I have a deep love for coming-of-age films. I feel like I can relate to them the most, as I’m only 20 with no set destiny yet. Everything is up for grabs. This is where Spider-Man comes in. He’s my favorite superhero and it isn’t even close. While I love Batman, I don’t love Bruce Wayne. This isn’t the case with Spider-Man. Peter Parker is as interesting to me as the “menace” who swings around the streets of New York City.
Many kids grow up with Spider-Man as their favorite superhero. Why is this the case? Well for me, this was the case because Spider-Man doesn’t have everything figured out. He’s just a high schooler from Queens who happened to get bit by a spider that gave him these incredible powers. What’s in it for him? Why would he WANT to be Spider-Man? Well in most adaptations of the web-slinger, at some point, he doesn’t want to be. This coincides with something that’s present in coming-of-age films: growing up. Spider-Man knows that what he wants won’t ever be what’s best for the people around him. This is best depicted during the end of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002). During one of the final scenes, Peter thinks to himself “no matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, the ones I love will always be the ones who pay”. This goes into the core of what make’s Spider-Man great: Peter Parker.
Like in all good coming-of-age films, the main character has a romantic desire. In Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie wants Sam. In the recent Love, Simon, Simon wants whoever turns out to be Blue. In Spider-Man, Peter wants MJ. The difference here is that the main characters in those other two films don’t have the responsibility (this is the key word) of protecting those around them. This is the great burden that is placed on Peter, not even by his own choosing. It’s what makes him have a certain duality between superhero and a coming-of-age character. It is HIS duty to protect not only his loved ones, but the city he loves. Going back to the end of Spider-Man, it’s proven that Raimi truly understands the character of Peter. During the funeral for Norman Osborn, Peter’s childhood love Mary Jane Watson comes up to him.
She confesses that at the moment she thought she was going to die, Peter was the one on her mind. She explains to Peter how he makes her feel, and ends by confessing her love for him. Again, in most coming-of-age films, this would be the happy ending that the character deserves. Peter does deserve it. But again, it’s not the responsible thing to do. That balance of power and responsibility is at the heart of what makes Spider-Man so interesting. We want him to succeed so badly, and he often does when he’s wearing the suit. But when there’s no mask on and Peter is just Peter Parker, our hero often loses the battles he’s trying ever so hardy to win. Throughout all of Spider-Man, Peter wants MJ. It makes that blatantly clear. Even during this final scene he wants her, but that idea of responsibility that his late Uncle Ben told him always rings inside his head.
Following MJ’s confession of her love for Peter, the words he’s been dreaming of hearing his whole life, he responds with “I can’t. I want you to know that I will always be there for you. I will always be there to take care of you…but only a friend. That’s all I have to give”. It’s absolutely heartbreaking because we know how badly Peter wants MJ. We want Peter to have MJ. As he walks away, Peter thinks to himself “whatever life holds in store for me, i will never forget these words: with great power comes great responsibility. This is my gift, my curse”. This is Spider-Man. This is Peter Parker. It gets the character right in so many different levels, and I believe the ending to Spider-Man is one of the best endings in Comic Book Movie history.
Spider-Man isn’t the only Spider-Man film that’s gotten the coming-of-age aspect of the character so right. 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming might even be a better example of this, as director Jon Watts wanted to make the film feel like a classic John Hughes movie. One of the best scenes in the whole movie and something I was even pondering writing an article about, is when Peter goes up to Liz in the hallway. We know she’s the girl he’s been dreaming over since the start of the film. Peter talks to her, and eventually asks her to Homecoming. She says yes, and I think that moment when Liz accepts Peter’s question is the biggest smile I’ve ever had while watching a film. Holland’s Peter is so relatable, and I see myself in him. The film makes him so real that when Peter asks Liz to Homecoming, I felt as if I was asking my crush to Homecoming.
Homecoming also tackles that same idea of responsibility that’s present in Spider-Man. In order for Peter to do the right thing and stop the Vulture, he has to leave Liz. It’d be so much easier for him to just enjoy his night, but like Tobey Maguire’s Peter said, “This is my gift. My curse”. Being Spider-Man is a responsibility that Peter has, even if he didn’t ask for it. Because of this, he’s forced to give up the girl of his dreams in pursuit of doing the right thing. This is sort of what the Amazing Spider-Man films got wrong.
At the end of The Amazing Spider-Man, Gwen’s (Peter’s love interest) father makes him promise to leave her out of his life, in an attempt to keep her safe. This is fine and all, but in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Peter goes back to wanting Gwen, completely disregarding her father’s dying wishes. The only true way for Peter to really get the girl at the end is if he quits being Spider-Man.
This concept, of hanging up the suit, is another thing that makes Peter Parker such a good coming-of-age character. In my favorite coming-of-age films, the main character has a struggle during the second act that makes them question their goals, or they’re forced to question their goals by a mistake made. In Spider-Man 2, Peter is forced to realize that maybe the city is better off without him. Maybe it’s not his responsibility after all, to be Spider-Man. Maybe Peter should go after MJ. We know by the end of the film he realizes the importance of Spider-Man, and MJ even see’s that Peter is Spider-Man, furthering the idea that Peter won’t ever be able to have what he wants without putting those whom he loves in danger. Another epic ending to one of the chapters in a character’s coming-of-age story.
Whether Spider-Man is your favorite hero or not is irrelevant. What does matter is that we should look at him not only as a superhero, but as one of the best coming-of-age characters depicted on screen, as well as in comics. The duality of Peter Parker and Spider-Man is unlike any other character, especially given his age. Iron Man doesn’t have to choose between being Tony Stark or Iron Man. Wonder Woman doesn’t have to choose between being Diana Prince and Wonder Woman. Having Peter constantly choose between the mask and the glasses is something that’s very unique in the superhero genre.
Peter Parker is an amazing character that, when written correctly, transcends just the superhero genre.