How are Heroes and Villains represented in films, with special reference to the movie Spiderman
Spiderman 2 is a Hollywood film directed by Sam Raimi, depicting the lives of Peter Parker with his alter ego Spiderman (Tobey Maguire), Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter Parker’s professor Dr. Octopus (Alfred Molina). Peter Parker the protagonist of the film illustrates the drawbacks of the duties that he must achieve to ensure innocent people remain in sound health.
Although the writer (Stan Lee) of Spiderman uses a linear narrative he also introduces a “love triangle” between the three characters and represents realistic scenarios in the narrative. Spiderman portrays real life situations that the audience can relate to, while also including unrealistic properties of the protagonist that the audience aspire to; this covers a broad audience of potential viewers. Each character in Spiderman reflects a different view of life from an individual prospective.
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Spiderman, represented as a consistent, confident and bold figure who is shown to have set aims and targets, these characteristics go hand in hand with his duties to save people and the audience aspire to be like Spiderman however Peter Parker owns a parallel life, and lives insecurely as a student who divides his own life between people he considers to be important, thus unable to complete tasks and results in his life becoming unorganized.
Mary Jane, is represented as the damsel in distress, she is a helpless figure portrayed as a weak, vulnerable female in a patriarchal society that is used as a token woman to be saved by Spiderman. Dr. Octopus a character who is represented as a professor of science, he is shown to have created a revolutionary invention, and exposed in a ‘Hitler’ like fashion. Spiderman the movie is rated 12+, this instantly shows that the movie involves sexual content, bad language and violence.
This certificate immediately sets the standard of the audience that it can be shown to; this film obviously targets itself to a male audience due to the masculine nature that the film consists of. Because of this certificate Spiderman can be represented as a scholar’s movie, although its historical reputation has given Spiderman a huge advantage with the target audience, as they are now able to target older generations of Marvel1 fans who are dedicated to the institution and will watch the movie due to this fact.
The Marvel institution represents ongoing binary oppositions between heroes and villains, they have used this repertoire of elements through out, along with other films such as X-Men. X-Men have a narrative structure to depict the lives of mutants (heroes) and humans (villains) and shows the backlash of which the mutants strike against their opponents. Thus like Spiderman, Peter Parker has a backlash against the sincerity of his heroism.
The Marvel institution which focused on fantasy characters in the 1940’s only established characters such as Spiderman in the past 20 years2, therefore Marvel have had to use generic conventions from past narrative structures that had been used. Because of the huge success of Spiderman, this was one of the first films to be produced by Marvel based on a fantasy character; consequently conventions had to be compromised with those used in comics that were published by Marvel. This represents where the director Sam Raimi had to extract his ideas from for the religious Marvel enthusiasts to feel comfortable with.
The heroes and villains in the film Spiderman follow basic conventions of ideas that cause friction between them both although, the film uses different aspects of the protagonist, Spiderman, to ensure the audience is able to relate with the character individually. This is done by introducing Spiderman’s alter ego, Peter Parker. Peter Parker is represented as an insecure, student with low self esteem, through out the film he is portrayed as a simple individual who causes no harm to others and premeditates a daily routine to stick by for which his insecurity is protected.
In the first scene Peter Parker is shown riding a moped with a predominantly red colored helmet, although the audience understand he is Spiderman and are aware of the fact that he does not need any defense mechanism, the audience can relate to Peter Parker as he is an unconfident individual, he seems to have low aims and objectives the audience instantly can relate to the character as he is represented as a subordinate.
Along with this it certifies the audience sympathizes with Peter Parker, allowing the audience to be vulnerable for the alter ego Spiderman to kick in and allow the audience to switch emotions from sympathy to aspiration towards the superhero, Spiderman the character is represented as a fit, healthy, bold person with nerves of steel. He is favored by all people which is why the audience may aspire to him.
Peter Parker works as a pizza boy, a low level, low wage and unprofessional job who is described as his employee as “not dependable”3 because of his lateness in delivering pizzas, once he is set to deliver the pizza, he is shown to the audience as being unorganized, disorientated and slightly confused, to set the balance in time Peter Parker transforms into Spiderman, which illustrates how much Peter Parker depends on Spiderman and his advantages.
Peter Parker is shown in every opportunity to be an incapable individual who has not matured due to the affectionate love of his grandmother, he is represented as a boy who is given no respect, this pushes onto the audience to understand the position of Peter Parker, this factor allows the audience to feel the adrenaline rush that Spiderman is given along with the other advantages that such as respect and idolism that is given in such a way the audience aspire to the protagonist, as the audience are able to reach a level of escapism4 and into fantasy along with the film.
In one of the final scenes, Spiderman must choose whether he is to stay as a superhero and be abused the media or live a normal life as Peter Parker with a lack of respect, this simulates real life scenarios, not as extreme but audiences are able to relate with what is being represented. As he is fixated in understanding his duties and Peter Parkers good nature and self consciousness reacts, he believes the right choice is to stay as Spiderman as saves a train full of people.
Although he does not realize his identity has been revealed due to his mask being ripped, he realizes after rescuing the innocent lives, and thus he understands his own true potential as Peter Parker and the film narrative represents how his personality has endured through out the film, now that Peter Parker has revealed his face he becomes more confident in knowing that Peter Parker saved the city.
At the end of the scene Spiderman nearly collapses but is held upright by many hands, these hands symbolize the hands of god holding him due to the good he has done, the actual hands that are holding him are the civilians that he saved, thus returning the favor, he is passed along through to the back of the carriage on top of peoples while their hands glide him across, these hands are represented to be healing for Peter Parker, and as Peter Parker arrives consciousness he realizes he has no mask, and for once he is content as he shown both consideration and respect.
This part of the story line is shown to be somewhat of a morale that is sent for the younger participants of the audience so they are also able to relate with Peter Parker as a realistic figure and not only aspire to Spiderman, this allows youngsters to value ideologies portrayed through moving image texts such as Spiderman 2. This will give the whole audience a round and whole idea of what messages the writer and director was trying to push through to them.
The media language used in Spiderman 2 revealed information about what information the director wanted to release to the audience, the camera shots position the audience so comfortably that it is able to make the parallel fantasy world as realistic as possible. In Spiderman 2 the writer goes into more depth into Spiderman’s and Peter Parker’s personal life, hence bringing forward Peter Parker, the director is able to show a variance of different emotions using different angles and lighting.
One example could be where Peter Parker and Mary Jane are together alone, the lighting is low key and flickering which resembles a candle, and could be seen as a denotation towards a romantic setting, the diagetic music is slow and soft again bringing romance into the genre. The camera is placed with the majority of the screen showing Peter Parker, so that the audience understands Peter Parkers thoughts are being portrayed.
At this point it is strictly and only Peter Parker’s emotions being shown and Mary Jane lays her hand on Peter Parker’s face, the camera shows this as an intimate gesture as it zooms in to reveal the intensity that Peter Parker is feeling. The binary oppositions shown here are of Spiderman’s laid back attitude and nerves of steel still have its alter ego which is a totally different personality.
The villain in Spiderman 2 has been stereotypically created and has been extracted exactly from the comic books of Marvel, Doctor Octopus who plays a passive role in the movie, has invented himself as a villain through modern invention, this is a repertoire of conventions used, as Marvel have shown before the amount of damage modern creation can do with films such as X-Men5. Doctor Octopus possesses four machinery arms along with his unused two human arms, these unlike the hero are used continuously, and this sets boundaries between good and bad.
The villain is using his powers harmoniously while living everyday life, he is represented as a weaker person due to the pure fact that he depends on these artificial items that he made secured to himself to help him through life to commit law offences. The four arms that he possesses may represent the Hindu god Shiva6- the Destroyer, depicted with her four arms, this god represents the end of life and brings karma to human nature and this is similar to the role that Doctor Octopus plays within the film, he destroys human nature due to his miracle invention like Lord Shiva.
The Marvel Industry has had a short command in superhero movies although they have produced blockbusters such as Spiderman 1 and 2 (Sam Raimi 2000), Hulk (Ang Lee 2003), X-Men 1 and 2 (Bryan Singer 2000), Cat woman (Jean-Christophe Comar 2004), Daredevil (Mark Steven 2004) and Captain America (Albert Pyun 1992). All these films include both heroes and villains and include binary oppositions.
They enclose a genre of total action and thriller, however Spiderman cannot be categorized into one particular genre because of its authenticity and ever changing topics, the film itself can be classified as a hybrid genre of action/romance/fiction/fantasy, it is shown to have many different types of genre because the film enters many different path ways of different lives, Spiderman enters a life of fantasy, Mary Jane enters a life of romance, Doctor Octopus allows the audience to enter a life of action.
These factors that have been taken into consideration have targeted a wide audience and the film Spiderman is able to cater for their needs, this is because the actors and script is able to represent images that are different, and different people will find appealing. The genre for this film has been reflected off modern day society, this can be backed up with the explicit use of technology, Doctor Octopus, the villain is shown to enhance technology and by doing this, he is destroying it.
This can be compared to real life situations such as Albert Einstein inventing the Atomic Bomb, these ideas from factual matters can be reverted into fictional topics to guarantee that audiences are able to understand and again relate with the story more comfortably because of their experiences with real life scenarios that resemble issues of past familiarities, which can relate to Althusser’s7 theory “where as ritual critics interpret narrative situations and structural relations as offering imaginative solutions to a society’s real problems, ideological critics see the same situations and structures as luring audiences into accepting deceptive non-solutions, while all the time serving governmental or industry purposes”8 . Such theorists as Claude Levi-Strauss9 believe that audiences are able to judge what genre a film is categorized into, and only audiences, as each individual has different opinions, no film is set in its own genre because of its representation or characters. Historically the character Spiderman is looked upon as a pure superhero, created in the 1970’s for children in comic books, these comic books gave children an incitement into a fantasy world and allowed them to aspire to a fictional character.
However in the modern world, the fantasy world has been upgraded to fulfill children’s expectations of fantasy, as this generation has an increase in technology, they also expect this technology to enhance the way fantasy characters are depicted on screen, therefore modern movies must be manipulated into something extraordinary by using modern technology such as CGI (computer generated images) these gave the full effect of what Spiderman saw as he traveled through the air using his powers, this again allowed the audience to relate with the hero. CGI is used excessively due to the fact that Spiderman is a fantasy idol and realism means nothing in his world, therefore the director Sam Raimi took this into account and was able to take full advantage of Computer Generated Images.
However, it must be recognized that the film was criticized for its punctual use of CGI to represent the hero in question, critics and viewers found the computer generated images that allowed the camera to vigorously follow Spiderman as he web slung his way around the city quite nauseous and overly exaggerated as a review from a film critic states “Often, I felt myself drowning in elaborate, but overdone CGI that I did not find as convincing as others I have”10, this may show that these effects were included in inappropriate times through the film, but it could have also been used as a promotional technique to attract younger and a more naive audience, even though these replies were negative, the historical establishment of Marvel and the brand name Spiderman over took any criticizing and allowed the movie to become almost immune to the its own drawbacks, the movie made approximately $370million, the movie has been able to brand it self through the hero representation as an Idol to children from last generation to this, using promotional items such comic books, cartoon series and toys. The comic books of Spiderman the hero can backdate from 192911, where the birth of comic books in general was instigated, all these factors established the Spiderman name.