“This feels good.” - Peter Parker
How many of us just want to make it through each day feeling good? We usually want to avoid pain, anger, sadness, or anxiety. We just want to feel good. We’ll have enough pain in our life, so why not enjoy feeling good? Come on, who can argue with this?
SpiderMan 3 features several characters that have been through a lot (two previous movies, to be certain); they have had a lot of loss, pain, and anger in their fictional lives. We can feel for them: they just want to feel good for a movie.
Take Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), our web-slinging superhero; as we’ve seen in past films, he began life as an ignored, pushed-aside, picked-upon geek. He’s never been appreciated by anyone beyond his immediate family and few friends. Now, two movies later, he has been endowed with incredible super powers, a stellar city-wide reputation (capstoned by a big rally in the middle of New York City), and the loving affections from the woman of his dreams (Mary Jane Watson, played by Kirstin Dunst).
In SpiderMan 3, life is finally looking up…
But over time, Peter focuses more on the achievement and celebration of his happiness and slips into a dark side (physically manifested by some black “goo” from outer space, strange as that sounds) and becomes a black-clad evil version of himself. With this “goo” possessing him, Peter starts living life based solely on this happiness. Over the course of the movie, his friendships start to fray, his relationship with Mary Jane falls apart, and his reputation in the media becomes negative. Perhaps, life isn’t looking up after all…
The villains of this movie aren’t all that different, either.
Flint Marko (played by Thomas Haden Church) finds himself running down the slippery slope into his own dark side: He began his life of crime by simply trying to find money for his daughter’s medicine. Now Flint is caught up in acts of revenge against those who stand in his way, even including murder. One act builds upon another until he eventually becomes the indestructible Sandman.
Harry Osborn (played by James Franco) began his journey through these films in a deep sadness at the death of his wayward father (from the first SpiderMan film, played by Willem Dafoe). Over time, he becomes obsessed with finding his father’s supposed killer, so much so that he becomes equally obsessed with becoming just like his father, letting reason and compassion fall by the side as he marches toward this goal.
Eddie Brock (played by Topher Grace) just wanted to impress his new girlfriend Gwen (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) with his new job as a snap photographer for the Daily Bugle. However, because of this simple need for love, he took on the persona of Venom, also possessed by that pesky black “goo” from outer space. Not only that, he treats others as insignificant people to step over on his way to an impressive young career.
Each of these “villains” began with wanting to feel good, but become overwhelmed. What makes the dark side so enjoyable that we end up going there?
For Peter Parker, attention and acceptance was so craved that he slipped into a life of being the power-hungry, self-obsessed superstar superhero.
For Marko, desperation for money and medicine was so strong that he slipped into a life of doing whatever he had to get his way.
For Brock, the need for a meaningful relationship and a good job was so strong that he took advantage of anyone he met to get ahead in his career and to have this relationship.
But SpiderMan 3 does not just teach us about our personal slope into darkness, but also about how we treat those going down that slope. How often do we discriminate against these “villains” or those who think or act differently than we do? Is Harry Osborn really a bad guy, or is there hope? Is Eddie Brock really that disgusting or does he have a human need for relationships that has just gotten the best of him? Is Flint Marko a criminal, or has society put him in this position because of poverty and high medicine costs? In that case, who is the real villain here?
Christ calls us to love our enemies, but do we ever ask why he said that? I feel he called us to do this because we just don’t know. We just don’t know where our enemies are coming from. We just don’t know if they are just responding to a deeper hurt or life situation. We just don’t know why they do what they do. And because we just don’t know what we don’t know, we need to be careful how we react. Christ called us to this love because he always wanted us to err on the side of compassion, not vengeance.
This is the problem that the “villains” in this movie had to deal with – they didn’t act with compassion, just selfish vengeance. If we don’t want to end up where they were in this movie, we are called to love our enemies.
We are also called to dialogue with people, not just assume and act on that assumption.
We are also called to help those people and the society around them, not allow the hurt to continue.
And if we find ourselves in a “villain” position in life, we are called to seek redemption because, even if no one else on the planet sees us as good, God still does. And that’s worth working toward. SpiderMan 3 reminds us what it means to be on either side of goodness. And being good is a better goal for us than just “feeling good.”