After lots of soul searching, I finally realized the reason why the new spider-man appealed to me more than the early 00’s version. The new article on art of manliness made the connection between William Strauss’ generations theory and the respective eras that both spider-man’s (men?) were made in. Sooo I wanted to explore that idea a little bit more.
Macguire’s Parker-Morally bankrupt, mopey bitch who uses a camera because he feels emotionally distant from the world
The early 00’s Peter Parker was essentially a generation X’er. Tobey Macguire’s interpretation of the character depicted him as a sniveling loser who was constantly being exploited by those who held any sort of power of him, whether it be physical or industrial. Once Peter finally did gain his powers, he chooses to use them as a means to carry out his own vigilante justice, and in his own way. There’s a subtle contrast between the two on this subject that I think explains Macguire’s Spider man perfectly. In the new film, Andrew Garfield, while certainly being looked down on by the city’s police force, is at least aware of characters like Dennis Leary’s stoic (the only emotion Leary knows as an actor) chief of police. While the new Spider-man at the very least maintains a relationship with the city’s police force, Macguire’s Spider-man completely ignores them as either incompetent or just another repressive force.
Garfield’s Parker- Engaged, charming, and most of all has a sense of humor about himself
See, Garfield’s Parker reflects a more millennial (dare I say post-occupy?) generation’s idea of civic engagement that aspires to goals like cultural reform that Generation x never had, since they were constantly overtaken by the belief that they were too beaten down upon to ever successfully change the system. The only possible way to enact justice from a Gen X’er’s perspective is an almost nihilistic vigilantism that hopes to strike back at an unjust world as hard as it can, all the while knowing that it can never actually conquer it.
One of the most pleasantly surprising moments of the new Spider-man was in it’s early characterization of Peter as a high school student. Most of us who had seen the earlier film expected the Gen X loser who was unfairly bullied and victimized. What happens in the new film is that Parker actually foreshadows his heroic destiny by attempting to stop a school bully from beating up another kid.
One of the things that really bothered me about Spider Man 2 was the scene in which Peter resolved to never be Spider-man again after losing his powers. He walks upon a group of thugs beating up a poor sap, and instead of trying to help him (without powers, mind you) he makes the decision to keep walking and try to live a normal life. What the fuck! Is the idea of a normal life for Peter one of complete narcissism and self-obsession? Is the only reason he has been a hero up to this point because of purely external factors that forced his value system to change? If so, that’s no hero worthy of emulation.
Garfield’s Peter Parker already has a strong sense of ethics and moral coding that would have caused him to go on and do great things even if this didn’t happen to him. He takes on his newfound powers not as a litany of psychosomatic repression coming to light, but as a natural extension of his already strong moral compass. He wants to work in a system which he sees as not broken, but merely ineffective. Even the bully at the beginning of the film eventually becomes a good guy at the end thanks to Peter’s actions, a transubstantiation which would never had been possible with Macguire’s Parker who cast his bully as just a model scale representation of the industrial evils that plague us on a daily basis.
If anything, I think this kind of characterization of our heros are a good thing. Bottomless self-victimization and grunge music have never impressed me, which may be the reason that I’ve never looked at the 90’s nostalgically. Kurt Cobain, the living incarnation of the 90’s, shared many of the problems that Macguire’s Peter Parker did.
The new spider-man rather has a strong pragmatic moral foundation, coupled with a wonderful sense of irony that is essential for sanity. Unlike Batman in The Dark Knight, he has an innate trust in people as intrinsically good, but never resorting to cheap populism. And very unlike The Dark Knight, the people in turn come to accept Spider-man as a remarkable force for good in society, even the skeptical chief of police.
I think all of the recent criticisms of the movie that complained it came out too close to the previous films are crazy, this could not have been a more different movie. Thank God.