Spider-Man 2: The Story of a Dysfunctional Young Woman
Okay, fine, it’s really the story of two young people who enable each other’s destructive, narcissistic romanticism.
Peter Parker is a dreamer enamored of the literal girl next door, Mary Jane Watson, not realizing because of her hygiene and her angelic, Gwen Stacy sweetness that she is actually a broken, needy young woman who doesn’t dare be single for fear of drowning in her own loneliness and lack of self-worth.
Mary Jane Watson is a dreamer who spent eighteen years listening to her father tell her how awful and worthless she and her mother her. She dreamed of the day she’d become an actress–when everyone else would validate her beauty and her talent and love her the way she always wanted to be loved. An audience could maybe fill the black hole of need she has inside. Meanwhile, the sweet, ugly-cute boy next door moons after her, and it helps her get through her day, as does the attention of her boyfriend, the popular Flash Thompson.
But Flash is a jerk, and Mary Jane realizes it, and she breaks up with him at graduation–a coward’s breakup: in public, after the ceremony, after they never have to see each other again. She wants to latch on to Peter because his well of adoration seems to have no end, but he doesn’t give her enough validation, so she starts dating the very next guy to ask her out. Never mind that it’s Peter’s best friend.
The new boyfriend is a bit of a jerk, too, and her dad is no prize, so once again she looks to Peter, who is playing hot and cold with her. She doesn’t doubt that he likes her, so why doesn’t he make a move? She can’t feel that validation unless he makes the first move. Like a good girl–not the kind of her dad thinks she is–she hints but never asks.
Meanwhile, she’s getting a lot of attention from a mysterious hero, this Spider-Man, so she tells Peter she thinks she’s in love with him. Of course she’s in love with him, for her value of love; look at all the attention Spider-Man is giving her! But being with Spider-Man is tough and scary and unknowable. It’s not safe and validating like her friend Peter. She likes the thrill, but ultimately, she wants to be safe. So she tells Peter it’s him she loves, inappropriately at her ex-boyfriend’s father’s funeral in front of the grave of Peter’s beloved uncle. Peter, who is as we all know Spider-Man, can’t be with Mary Jane for the same exact reasons Mary Jane doesn’t want to be with Spider-Man. It’s not safe.
Which brings us to Spider-Man 2. Mary Jane is now modeling and acting, but Peter’s having problems juggling two jobs, school, and being Spider-Man. Mary Jane is unaware of this, and she gives Peter another chance after his birthday party to step forward and “claim” her. When he doesn’t, she tells him she’s seeing someone else, and maybe it’s serious.
Oh, is it? Is that why you’re basically molesting Peter’s face with your hand? Because you’re in a semi-serious relationship?
Mary Jane keeps giving Peter chances to step up and make her the most important thing in the world, and is baffled when he doesn’t, and then finally angry. When he doesn’t straight-up say, “I was in a bike/car accident,” she decides that he was just being flaky (fair enough) and moves on with her life. But he’s the one who got away, and he’s not even that attractive! He’s just NICE. So what’s his deal? Although she has no idea she’s doing it, Mary Jane is drawn to him, feeling she has to have him now. Instead, she tells herself that she’s maybe in love with this geeky, flaky guy who thinks the sun shines out of her butt but won’t go out with her for some reason. Meanwhile, SHE GETS ENGAGED to Mr Semi-Serious, who IS AN ASTRONAUT FOR GOD’S SAKE, but he never rejected her despite being a nice person so her brain can’t just accept happiness.
This is not a woman whose brain accepts happiness. When her life is going really well for the first time, she costs John’s parents a ton of money for a wedding she isn’t even sure she wants. She’s only twenty! How about a long engagement, John? Oh well. It would’ve saved you so much (money and heartbreak) in the long run. (PS How old are you?? Sally Ride was the youngest at NASA at 32. Even if you broke the record by several years, there’s still a significant gap.)
So here’s someone who destroys everything, wanting a guy who keeps a lot of secrets. And she’s got an inkling now that he might be Spider-Man. So she can have everything she wants, if he’ll just get with her the way he obviously wants to!
Finally, they’re put together in a situation where he has to reveal himself to her. (Sort of. Pull your mask off more, Parker. There are people in Staten Island who haven’t seen your face yet.) Yay He has to say to her face why they can’t be together. Instead of accepting it, or arguing it the next day, she still lets the farce of the wedding get to the big day so she can show up in a wedding dress and argue with Peter that she should be the one to decide whether they should be together, not him, because it’s not fair for him to choose for her. And the sad thing is, IT ISN’T. She’s not wrong. She’s not wrong a lot, and yet very wrong a lot too. You should’ve heard my husband and I watching this:
“YES. Exactly that.”
“YOU TELL HIM.”
“God, you’re a moron.”
“You’re so right.”
However, this is a couple that could never be happy unless they’ve walked the dating path together, because they’ll never get over their own romanticism until they do. And if they can make it work for them, great. They’re taking their ridiculous selves out of the dating pool. If not, maybe then they can finally be adults and make adult decisions.
They’re still only twenty at this point, maybe twenty-one tops, remember.
On the other hand, we have Dr. Octavius, who’s really awesome until he gets AI snakes attached to him. Then he’s just cool. Then he’s redeemed when the connection is, I guess, partially severed? It’s not a bad story. It’s that it gets a bit buried in the Peter/MJ drama. And that part where they’re trying to remove the arms is a bit Evil Dead-ish, where you can’t decide if you’re horrified or want to laugh, and it goes on a bit long.
Then there are the movie’s three endings.
Peter breaks it off for good
Harry has a dissociative break
…I already forget the third ending, because the first two work, with the second being what would later be pushed to be a “stinger” for the third movie. Oh wait, that’s the wedding thing. I got them confused. Really, this time watching it I felt like there were only two endings, so that was better, and I was even somewhat okay with the Mentos commercial montage thing in the middle, although I do think the freeze on Peter really does make it seem like a Mentos commercial.
Spider-Man 2 is a solid movie, in some ways a great one. But I kind of preferred the first one. For…reasons? For the quickness of the pacing. And for origin reasons. You can be so happy when things are beginning. Maybe that’s that I’m most drawn to, and why movie makers still keep trying to give us origins even when we’re sick of them.
Tomorrow night: Spider-Man 3, if I have the time.