We need to talk about writing a character that is powerful and loud yet subtle like Willem Dafoe’s Norman Osborn from the very first Spider-man film! There’s something constantly ringing in my head.
You probably left the movie with Peter Parker’s narrative in your mind, his character arc was beautifully sketched out and keeps you engaged throughout the narrative. But once I walked out of the cinema, the thing that stayed with me was how to write a villain who crawls under your skin and makes you wanna be more like him compared to the good guy of the story.
I’ve turned this blog into a short video essay on YouTube if that’s your flavor here
Before you witness Norman transforming into a villain, you witness him as a victim of circumstances. It is only when his life’s work is threatened when he decides to embrace the dark side, volunteering as the first human subject for his Super Soldier Serum. The test goes haywire, the serum messes with his brain and the dark side fully takes over.
You finally see him using villainous tactics with scenes where he kills the Army general along with the board of directors of Oscorp. But even though he commits these crimes, I was having a difficult time looking at him as a villain. These scenes felt like Norman was simply fighting to keep his company alive, the only problem here was the way he chose to do it with.
Even when Norman attacks aunt May while she prays, instead of despising Norman, the scene where he’s pushed out of his own company kept playing in my head over and over again. It had me totally convinced no matter what Norman does, I will never see him as a villain! The people who surround his business push him towards making villainous choices. But his war with Spider-man is obviously not business, it’s just a little detour the movie took.
The only time I almost fell towards looking at Norman as a villain was when he tried to kill Mary Jane and a bunch of children on a school bus, giving Spider-man the choice to save only one of them. But in all honesty, it felt like there could have been a much more thoughtful way for establishing Norman on the villain side to overpower his victim side so I could finally stop empathizing with him and root for his loss at the hands of Spider-man.
By the time the climactic battle took place between Peter and Norman, I think the film kind of lost its way to becoming something even greater than it currently is. I don’t dispute the fact how Spider-man is a great film, but every time I think about the innocence Willem Dafoe used to portray Norman Osborn and the menace he used to portray the Green Goblin, it could have made this film far more legendary if only the storytellers here were aiming for the movie to be in that direction.
But maybe I’m wrong and it’s just my inner storyteller speaking out of turn. Perhaps the director (Sam Raimi) was making sure the movie doesn’t leave a dark essence in our minds.
In contrast to Norman, when I look at Peter, wondering why a character like this never embraces the dark side, the only answer I see is how a man like Peter isn’t fighting for power or to keep his life’s work alive. He’s always fighting to keep people safe and be around his loved ones.
I don’t know how wrong I am, but a man’s dark side never takes over him when he’s simply fighting for love. It takes over when a man is continuously pushing to keep the one thing alive that makes him who he is.
When you ask somebody to leave behind the woman he loves so he can fully take over the responsibility given to him by a higher power, you will root for the character to become a savior no matter how sorry you feel about it. But when you witness these scenarios where somebody is thrown out of his own company, you feel rage, you want the character to fight back by any means necessary.
This is what Norman was simply trying to do.
But the way he became a traditional supervillain by threatening innocent lives felt just a wee bit off course. Perhaps the character and the film could have benefited with more memorability by writing a character who would use his brains to wreak psychological havoc as opposed to using his tools to wreak physical destruction over the city.
I want to know what you thought about how Norman Osborn became the Green Goblin? Do you see him simply as a supervillain or do you see him as a complex victim of complicated circumstances? Think about it and leave a thought-provoking answer in the comments.
Share this with your circle if you found value here and follow me on Medium to stay tuned for some storytelling goodness every now and then.
In the hopes of connecting with film lovers all over the world, this is Mr. Zeecon, in the making of a great story.