Of Monsters and Men

Posted by George Estreich, Biopolitical Times guest contributor November 29, 2012
Biopolitical Times
To be interested in questions of human enhancement, while also being a sucker for Hollywood blockbusters about superheroes, makes for an odd movie experience. Immersed in a fictional world both saved and threatened by the enhanced, you’re aware of the world you’ve just paid to escape. You feel doubled, like the superheroes themselves—though since you’re sitting on the couch and not saving the world, the division is less profound. You don’t have secret powers, just cognitive dissonance; your perception, not your identity, is split.

A few nights ago, I watched The Amazing Spider-Man on Blu-Ray. (Warning: many spoilers ensue.) The movie reboots the franchise that began in 2002, and this time around, the genetic enhancement of human beings is far more central to the plot. Just as in the first series, the high school student Peter Parker, bitten by a genetically modified spider, develops superpowers; but this time around, the spider comes from a corporation whose business model depends on “cross-species genetics,” and Peter’s nemesis—the scientist Curtis Connors, once the research partner of Peter’s deceased father—is a man with one arm, who not only longs to generate a working limb, but dreams of a world where disability and disease are erased.

For Dr. Connors, pressure from his corporate employer pushes these dreams across a moral border. Oscorp’s namesake CEO—Norman Osborn, whom we never see—needs the technology to extend his life. Facing the loss of his job and funding, Connors injects himself to prove his research can work in humans. He collapses, and in a gorgeously creepy scene, awakens to his new self: Peeling back a dry, plantlike husk, he discovers a new arm both fetal and disproportionately large, the veins visible through translucent skin. In the logic of the fantastic, from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to The Fly to The Amazing Spider-Man, Faustian choices lead to swift transformations. The hand soon becomes a giant claw, and Connors acquires a tail, reptilian eyes, and green pebbled skin to go with his resonant English accent. Before long, he has torn his way out the back of a taxi and is throwing cars off a bridge.

The special effects are good, but as the plot shows, the movie’s focus on genetic modification is more than incidental.

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