Perfecting Finales (Insomniac's Spider-Man)
Updated: Sep 1, 2021
Up is perhaps one of the best films Pixar has created, and that is a REALLY high bar. The story features amazing characters, a really sweet story told in an interesting way, and it featured Doug the Dog. While I dig Doug the Dog for dilly-dallying down along with the duo, there is no doubt that Up is remembered pretty much entirely for its first ten minutes. I want to talk about this phenomenon being used for the last few minutes of the story.
I want to distinguish this from the concept of just an amazing ending. The ending of the story may be as broad or as narrow as the writer plans the whole climactic event. However, the whole point of the Reverse-Up phenomenon is to leave a good final taste for the ACTUAL final moments of the story. The writers bust out their A-game for these scenes to maximise the thematic element, narrative and relationship closures, emotional investment and payoff, and, if the story is audio/visual medium, bust out John Williams and the A-list acting, and right now, having recently played it, there is one example I can think of over any other.
While 2018 was a good year for gaming, and despite it already facing high expectations, this game defied expectations on just how good the story was. It captured the most important aspect of his character to transcend since his inception: Consequences. Peter's decisions aren't just morally ambiguous but always have a high opportunity cost.
Another important element about the best stories of Spider-Man is that the villains almost always have a personal connection with Peter himself. This may seem contrived, but the upside here is that it allows for greater emotional conflicts and internal struggles. The story of Insomniac's Spider-Man is not without its own problems, but it is one of the best Spidey stories ever crafted.
During the finale of the story, starting at the top of Oscorp are some of the best story-beats the neighbourly Spider has ever seen. Norman, knowing that there is no way for him to not be dropped, made one last power move to take all the control away from his adversary by calling out all his life's failures at his face.
For a MAJOR underachiever like Octavius, failure has defined him constantly. His story about failure was supposed to make the story of his great legacy and the obstacles he faced, but thanks to one person, it wasn't. For him, giving up his life's work, his noble ventures, and the respect Peter had for him was worth it to see the man who ruined his life lose the one thing that defines him: his ego. Watching him still confident at the face of death was too much for Octavius to keep his composure.
Of course, Norman didn't die. There was one more player in this dynamic now. Peter was responsible for the deaths of so many people, and letting another one go would have meant a defeat. Norman grins, not showing respect for his saviour, but knowing that his old rival who will now face the wrath of the most powerful being in New York.
A fight at the top of Oscorp. This is not a brawl, this is a match of wits. Peter and Otto are exceptional geniuses who let their intelligence and creativity define them. Both of them are at the peak of their technological capabilities and are no longer fighting side-by-side with their allies.
Once their devices start breaking down and they fall from the roof, their battle devolves slowly into a fistfight. This is the last step of devolution for Octavius, who is being beaten and broken into a more primitive state of mind. For Octavius, the final nail is about to be hit as he is defeated in a lab in Oscorp, the lab he gave up everything to not end his story at.
This is perhaps the strongest Peter's character has ever been. Watching his mentor lying there, suffering the anticipation of an upcoming physical disease, facing emotional and mental trauma and not being the symbol of nobility he knew him as, Peter begins experiencing his own catharsis. It was on Octavius to evolve the world and he threw it all away for serving his own form of justice.
He begins a rather obvious round of emotional manipulation and blackmail which we, as the audience are frightened by, knowing that Peter may not be at the top of his awareness. He proves us wrong, however, as he promises to do what he thinks is best and no longer has any reason to think that Octavius' words can hold any value to him. Right now, the only person whose words can guide him is at her death bed.
Switching the scene back to the F.E.A.S.T. Centre, Aunt May is closer to her end than anyone else and needs immediate medical attention, but we get the classic "Goblin at the bridge" dilemma as we are assured that, if May is administered the treatment now, there will not be enough for everyone. This is, to me, the dilemma that defines Spider-Man. There was one person in there who could give him the strength to make the right call.
Aunt May asks her nephew to take off his mask. She knew for a long time that Peter was not wasting his potential but using it beyond any imagination. She only made an acknowledgement that she does, in fact, have closure at that moment. Then, she goes back to rest and lets Peter make his own call.
Peter still needs May. The world just became much more complex to him: Martin Li and Octavius, his two role models let their inner demons consume them. He has the life of Jefferson Davis, a cop that saved his life, on his shoulders. If ever in his life he could use someone to guide him into making the right decisions, it is now. Peter really needs Aunt May to be there to guide him.
But that simply cannot be something Peter will ever do. For Peter, his own needs have to always come second. That is the curse that has to linger with his amazing powers. Peter, for one second, tried his best to get himself to save Aunt May, nearly injecting the cure into her IV, but he had to stop. He just held onto the bottle, submitted to what he knows was the only decision he could make, and mourned the loss of the best person he knew.
At her funeral, we see the true value of the journey made. Now, Miles was in a position to comfort a mourning Peter. Peter did what Aunt May always said, he helped someone, and that led to him helping everyone.
Narrative Climax: Life is Strange and Bojack Horseman
Narrative De-escalation: Life is Strange: Before the Storm