The amazing thing about a modern Spider-Man

by Kaori Shoji

Special To The Japan Times

Too often, superheroes are clueless about what women want. Sure, they can catch the villains and save the world, but when it comes to relationships, they stink.

You could argue that they’re all in involved in relationships of varying degrees of intimacy, but have you actually seen a superhero take time off to do some deep, sincere relating with a lover? They’re too preoccupied, perpetually on-the-go, and constantly getting in the middle of some battle or another.

Especially at risk of making my “don’t date” list are the Marvel Comics bunch. Imagine going out with The Incredible Hulk — the mood swings alone would drive me nuts!

But Spider-Man, aka Peter Parker, is a different story. I’ve always seen Peter as slightly dorky, moderately under-confident and definitely self-effacing. In short, he’s a cutie who, despite his superhero powers, is humble enough to put the needs of women before his super self. It doesn’t always work out, but I commend him for trying.

In 2012′s “The Amazing Spider-Man,” Peter (Andrew Garfield) always deferred to his beloved Aunt May (Sally Field). He even remembered to get eggs on the way home from scaling skyscrapers and rescuing Manhattan from evildoers — that’s husband material.

He was sweet with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), the prettiest, brainiest girl in class. Like any Marvel dude, Peter has a few traumatic, unanswered questions swirling around in his mind (What happened to his parents? Why did they leave him? What was his father working on at high-tech conglomerate Oscorp?) but he was man enough to push all that to the side when it came to spending time with Gwen.

“Spider-Man was the first teenage hero that I came in contact with,” director Marc Webb tells The Japan Times. “He didn’t have an adult personality just yet and in that sense, there was a lot of room for imagination and growth in his character. I loved Marvel Comics when I was a kid, especially because most of the other comic books had adult heroes. But Marvel had Spider-Man who was still a kid, still unsure of himself and responded to certain situations with the heart of a child.”

Webb is at the helm of the current “Spider-Man” franchise, taking over from Sam Raimi, who directed Tobey Maguire in the title role for three films in the mid-2000s. Webb grew up in a small Wisconsin town and came from a science-oriented family. He says that his background was another reason the superhero appealed to him.

“My father was a math teacher, my grandfather was a mathematician and my mom taught biology. On Einstein’s birthday, the whole family got together to celebrate and eat cake,” he says. “That added to the charm of Spider-Man and all the talk about genetic technology that was going on around Oscorp.”

Despite his interest in the technological themes of the film, Webb says “The Amazing Spider-Man 2″ is “more human drama than comic book adaptation.”

“Of course, the 12-year-old in me loves action and explosions and that sense of free-falling with Spider-Man through canyons of skyscrapers,” he says. “But underneath all that spectacle, there’s an undercurrent of discussion regarding the nature of life. I think that’s what makes the Spider-Man story so interesting.”

And his relationship with Gwen? “There’s that too,” Webb says. “I’ve had people whisper in my ear that romance shouldn’t be such a big factor in an action movie, but those two are so good together in ‘Spider-Man.’ There’s such a sweetness that exists between Peter and Gwen, and I felt I had to protect that in the movie. They know how to be relaxed and funny together, which reflects on the uniqueness of their relationship. I think that’s pretty rare in a young couple; usually there’s more of a power struggle.”

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2″ is, on one level, about conflicting personalities. Spider-Man’s foe Electro (Jamie Foxx) was born out of his own desire to assert himself. Before transforming into supervillain Electro, he was Max Dillon, a lowly designer working at Oscorp where he was passed over for everything from promotions to lunch dates. The only person who ever bothered to ask his name was (ironically) Spider-Man himself, and Max was overjoyed. Later, that joy turns into mistrust and resentment. When the two finally face off, Electro is filled with the rage and sadness of a former acolyte destroying his fallen idol.

Webb isn’t specifically an action-flick director; he made the definitive relationship movie of 2009 — “(500) Days of Summer.” The hero of that movie, Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), shares some of Peter’s traits — namely a sweet shyness and endearing earnestness.

“I don’t think that under-confidence is what defines those guys,” Webb says of Peter and Tom. “They’re both very emotional, and willing to have emotional experiences, which separates them from the traditional male image. I mean, as men we’re trained to be stoic, not show our feelings and all that, but that doesn’t mean men don’t have emotional depth; they do. I’m attracted to people who can feel both joyful and desperately unhappy — because they’re not afraid to feel all that and come back intact. Emotional people are brave people.”

Getting back to Peter, Webb insists he’s not a dork in the strictest sense of the word.

“He doesn’t have a lot of friends, but he could if he wanted to,” the director says. “Girls secretly dig him but he sticks with Gwen, who, by the way, is intentionally more developed than Summer (the love interest in “(500) Days of Summer”). Gwen is smarter than Peter and in many ways she’s gutsier. She’s not defined by being Spider-Man’s object of desire. And they both like to keep it that way.”

A superhero that almost — but not quite — gets the girl. Which is fine, because Spider-Man seems to get women in a way that eludes other Marvel dudes. It’s about time.

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2″ is now playing in cinemas nationwide. Check out a review of the movie by Kaori Shoji on the Film Page. For a chance to win one of three Spider-Man key rings, visit jtimes.jp/film.


Spidey may be husband material, but steer clear of these heroic hunks

It calls for nerves of steel and an iron will. It would help to have a roaring social life for the times he calls to say he can’t make it, since he’s got humanity to save. Don’t count on Valentine’s Day — that’s when the bad guys hatch their most diabolical schemes and he’ll be doing overtime. All of the above needs to be considered when a woman embarks on a serious relationship with a superhero.

Unfortunately, most filmmakers are unaware of this predicament, nor do they seem interested in the needs of a superhero girlfriend. Marc Webb, director of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2″ says, “The modern woman is too smart and independent to stay in that spot.” He’s right. And with that in mind, here are the top three superdudes a woman would do well to avoid.

Clark Kent (“Man of Steel,” 2013): The latest Superman (Henry Cavill) has a depth of personality lacking in his predecessors, but he’s also very high-maintenance. He agonizes (mostly about his antecedents) a good chunk of the time he’s with Lois Lane (Amy Adams), before launching an all-out attack on pesky aliens — which ends up killing around 1 million innocent civilians. Oops.

James Bond (“Skyfall,” 2012): Whatever happened to the James Bond who was a barrel of laughs and just plain fun to hang around? (Roger Moore, anyone?) Daniel Craig has got the rugged sexiness thing down so well that just a glance from his ice-cold eyes could stir up feelings of love. But he’s got serious personal issues and there could be an Oedipus complex in there somewhere, judging from his relationship with M (Judi Dench). Don’t go near him; you could ultimately end up shaken — not stirred.

Ethan Hunt (“Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol,” 2011): The salient point about Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt in this latest installment of the “MI” franchise is that he’s 49 — but what a bod! What’s often overlooked is that he sacrificed his marriage and his wife’s lawful identity in the name of the job. At the end of the movie, he stares at her from a distance of 200 meters and calls that a relationship. Hopefully, she’ll take up with someone else in the next installment.

  • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

    “Too often, superheroes are clueless about what women want. Sure, they can catch the villains and save the world, but when it comes to relationships, they stink.”

    Yeah, save the world, resulting in allowing women with seemingly no other purpose but to manufacture smiling cutesy indignation about how much better he should be qualifying for her: the jewel, the prize, the end of the rainbow, as if she somehow deserves his attention and is anywhere in his league.

    I guess everyone has their delusions. Maybe one day honesty will prevails, “I shouldn’t expect to get a superhero of a man, if I am not prepared to become a superhero of a woman, on the same terms.”.