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Analyzing the Marvel Cinematic Universe Villains: Green Goblin (Spider-Man)

Green Goblin

Spider-Man (2002)

There wouldn’t be an MCU without the one-two punch of X-Men and Spider-Man (2002). Green Goblin may not be the best villain. Heck, he may not be the best in the Spider-Man universe. But you remember him.

Characteristics and Powers: Green Goblin makes a memorable villain because of an over-the-top performance by Willem Dafoe. But that’s what makes him so scary, because he can go from calm/rational to unhinged in a second. And you believe you are under threat because you don’t know what he’s going to do.

Unfortunately, it’s not the greatest costume or powers. I don’t know about his comic book origins, but in the movie lore it’s supposed to be a suit of armor and a glider for military use. Of course, it’s easier to shoot down a hundred individuals at fifty feet than a single jet fighter at 10,000 feet. And what kind of military uniform has a mask like this? Are we trying to scare Amazonian tribes? And where do the pumpkin bombs fit in? Clearly, Green Goblin has a theme going on, but it doesn’t match the aesthetic established by his character. It’s all a bit gimmicky — his powers are driven by the plot (like sleep gas), not the other way around. And I feel like Sam Raimi is better than that. He directed The Evil Dead.

Relationship to the hero(es): Norman Osborn is a father figure to Peter Parker, making up for his absent real father and his Uncle Ben, after he dies. He gives Peter the support and love he should be giving his real son, Harry, who is a disappointment because he’s not as smart as Norman wants. This is a key component to the pathos of the story and characters — Peter having to kill someone who loved him. Very devastating.

Goals/Motivation: This is where the Green Goblin fails. Now, it makes sense that his paranoid schizophrenia leads him to murdering the board members that force him out of his company (not sure how they can do that but I don’t know everything about corporate law). However, once he does this, he no longer has a reason to exist. But the movie keeps going because, for some reason, he thinks the only one who can “stop him” is Spider-Man. But stop him from what? What is he going to do now? The only clue is when Norman Osborn says he’s going to “rectify certain inequities”.

Relatability: Willem Dafoe is as relatable as Christopher Walken or Steve Buscemi. In other words, not very. These actors are great at playing “the other”. They’re drifting backward into the uncanny valley, which makes them such great character actors, following in the tradition of Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff. His job is to act like a crazy person–overacting, chewing scenery, being aggressive and toothy and growling weird. This makes him not so relatable. A classic “you’re on that side, I’m on this side” villain.

Fun Factor: The same reason Norman Osborn is not relatable is the same reason he’s pretty fun. When you look like a Power Ranger villain, you’ve got to play it up.

Fatal Flaw: Green Goblin puts Spider-Man into an ethical dilemma (like Batman Forever). He expects Spider-Man to be selfish and save his girlfriend, intending to prove that everyone’s going to turn on him when he makes a mistake. Goblin thinks he’s going to become corrupt with power, like he did. He doesn’t believe the little people will forgive Spider-Man if he fails. But Spider-Man succeeds in saving both. And the little people support their Spider-Man and throw things at Green Goblin, proving that people can tell the difference between good and evil.

Method of Defeat: After a knockdown, drag-out brawl, Norman pretends to give up. But Spider-Man’s spider sense lets him avoid the incoming glider blade and Green Goblin ends up stabbing himself. This is a common theme in superhero movies, especially Spider-Man, that the villain causes his own demise, thus absolving the hero of that tricky ethical line of killing the bad guy.

Final Rating: Four stars

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at http://www.ericjuneaubooks.com where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.

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