With Great Power Comes Great Relatability
According to the Hollywood Reporter, AMC theaters, which is the largest chain of theaters worldwide, lost $4.58 billion dollars in 2020 during the pandemic. With an easier access to movies with streaming in 2020, many analysts from places like Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and other entertainment outlets predicted that cinema was leaving the theaters and into people’s homes. Just this past year in 2021 Spider-Man reached the top of the box office charts earning short of two billion dollars worldwide with the film Spider-Man: No Way Home. The film still remains at the second highest grossing movie of 2022 as of April per Box Office Mojo. In an uncertain time throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, no film has come close to reaching the incredible total the film has grossed. For reference, it earned over double the profit of the next runner up, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The previous film in Tom Holland’s franchise was not nearly as financially or critically praised as No Way Home. Deadline reports that the latest entry in the franchise grossed $1.889 billion dollars worldwide.
Hundreds of films were released during the pandemic but none came close to the success of No Way Home. The Marvel brand wasn’t enough to save some features like Shang Chi or Eternals which released within three months of the arachnid’s adventure. Spider-Man has been at the top of the superhero hierarchy since his debut in 1962. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko were the brains, speaker, and art behind the character’s early tales. Lee once said, “I like Spider-Man because he’s become the most famous. He’s the one who’s most like me–nothing ever turns out 100 percent OK; he’s got a lot of problems, and he does things wrong, and I can relate to that” and that sentiment still holds true today. The ability to make a person who was bit by a radioactive spider, could climb walls, and shoot webs a relatable character is no easy task. Lee envisioned Peter Parker as a kid who wasn’t so hot with the girls, kind of nerdy, and a bit arrogant. The angsty teen Lee created was something that he wanted people to be able to put themselves in.
In a recent interview promoting his new movie Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Sam Raimi spoke with Moviepilot and said of Peter Parker, “He’s identifiable as a human being, he’s got problems, he’s got bad skin, he doesn’t have enough money and yet he struggles to do the right thing. He puts everything he’s got. He sacrifices everything… it’s somebody you can identify with and look up to. And it embodies the thing I love about a great superhero movie which is, ‘I could do that. A little part of that could be me’.”
To be able to project yourself onto a character is hard so when speaking of Spider-Man and his wearing of a mask, Lee gives the key to how anonymity makes the costume a blank canvas for the people when he says, “He is completely covered so any kid could imagine he’s Spider-Man because no color of the skin shows. He could be black under that. He could be red. He could be yellow. He could belong to any race… it was done accidentally… making him so he could be anybody under that costume.”
Spider-Man isn’t the only one that hides his skin behind the spandex. Heroes like Deadpool, Iron Man, or even someone as obscure as Moon Knight have full body and unrevealing costumes. The anonymity isn’t the main reason that we as a society gravitate towards Spider-Man. Lee touched on it earlier in one of his quotes when he said, ” He’s the one who’s most like me–nothing ever turns out 100 percent OK; he’s got a lot of problems, and he does things wrong, and I can relate to that.” He fails and is able to overcome the odds time and time again. A particular run in the comics was adapted to the screen which was aptly titled Spider-Man: No More. In this story Peter Parker struggles to balance his life as Spider-Man and maintain his relationships as Peter Parker. Girl trouble, school trouble, and family trouble make Peter decide to give up being Spider-Man. It’s the simple human instinct and want to have a love filled life and seek out meaningful relationships. Peter misses a date because he’s fighting the Green Goblin or The Rhino and since he has a secret identity, he can’t really tells the girls and others the real reason he’s been struggling. That very real and relatable issue of balancing relationships and work struck a heart with readers as it was even adapted to fit into the script of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 (2004). Stories like these are not like the ones told with other heroes. Batman is a rich guy that does detective work. Superman is an alien that fights gods and corrupt CEO’s. Spider-Man could fight someone like Morbius, a vampire, or he could fight a local street thug. No matter who he faces he is still a kid struggling to pay rent, struggling to get girls, and always getting stepped on.
While no one can climb walls or shoot webs, we all have an ability to project ourselves onto the wall crawling arachnid. Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and Jack Kirby were all cooks in the kitchen but what they were able to create was something that could make us all feel like we can be a superhero. Even with the later iterations of the mantle of Spider-Man we see a new kid who is mixed, black and Latino, try and give a blank canvas to a newer generation. With the billions of dollars Spider-Man has collected over the years, we can all see that story is important. Character and story will bring success. Spider-Man is unique in his ability to reach all people no matter what obstacles they face. Looking at Spider-Man: No Way Home and the other films of this terrible pandemic, we see his success and at the root of it, there is a young kid trying to do the right thing and go through his childhood into being a young adult.
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I know my citing isn’t perfect at all but that wasn’t the main goal here obviously. What I wanted to know is if you think these connections I’m making are too broad? I’m already knowledgeable on this, even before the paper. I can get a lot more specific and I didn’t harp on each point so much because of the word count. Any thoughts other than that are greatly appreciated 🙂
I hope our conference will qualify as feedback for your particular questions above, but while I’m here, allow me to post some recommendations.
Your argument strikes this reader as strong on two points but circular or, more accurately, repetitive, like a two-step, left-right, left-right alternation between “commercially successful franchise” and “accessible character.” Granted, that’s your thesis, so the back-and-forth serves a purpose, but it could benefit from nuance and granularity. Successful for this reason, accessible for this reason, therefore more successful than that franchise, because accessible in this way, and so on.
If I boil your arguments down to one per paragraph, they outline this way:
1. While the entire movie industry tanked during the pandemic, Spidey shattered box office records at the end of 2021 because two of its favorite principals took roles in the same film.
2. Spidey perennially outperforms other superhero movie characters because his loser-teen persona is uniquely relatable.
3. Stan Lee stumbled on his character’s universal appeal by covering all his skin with a costume that obscures his ethnicity.
4. Spider-Man rules the box office because Peter Parker is lovable.
5a. Other superheroes also obscure their ethnicity.
5b. Peter Parker struggles to balance the conflicting aspects of his life like most teens.
5c. He should be relatable to men having affairs as well: he constantly lies to his girl to cover up his “dates” with supervillains.
5d. Such are not the problems of aliens and billionaires.
6. We keep rewarding the makers of Spider-Man movies because we like to think that, if Peter Parker can act like a superhero, darn it, we can too.
If this looks like a promising outline for 1000 words, proceed to your final polish. But maybe seeing thesis statements for your individual paragraphs will encourage you to reorganize a bit before you do.