No matter his attempt to shake it, the Green Goblin is a character that's become synonymous with Willem Dafoe, and his new movie Inside tells the Green Goblin story that Marvel couldn't do. Inside features Dafoe as an art thief named Nemo who gets unexpectedly trapped in the home of his latest vacationing mark, with no one aware that he is locked for days in the penthouse of a posh New York City abode. As the home's temperature controls fluctuate to dangerous levels, and he has to become resourceful and sparing with his food and water, completing his heist is the last thing on his mind.
In Spider-Man: No Way Home, Dafoe returned as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin in a much different capacity than he'd ever been seen before, imbuing the comic book villain with a newfound sense of ambiguity and compassion. Inside's confined plot is perfect for Green Goblin fans because it takes the introspection further, highlighting a Green Goblin story Marvel couldn't showcase without taking the attention away from Spider-Man. Known for his deep dive into the psychological paradigm of his roles, the new take on his long-established character offered him the opportunity to explore Osborn's motivations differently, independent of the mold he'd adhered to in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy.
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Inside has received comparisons to the actor's portrayal of the notorious Green Goblin, particularly as the alter-ego consumes his human side, indicating the monumental transformation Osborn went through to become one of Spider-Man's most nefarious nemeses. The way Nemo starts the movie appearing fairly grounded but loses his sense of self mirrors the story of Norman Osborn. Dafoe portrayed Spider-Man's movie villain, and his colorful filmography made him a perfect choice, but Inside showcases what a Green Goblin origin story might look like if Dafoe had the opportunity to explore the character further.
With his kaleidoscopic hallucinations, creepy smiles, and bizarre moments speaking to himself in mirrors during his imprisonment in the penthouse, Inside recalls moments of Dafoe's tour-de-force performance throughout Raimi's Spider-Man. Marvel didn't make an origin story about Norman Osborn's full descent into madness and becoming the Green Goblin, but Inside offers a glimpse into how Osborn might have lost himself in the psyche of the supervillain and questioned reality. Given that supervillains often have to be hypertrophied manifestations of a superhero movie's themes, Dafoe's ramifications of consequence in Inside provide a more nuanced take than what could be put into a movie that mostly focuses on Peter Parker's transformation.
Dafoe is unsettling in movies like American Psycho, so it's not surprising why he was given the Green Goblin role, but Inside proves why he was perfect for it. Ordinarily, no one would empathize with a thief, but his harrowing journey to not just stay alive, but confront himself after being trapped in a penthouse garners sympathy. It's difficult to carry a film with a single performance, but Dafoe proves that he's infinitely watchable when displaying the human condition, and although supervillains aren't often allowed to be so nuanced, Dafoe's Green Goblin has seemed as multidimensional and empathetic as Nemo in recent years.
Few actors could go to the depths of vulnerability Dafoe does in Inside, particularly as the will to survive overshadows egoism. If the MCU ever approached its villains' origin story the way Todd Phillips did with Joker in the DCEU, Green Goblin might be permitted a metamorphosis that isn't confined to a palatable montage. Until then, Inside showcases the desperation, the insanity, and the joy of behaving independently of societal norms, something Green Goblin does with gleeful abandon.
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