After failing dismally to find any spiritual subtext to Hot Fuzz, it was fantastic to see Spiderman 3 yesterday, which more than makes up for it. Look away now if you don't want key bits of the plot given away.
Plot: Spiderman has 4 enemies in this one - 'Sandman', an escaped convict who accidentally gets caught in an experimental chamber and turned into sand. He's also the person who (we discover) killed Spiderman's uncle in film 1, and Spiderman (Peter Parker in real life) discovers this. Another enemy is 'the New Goblin', once Parkers best friend, who is also the son of the Green Goblin - he knows that Spiderman is Peter Parker, and believes he's responsible for his own fathers' death in film 1. See the revenge motif starting to emerge here? Thirdly there is Venom, who I'll come back to in a mo'. Finally, Spiderman himself - during the film a strange black goo from outer space attaches itself to our hero, and brings out his dark side. These are weaknesses that are already clear in Spiderman/Parkers character - vanity, taking people for granted, arrogance, desire for revenge, violence - but they are amplified massively by the parasitic black stuff.
So Spidey has to conquer 3 foes, and rid himself of the black goo, not to mention try to repair his faltering relationship with Mary Jane, who he fails to listen to or support, and basically she is better off dumping him than trying to make things work. Whilst she tries to talk to him, Parker has the police radio on in the background so he can go and fight baddies, and he cuts the conversation short to go and play the hero.
Great Big Fat Spiritual Subtext 1: Sin. The black goo which attaches itself to Spiderman brings out the worst in his character. It even takes good things, and turns them bad. Parker becomes vindictive, cruel, and so up himself that he's in danger of coming out the top of his own head. On top of this instead of fighting crime, he pursues a revenge vendetta against Sandman. During the film PArker takes a specimen of the goo to a scientist friend, who tells him that it's a parasite, and relies on finding a host to thrive. Sin doesn't have a life of its own, but if we give it room it can take over our lives instead. It becomes harder and harder for Parker/Spiderman to get rid of the goo as the film goes on, and it comes to a point where he makes the decision to get rid of it once and for all. The trouble is that he can't, he has spent so long being host to the goo that he no longer has the power to pull it off and get unstuck.
The pivotal scene where all this happens takes place, significantly, under a cross on a church tower. From the cross we pan down to Spiderman meditating on what to do, then he goes into the belfry to try to pull the goo off. He can't under his own power, but as he stumbles against the bell and it starts chiming, the vibrations from the bell loosen the goo and enable Spiderman to yank it off. As in film, so in life - we can't be free from sin under our own effort, no matter how hard we try, but we need another power to help us get free. We still need to make the decision ourselves, God isn't going to do it for us, but if we put ourselves under the cross then sin can be got rid of. The 'old me' can die and the new one be born.
The film in fact suggests all this. The moment before he tries to pull the goo off, Parkers work rival - who Parker managed to get sacked from his job - is in the church below praying for Parker to die. In one sense he does - the black Spiderman dies, and in the following scene we see Parker in the shower (steady on ladies, just his head and shoulders), under a stream of cleansing water. Baptism? you decide.....
The new Parker is able to ask for help, seek forgiveness, grant forgiveness, and having been rescued from the goo himself, tries to rescue others. In the church, the goo falls on Parkers work rival and turns him into Venom, a very nasty Spiderman look-alike. Towards the end of the film Spiderman manages to free Venom from the goo, and lobs an explosive into the goo to finish it off. The trouble is that the Venom character enjoys the feelings of power and revenge so much that he can't bear to be separated from the goo, and dives back in at the moment the explosive goes off. Attachment to goo/sin costs him his life. I think St. Paul put it another way, but with the same sentiment.
Big Fat Spiritual Subtext 2: forgiveness. Here is a clash of Hollywood heavyweights, Spiderman vs Clint Eastwood. Clint was the icon of the revenge Western, where redemption came through shooting up the baddies who had done you wrong in the first half of the film. In Spiderman, redemption comes through forgiveness. At the end New Goblin forgives Parker/Spiderman for the death of his father, and actually comes to his aid. There's redemption of a sort for him in doing this. Meanwhile Parker also forgives Sandman - and the moment of release that this gives is beautifully portrayed on film. The forgiveness not only frees Sandman but it frees Parker as well. Parker then seeks forgiveness from his wronged girlfriend Mary Jane - there is a sort of reconciliation, but a suggestion that he still has work to do to make it up to you. And that's real life - forgiveness is one thing, earning back trust that you've destroyed is something else.
Spiritual Subtext 3: Mission. As Parker tries to set Venom free from the goo, we see one person rescued from 'sin' now tries to rescue another. In fact, he is trying to rescue his enemy, because he can see past the surface to see someone inside who needs to be set free. I'm not sure this would be the best film clip to show in mission training, but hey, give it a go.
As a film - I'd probably give it 6 or 7 out of 10. At times it seems to be trying to do too much. The film swings from drama to love story to tragedy to punch up to comedy to sci fi and back again. Maybe it's trying to copy the Pirates of the Caribbean formula, but it does seem a bit contrived. There are lots of daft coincidences, but then it is based on a comic, so plot inconsistency is part of the fun. The special effects are incredible, though sometimes the camerawork is so fast it really is hard to tell what's going on.
And the lesson for all the teenagers watching - if you want a gorgeous girlfriend, or you want to hang on to the one you've got, learn to be a good listener.