the film makers did something rare: they hired a talented screenwriter.
Thank God for Alvin Sargent!
Art by Philippine artist, Rain Beredo:
There are only a smattering of really good superhero films. On my short list, despite flaws, would be, Richard Donner's (w/ Richard Lester) Superman 2**, Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins***, Jon Favreau's Iron Man****, and Raimi's Spider-Man 2.
But it was Spider-Man 2, out of all those films, that really raised the bar at what could be achieved in superhero film making. Good superhero movies aren't just parades of action sequences with explosions, wrecks, and near deaths. They have to develop character histories that make you identify with the superhero beyond just ogling his tight spandex costume (nothing wrong with that!) and being awed by his super powers. When there is real depth in the character's portrayal, his dialogue, and his story a superhero film approaches palpable dramatic art instead of being only a more fleshed-out representation of a comic book (mind you, I said comic book, not graphic novel).
A good superhero movie revolves around the character's "Crisis of Identity" (COI). The reason Nolan's The Dark Knight isn't on my short list is because the film is focused on the bravura performance of Heath Ledger as the villain, the Joker. He doesn't just steal the film from Christian Bale, he puts it under his arm and runs away with it. Batman's COI is merely a second fiddler in the movie and that is one of the reasons I wasn't crazy about the film. Take Heath Ledger out of the mix and it would be a very flat movie.
Even the glib, cockily self-possessed Tony Stark (played so well by Robert Downey, Jr) who develops the suit that transforms him into Iron Man has a crisis to deal with: "My God, man, your armaments kill innocent people!"
However, it is Peter Parker/Spider-Man who deals with the most pressing crisis of identity yet explored on screen. We are allowed to enter the character's inner sanctum, his soul, and see how he can conquer the emotions that attempt to cripple him. Parker's modus operandi and Spider-Man's raison d'etre can be summed up in the motto: With great power comes great responsibility. Spidey has to contemplate how he exists in society in every gesture he makes. It can wear a young guy down.
By Spider-Man 3*****, (IMHO, a much lesser film than its predecessor) Spidey is so racked with guilt and horror about his superhero condition that he begins to morph under the influence of the alien symbiotic Venom presence. Venom seduces him, for a brief time, into believing that forgetting his motto and doing selfish, inhumane acts is a much better route to take than continually paying the piper with personal integrity and honest purpose (It looks like most of our current crop of politicians are infested with "Venom" of their own.) Venom represents our frequently selfish and self-absorbed hyper-adolescent society. 'Fuck responsibility, let's play. And let's make sure it's at everyone else's expense, too. It's a dog-eat-dog world, so chow down (please excuse the pun)!'
It is these conflicts that make Spider-Man such a fully realized and multi-dimensional superhero. (I love the Silver Surfer, who is also deeply conflicted, but unfortunately comes off as a 2D character in search of development.) Spidey has soul where other characters just have powers and might. Importantly, there is always a ray of hope connected to Spidey. It is more nuanced hope than the almost flag-bearing kind delivered by Superman, but the hope Spidey possesses is never present in Batman's dark and disturbing sphere.
Art by Jeremy Roberts:
That is why I like Spidey so much more than the stalwart DC characters. He doesn't just soar, he soars, and all the more because he suffers so visibly.
Art by Italian artist, Paolo Pantalena:
And one final take on Spidey: At one time Spider-Man morphed into a multi-limber. I happen to find multiple arms sexy for some still unknown reason. (6 arms+2 legs=8 limbs. Truly Spider-Man now.) Here is Aussie artist, Kayle Reverett's playful 6-armed Peter Parker piece: