There has been a great deal of buzz around the MCU’s Spider-Man 3 and understandably so. Thus far, according to preliminary buzz, the ninth Spider-movie in 20 years is stacked with nerdy goodness. There’s a team-up with Dr. Strange, Charlie Cox reprising his role as Daredevil from the gone-too-soon Netflix series with guest appearances from former Spider-Men Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. On top of all that, Alfred Molina is supposedly returning as Doctor Octopus. That’s a lot of Spider lore all rolled up into one movie.
I absolutely understand how so much hype can revolve around Doc Ock’s return, because he’s easily one of the best villains in the context of these movies. And I can see where that notoriety has probably been a driving force in the somewhat retconned narrative of the past decade or so that Otto Octavius is somehow Spider-Man’s greatest nemesis. While he is indeed a top shelf foe in the wall crawler’s rogues gallery, it’s important to remember that when it comes down to it, there’s really only one archnemesis to truly match our Friendly Neighborhood Hero: Norman Osborn aka the Green Goblin.
One of the most important fundamentals of any good superhero lore is the villain, most notably the archnemesis. The villain’s main function is to contrast against the hero’s view of the world and how they relate to their fellow man. Commonly, they tend to be the product of similar circumstances and make very different lessons about how to respond to the world. Spider-Man’s entire world revolves around the idea of power and responsibility, using your gifts to do good works for others. Both Peter Parker and Norman Osborn’s alter egos were born from accidents of science. But tragedy taught Peter to use his powers to help make the world a better place; however, privilege and class (and the Goblin formula unbalancing an already narcissistic mind) embolden Osborn to use his abilities to his own benefit, constantly satisfying his own thirst for money and power.
At the very least, Otto Octavius has some small sense of refinement and internal moral code that occasionally appeals to the better angels of his nature. In Superior Spider-Man, when he inhabited Peter Parker’s body and took up the mantle of his enemy, in the end, he fought to defend Peter’s loved ones and save the city. In Spider-Man 2, one of the highlights of the franchise, Peter was able to reason with Otto in the third act, convincing him to shut down his fusion machine that would have certainly doomed New York. Norman doesn’t have traditional human hangups and attachments like friends that he would do anything to protect. Sure, you MIGHT be able to make an argument that he has a twisted connection to his family but even then, he only tries to twist them in his own image.
And then there’s the fact that Osborn has broken the glass ceiling of villainy several times over…which is kind of incredible considering he started out filthy rich. He went on to receive government funding to assemble a team of murderous, backstabbing villains and have them deputized as federal agents called the Thunderbolts. He stopped an alien invasion, got promoted to Nick Fury’s old job where he was allowed to gather even more bad guys together and completely abuse his power. Even after he was ousted, he was so popular with so many of the corrupt agents he hired, they formed a terrorist syndicate in his honor and appointed him their leader. It’s pretty hard to top that. I mean, sure, Otto formed the Sinister Six and got a job with HYDRA during the “Secret Empire” saga…but did the government pay him to do it?
There’s also the stakes to consider. While Doc Ock’s villainy eventually began hitting close to home throughout the mythos, the Green Goblin represents one of the first times the fight between good and evil became intensely personal. A good archnemesis represents the hero’s biggest fear as a superhero brought to life, the embodiment of a worst case scenario. I acknowledge that it is true the argument could be made that since Peter is a man of science, Otto is what happens when science is wielded for sinister purposes. However, Norman Osborn still trumps Ock in this regard as a robber baron member of the super rich. Worse yet, Peter’s worst nightmare is the inevitability that someone would attack his loved ones just because he’s Spider-Man. As his best friend’s father, Norman knows exactly who to hurt to bring Spidey to his knees and has, in fact, done so through Peter’s first love, Gwen Stacy. The idea of an archnemesis is a lot more frightening when they have your home address preprogrammed into the GPS.
Don’t get me wrong. Otto is a great villain, but it’s been long enough since the last time he was on screen that the masses need to be reminded: Where Spider-Man’s concerned, the Green Goblin is still the undisputed heavyweight champion of crime.
Cover image via Movie Rewind