The Cinematic Endurance of Spider-Man

Given the influx of superhero movies over the last two decades, it’s easy to see how our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man can get lost in the shuffle. Not to mention the character has been rebooted at a faster rate than any other superhero in history (three separate series in under two decades). So what makes him so special? After all, this is just a kid from Queens, New York. To understand the character’s enduring traits, we need to look back at the character’s comic roots before touching on the cinematic legacy.

Peter Parker is a geek from a lower-class family in New York City. He’s a quality student, never breaks the rules, and is the definition of awkward. How modern movies adopted this trait of adorkable (adorable + dorky) protagonists, characters like Parker practically invented the trope. But most importantly, even as people push him around or degrade him, Parker cares about people. That’s not always easy to do when the world constantly barrages you with inconvenient circumstances.

Naturally, when a radioactive spider imbues young Parker with confidence and untold power, who can blame him for wanting to treat himself to some easy money in a wrestling competition?

Even with a great power thrust upon him, Peter Parker is not a star pupil or reliable friend. Through both faults of his own and the new responsibility he finds himself wrapped up in, time management is far from Parker’s strong suit. What is referred to as “Parker luck” in the character’s broad history, is
essentially another way of looking at Murphy’s law. Anything that can go wrong for Peter Parker/Spider-Man will go wrong. And boy, do things ever go wrong for the kid.

After trying out his newfound powers for personal gain, Parker’s selfishness inadvertently leads to his uncle getting gunned down in the streets of New York. Sometimes the most important lessons are the hardest ones to learn. We all get knocked down. It’s how we react in these situations that shows us who we really are. Instead of seeking vengeance, the character follows one simple mantra: with great power, comes great responsibility.

Perhaps no movie moment in Spider-Man history understands the mantra better than the ending of Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man. After stopping the Green Goblin but failing to save the man behind the mask, his surrogate father Norman Osborn, Parker realizes the people in his life will always be in harm’s way. The power and responsibility are his gift, his curse. Parker takes it upon himself to stay away from the people he cares about, owning up to his newfound responsibility. He cuts out ordinary relationships in an attempt to keep people safe, including the most significant relationship he’ll ever have with the love of his life, Mary Jane-Watson.

Lo and behold, in true Parker fashion, he still has to learn from his own
mistakes. In “Spider-Man 2” the film upends the original film’s ending by putting Peter in the same position to have an avenue of happiness, only to reject it to protect the people he cares about; i.e, Mary Jane. But a real relationship between two people is about communicating and understanding. It’s about facing obstacles together as one whole. MJ lovingly confronts Parker, asking, “Isn’t it time someone saved your life?” embracing the gifted and cursed identity of our friendly neighborhood hero.

That is love and that is the beating heart of the character’s evolution onscreen. Love, platonic and romantic, between the people Spider-Man comes across is what drives the character.

It’s why any number of reboots will always find some inkling of success. Whether the character is fighting ninjas from the 1970’s (don’t ask), retelling a darker and grittier origin, or joining alongside Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, it’s the empathy of Peter Parker that draws people to them character.

In a world with gods, monsters, and billionaire-play-boy-philanthropists, Spider-Man is the every-man. His struggles aren’t world-ending. The lessons he learns aren’t inherently about saving the universe, stopping city-wide destruction, or swinging alongside other superheroes.

All of these things can take place in a Spider-Man story, but the core of them revolves around the identity of a lower-working class kid from Queens, New York and what it means to be responsible. Responsibility is helping your fellow citizens. It’s doing good not because there’s a reward in it, but because it’s the right thing to do. More often than not, doing the right thing doesn’t lead to any semblance of immediate understanding. Doing good is its own reward, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

So why does Spider-Man endure? Because he’s the most human superhero of them all.

Obviously not in terms of powers but rather in his stories and the purpose behind them. He fails, he learns, he goes on to fight the good fight. That fight doesn’t always involve caped goblins or mind-swapping mad scientists. The good fight is in living, picking yourself up to do the right thing even when it’s least convenient for you.

Spider-Man stands the test of time because he is one of us, flaws and all. That is a hero and one worth celebrating.

Originally published in La Cima‘s 2017 Summer Magazine

“War for the Planet of the Apes” Challenges Fundamental Notions of Humanity

War for the Planet of the Apes is a straight up fantastic movie. It’s a bold and daring film for any movie, let alone as a conclusion to a trilogy. Battles are present in the film but only to culminate as bookends for the story. It undercuts expectations with the character conflict scaled down to a Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now inspired tale, where Caesar’s is forced to confront his own humanity – for lack of a better word. The titular War is not as bombastic as I personally expected, only for the film to reveal the thematic conflict involving the soul of the planet.Continue reading ““War for the Planet of the Apes” Challenges Fundamental Notions of Humanity”

Darkness Before the Dawn in “The Dark Knight”

Batman Begins is a Batman story through and through, but The Dark Knight is a Joker story about testing the ideals presented in Nolan’s first entry.

The Joker might be an over saturated movie villain due to Hot Topic and aggressive fetishization of his villainy, but guys, he’s really fucking evil. I mean, he’s constantly tossed into Best Villain lists but this one is well deserved. The Joker isn’t a man. He’s an uncontrollable vortex of chaos and destruction. A living embodiment of pure anarchy bringing down the established order Batman and Gotham PD are barely scrounging together in their fight against the mob.

None of that matters to the Joker. He only cares about Batman. He only exists because of Batman. He wins by Batman beating him. Every punch thrown, every second Bruce puts on the cape and cowl, The Joker inches him further into his labyrinth of insanity. He exists because Batman needs his other half. A living nightmare created by Bruce’s crusade against crime.

It’s a whirling ballet of a performance and characterization. Nolan and the late Heath Ledger bring to life a monster unlike anything cinema had ever seen, and likely will never see again.

And even in the face of the unhinged clown prince of terror, Nolan has crafted an optimistic story.

Every move the Joker makes against Batman, and by proxy the people of Gotham, the city enters a downward spiral. Gordon pulls a gun on Batman (why doesn’t anybody ever mention this moment, like, holy shit??). Bruce loses what he perceives as his avenue to personal happiness. Gotham’s white knight falls further than anyone. But the citizens of Gotham endure.

Symbols can be torn down, Monsters may live among us, but unified humanity can triumph even in the face of seemingly unstoppable horrors.

Yeah, THE DARK KNIGHT is still a masterpiece.

More thoughts at AE.

Looking Back and Boldly Going Through 2017


Art is strange. It makes people feel emotions that and there’s no real way to prepare for immediate gut reactions. So we talk about it as a community because we want to understand. Art is subjective. Art is not universal. Art is worth talking about. That’s what I’m doing here.

Film criticism is weird. There’s a misconception about criticism revolving around pretentious “holier-than-thou” attitudes in a fight to prove who is right and who is wrong. That is, of course, bullshit. What it really boils down to is the discussion. A love of movies. Whether it’s on twitter, a personal blog post or for website I’m contributing to, I love to participate in these discussions any way I can. I’m just looking to open up a dialogue.

I have several avenues of exploring film criticism with other groups of people (all of whom I am proud to create alongside with) but this patreon, and my wordpress are for me, myself, and I.

If you like what I have to say, or are at least interested, please consider supporting me and my work officially over at Patreon or just buy me a cup of coffee over at Ko-Fi.

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Continue reading “Looking Back and Boldly Going Through 2017”

Grief and Isolation in “Personal Shopper”

Kristen Stewart stars as Maureen, a medium and personal shopper whose twin brother recently passed away. A hollowed shell of her former self, Maureen lives a life of impersonal fabric. She works as a personal shopper for a superstar, picking up extravagant outfits and waiting to respond to every beck and call. The two never share exchanges in person, often communicating in notes and through phone calls. Her boyfriend works in another country and they keep in touch through skype calls. The only person she has common conversations with in person is her brother’s widow; someone who is moving on quicker than Maureen as to not succumb to her own grief. The only constant connection she keeps is the one with the dead.Continue reading “Grief and Isolation in “Personal Shopper””

“Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2” Turns Up the Volume

Originally posted on El Paisano Online

After breaking box office, critical, and audience expectations back in 2014 with “Guardians of the Galaxy,” James Gunn’s lovable team of misfits return to the big screen in a manner unfamiliar to most sequels. Movies aren’t about being better or establishing quality in relationships to other presentations. They’re about ideas and how best to execute them. In that regard, if “Guardians of the Galaxy” is about finding a family, “Volume 2” is about what it means to be part of one.Continue reading ““Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2” Turns Up the Volume”

Christopher Nolan’s Loving Formalism

Christopher Nolan is a man of many talents. His technical prowess and ever-growing sense of scope, especially when it comes to blockbusters, is only matched by the huge ideas driving his films. He mixes the non-satirical precision of Kubrick with the heart of Spielberg, but so often misconstrued in his presentation as trying to ape his predecessors turned colleagues. Nolan uses formalist approaches to film-making and creates his own stamp out of it. Undoubtedly one of our contemporary auteurs, a common criticism is that the director comes across as emotionally distant. Until recently, I thought the same.Continue reading “Christopher Nolan’s Loving Formalism”


“The world’s changing. Time we change too.”

With the third onscreen iteration of the character in 15 years, the easy answer to mixing up the Spidey formula is adding other heroes into the mix. An easy feat considering the MCU’s bread and butter is cross mixing brands to further their own banner. But where other films find their detriment in that, HOMECOMING actually utilizes that to tell the story of a kid lost in a world that is far too big for him. Peter Parker’s uncertainty in his own identity on the ground level is reflected  differently  through his Spider-Man persona. He’s trying to fit in at school? Of course he’s going to try to fit in with the quintessential “cool kids” of the superhero world too.

Not only that, but the world-building is actually interesting in its own right. It’s not how these events change future movies, it’s about how all prior events establish a different world for the ordinary citizens that don’t get suits of armor to defend themselves.

Who better to look out for them than their working class hero?


Dream Warriors Take Back Elm Street

Originally written on the 30th anniversary of Dream Warriors

Abuse and generational torment were always part of the thematic underpinnings of the Nightmare on Elm Street film series. In the first NOES ,the budget relegated dream sequences to a more lucid effect (not to discredit the great-late Wes Craven, whose directorial prowess gave the film its own sense of surrealism without the larger budget). In Dream Warriors, the gang of teenagers are still under the threat of Freddy Kreuger while also dealing with their own struggles and aspirations.

Dream Warriors presents a flawed gang of teenagers. Not miscreants but not quite do-gooders, they’re just kids with their own demons to battle. The kills are more technically proficient than every other film in the series (minus the Wes Craven directed entries of course) but it’s in how surreal direction provides the emotional efficiency. Rather than delegating schlocky kills designed as set pieces, the nightmares are extensions of the teenagers fears and insecurities, making them feel more tangible in our own viewing experiences.Continue reading “Dream Warriors Take Back Elm Street”