With great power comes awesome macho poses.
6) Spider-Man vs Green Goblin, final round
- Spider-Man and Green Goblin, duh.
The Setup: Having deduced his rival’s secret identity, the Goblin bursts through Aunt May’s bedroom window while she’s praying and puts her in the hospital (does she ever wonder what that was all about, or does she just assume that’s something he does to random people? Either way, rough year for her). Then he kidnaps Mary Jane and tells Peter to meet them at the Queensboro Bridge, where he arrives to find the villain holding her in one hand and (via cable) a tram car full of children in the other. Just before he drops them both simultaneously, Goblin taunts Spider-Man and explicitly describes this choice as “sadistic.” Points given for honesty.
(Even casual comic fans recognize this setup as an homage, if a superficial one, to the death of Gwen Stacy from the classic comic books.)
Like Captain Kirk, Spider-Man tends not to spring for the no-win scenario, so he audaciously jumps in to personally catch MJ, then immediately web-swings to the other side and catches the tram car’s steel cable with his free hand while his lady friend clings desperately to his torso. Impressive, but in addition to probably giving him the mother of all muscle-cramps, the ploy exposes Spider-Man to a couple of flyby-punches from his adversary, the second of which even makes him drop the cable briefly. He regains it, and desperately holds on while a small civilian boat races to get underneath him and catch the dangling car.
Just as the Green Goblin extends his glider’s blade and prepares to swoop in for the kill, he’s distracted by a rain of debris from a group of good Samaritans watching from the bridge, expressing solidarity with the city’s hero. This is done because Spidey is a hero in need of validation due to all the bad press he receives (is he a threat or menace?), and also because this movie was set in New York and came out less than a year after 9/11.
The gambit buys Peter enough time to drop off Mary Jane and the hostages, but unfortunately he’s not quick enough to defend when the Goblin flies in & lassoes him with another steel cable, dropping him unceremoniously in the ruins of a wrecked building and following up with a pumpkin bomb to the face.
This of course leads right into the modern trend of superheroes losing their mask (in whole or in part) for the final portion of their movie. Hey, why shell out big bucks for a recognizable actor if you’re not going to show their face?
The Fight: The explosion leaves Spider-Man pretty banged up and weakened, which Goblin takes full advantage of, hitting him with a series of powerful blows– some of that shot in painful-looking slow-motion. No music, just hard hits and high stakes.
To both his and the movie’s credit, the hero doesn’t just take it like a chump. He tries to block, to swing away and even creates a big web barrier to faze his opponent, but the Goblin just keeps coming, systematically shutting him down. After kicking Spidey against a stone wall, he holds his wrist in place with a boot stomp and rubs the imminent defeat in his face, telling him that this all could have gone differently if the hero had just played ball. He brandishes an extendable spear thing (where’d he get it? The glider is not within arm’s reach and he certainly wasn’t holding it during the fisticuffs) and prepares to run Peter through.
But his taunt about how he’ll follow up by killing MJ in a slow and presumably unsavory manner gives Spider-Man a second wind. He catches the blade mere centimeters from his face, and two successive shots (interrupted by a view of angry disbelief from the villain) show his resistance progressing from desperate to determined.
Heroic music swells up. Spidey finally pushes back so hard he sends the Goblin flying back several feet into a partially wrecked wall, then webs his feet to trip him forward. Another set of dual webs pulls the entire wall down on the villain, and when he emerges he’s much the worse for wear. Not wanting to give him a moment to breathe, Spider-Man swings in and seizes Gobby, then uses the momentum to hurl him into another wall. He lands and delivers a series of blows to his now helpless nemesis, until the Goblin removes his helmet and pleads for mercy.
The “fight” portion is pretty much over from here. The Goblin’s switch back to the Osborn persona is a feint, trying to distract Peter while he remotely activates his glider and brings it up to impale the hero from behind. Fortunately Peter is having none of it, rejecting Norman’s entreaty to be a father figure by re-affirming poor Uncle Ben as the man who made him who he is.
Two weird things happen then. The first is that this rejection causes Norman to revert to his more villainous voice and declare “Godspeed, Spider-Man” for no reason I can think of. It seems an odd thing to say before killing someone, and why tip him off too early anyway? Or is the “Norman” personality, speaking with the Goblin voice, trying to warn him? Either way, between that moment and his helpful spider sense (hey, remember that?), Peter is able to leap over the glider as it charges in, and instead hits the man directly in front of him: the Green Goblin. The second weird thing is that Raimi inserts a very brief close-up shot of Dafoe’s face just before impact and the actor says “oh” in a very casual, wimpy and resigned sort of voice– like he’d just missed a green traffic light or something. It’s meant to be funny, and it sort of is, but it’s very unnecessary and tonally jarring, considering the rest of the scene is played for high pathos rather than laughs.
Arguably a third weird thing is the position the glider impales him in. Not a good way to go.
Tonal missteps and the odd continuity error aside, this is really excellent stuff. The bleak and desolate setting indicates the finality of this last rematch. It follows the predictable pattern of Villain Is Totally Winning But Now Hero Is Totally Winning, but throws a few curveballs in there with Spidey’s fruitless resistance in the first part and his unexpected ferocity in the second; not to mention the bridge encounter that immediately precedes the fight proper provides a different sort of challenge for the hero, and a reason he’s so vulnerable at the outset. Ultimately it isn’t just clever tactics or sheer physical strength that allows Spider-Man to triumph, but drawing upon his own determination to do what must be done… an idea that’s played no small role in the comic’s history, as well as tying into co-creator Steve Ditko’s philosophy of doing everything you can to fulfill your own personal responsibilities, no excuses.
The method of Goblin’s demise is well-done, too. Superhero movies are cursed with getting caught between needing to put down the film’s villain permanently while also having a protagonist who doesn’t kill people, even in self-defense; it can be hard to thread that needle without it coming off as cheap. (The abysmal TV show Smallville faced this unenviable challenge on nearly a weekly basis, resulting in quite a lot of convenient amnesia.) But Osborn’s death works here in a way that feels both earned and deserved while still absolving Peter of any guilt (not that Harry will see it that way for the next one and a three-quarter movies). It’s also pretty much the same way the original Green Goblin “died” way back in the 70s comics after the Gwen Stacy incident, and at least the movie’s Osborn has the decency to stay dead.
A fitting end for a movie that helped kicked off the superhero cinematic renaissance.
Recommended Links: Beware of what else Spider-Man can do to you.
Chris Sims makes a good case as to what differentiates Marvel heroes from their Distinguished Competition, and why the very nature of their limitations makes it so inspiring when they surpass them. Spider-Man gets a lot of spotlight.
Coming Attractions: We’ll go straight to the sequel, why not?