The great triad of American super-heroes—Batman, Spiderman, Superman—all have their origins in the loss of parents. Batman/Bruce Wayne’s rich parents are killed by a robber, Superman’s parents die when the planet Krypton explodes, and Spider-Man/Peter Parker’s parents vanish under mysterious circumstances, and his guardian uncle is later killed by a hoodlum. Each has an Everyman identity as Bruce Wayne, Peter Parker, and Clark Kent. All of them struggle with the difficulties and challenges that normal people grapple with, and at the same time they bear the burden of their super powers which in one way or the other oblige them to serve the human race. (One might argue, with good reason, that Batman’s super powers develop not from extraordinary origins but from the high-tech devices that his extreme wealth enables him to develop.)
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012; dir. Marc Webb, a new version of the 2002 original directed by Sam Raimi) uses the orphan motif as the basis for its central question: “who am I?” Peter Parker struggles with the question throughout the film as he wonders over his parents’ absence, decides how to use his super powers, and mourns his uncle’s death, for which he feels responsible. He is a normal adolescent in many ways, but he also has his father’s brilliant intellect, and these help him after he’s bitten by the fateful spider and is adjusting to his new reality as a man who can climb walls and swing through the city on a thread of spider filament as strong as steel. But his struggles as an adolescent, his developing love for Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), his reaction to the death of his uncle, his decision to serve others rather than to seek revenge for his uncle’s death—these make this film interesting. Peter is bitten by the spider just at the time in his life when the adolescent question of identity looms most strongly, a fact signified perhaps by the hoodie he typically wears around his high school, hiding from himself and his friends. Gwen drives this point home one day in class when she asks him, “Do you know your own name?”
The special effects are great, and it’s exhilarating to see Spider-Man swing through the sky. But, despite the updated high-techiness, and the high-minded intentions, one could argue that Lizardman in this new film is as ridiculous as Green Goblin in the original.