My wife irresponsibly purchased the Spider-Man movie for my son even though it was PG-13. (Way to go, significant other.) But he desperately wanted to see it, so I figured I’d better watch it with him and make sure it wasn’t too frightening or icky or whatever. (It wasn’t — I’m actually not sure why it was PG-13. I guess the violence? Even that didn’t seem too over the top though. Maybe I’m just jaded.)
Anyway, it was pretty good, I thought — William Dafoe isn’t as much fun as a villain as Heath Ledger, but Toby McGuire’s spider-man is so, so much better than the stupid Dark Knight Batman that It more than makes up for it.
But what I wanted to talk about was that — watching the movie reminded me of something I’d often thought of with Spider-Man’s origin story. In both movie and comic, we see Spidey refuse to stop a robber, and then that robber goes on and kills Uncle Ben. And, in both cases, there’s a moment when the cop in pursuit of the robber turns to Spidey after the bad guy has gotten away and cusses him out for not helping. (I think in the comic he asks him why he didn’t trip him.)
So the thing is, that’s completely preposterous. In the comic, the bad guy doesn’t have a visible gun…but we know he has one later on with which to shoot Uncle Ben. So it could be concealed…which is why, if you’re a cop, you don’t expect, or even want, random passers-by to fuck around with fleeing felons. I mean, maybe I’m completely confused, but it seems like, even if (especially if) said random passer-by is wearing a weird red and blue suit, what you’d really want them to do is stay the fuck out of the way. Don’t be a hero, don’t get yourself shot, let the professionals handle the problem, seems like the logical attitude. What happens if he trips the guy and the robber pops up with a gun and shoots him? That’s exactly the sort of thing the police are trying to prevent, right?
The assumption that the man-on-the-street has some sort of moral obligation to attempt to stop a fleeing and possibly armed criminal — I don’t know, it’s a perspective, I guess. Of course, Parker could feel guilty himself, knowing that he’s got super-powers and so on and so forth. But in both comic and movie, it’s not just Parker himself, but the law enforcement officers who think he screwed up — and in reality it’s hard to see why they would.
I know, I know…a plothole in a Stan Lee script! What a surprise! But I think it does speak to the whole super-hero idea, and to the “great power, great responsibility” meme as well. Basically, taking responsibility that isn’t yours is often a stupid idea, and can, not inconceivably, make things a lot worse. Sometimes being responsible involves sitting down and shutting up and figuring out which problems aren’t yours and when it might really be better to leave well enough alone. Lee and Ditko, for narrative and possibly Objectivist reasons, rigged the game against poor Peter. But he really didn’t necessarily do the wrong thing.