This isn't a review of the new Spider-Man movie, but I'd like to use it as an example as it's what sparked this thought process. I liked it, though not as much as the first one. Andrew Garfield is amazing, but there's a scene with some planes that is absolutely terrible. If you like super heroes, watch the movie, if you don't then I'd stay away. Anyway, there will be spoilers.
They really drilled the idea of Spider-Man being a symbol of hope. Sure, I guess that's descent. Parker's whole thing is he wants to give hope to people of a better tomorrow, that maybe someday things won't be awful. Obviously he gives hope to people that are in immediate danger, as I'm sure people in Marvel NYC think to themselves 'I really hope Spider-Man shows up' when they're getting mugged.
I was trying to think of a better symbol to attach to Spider-Man. Captain America has, well, America. Batman's all about justice. I think it's safe to say Thor is love, maybe. Superman, at least in the most recent movie, also claims hope as his own. I think in most cases, when the authors really drive at symbolism, the stories degrade and become so much less than what they could be if the symbolism was a non issue, or at least more natural.
Anyway, I couldn't think of a better one. All these heroes are similar. They fight for what is 'good.' If anything, the symbol that Spider-Man should gravitate to is the idea of the hero, which encompasses much more than hope. That's what all these heroes should do.
I think the movie should have ended shortly after Gwen died. That's what got me thinking. They drew the movie out past that event, which I thought was a poor choice. So, I tried to work out why they did that, and it was fairly apparent to me that the reason they did that was to provide closure and to reign in (and throat shove) the connection between Spider-Man and hope.
For me, that drew away from the movie so heavily. Peter Parker should have to struggle. He should be tortured, and he shouldn't have gotten the kind of resolution that he got. The movie should have ended with a question as to where Peter was at emotionally. I like that he dropped Spider-Man for a while, but I would have liked it more if I wasn't given confirmation that he gets back into it.
The movie took what was a cool event in a good character's story and funneled anything the event could have offered into the idea of hope, and starved the character of any sort of reality. This scares me a little because I don't want to ruin something real I have with an over-emphasis on symbolism. That's one of the critiques I've received a lot. I'd like to try to find a balance between the two, as I still value symbolism highly. I just don't want it to choke a character.
It is possible. I think Lord of the Flies did a great job at balancing character and symbol. I think a lot of fairy tales don't have the character to worry about. The symbolism is the exact point, and in stories such as those I am completely receptive to symbolism absolutely overpowering a character. I just think, I guess, that Peter Parker had a good enough character (probably largely because of Andrew Garfield) that who he was was more valuable than what he stood for or what he was trying to accomplish.