J.K. Simmons has become something of a big deal in Hollywood thanks to his unexpected and stunning performance as the abusive jazz teacher in 2014's Whiplash. This year he’s returning to a comic book movie franchise in the form of Zack Snyder’s Justice League as Batman’s ally, Commissioner James Gordon.
But these roles weren’t the performances that put J.K. Simmons on the map to general audiences. To many people, and I would daresay to most, Simmons became a recognizable face after his brilliant and over the top performance as J. Jonah Jameson in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy.
In a series full of memorable performances, Simmons’ always stood above the rest, even with his limited screen time.
While Jameson isn’t an outright villain to Spider-Man, he’s clearly not a friend either. But the thing we sometimes might overlook is his relationship with Peter Parker; the man, not the superhero. While Jameson doesn’t seem to be a fan of people in general, he’s not outright hostile, except to Spiderman. Above all else, Jameson’s a businessman. He pushes his employees to do their best while also being as stringent as possible to the point of being a cheapskate.
All in all, Jameson is one of the best jerks we love to hate.
He seems to show a lot of inhumanity, but how inhumane is he? While he will never be heralded as an outright superhero, there is a moment, a brief glimpse, that highlights Jameson’s true character, and it’s not as devious as we would maybe think. That scene occurs in the original Spider-Man at the point when the Green Goblin, played by Willem Dafoe, attacks the Daily Bugle and interrogates Jameson for information regarding the identity of Spider-Man.
The scene starts off with Jameson throwing a cigar butt out of his high-story window after yelling Peter Parker out of the room, only to be surprised when the butt gets tossed right back onto his desk. A look of confusion forms on his face just before the Green Goblin’s glider comes smashing through the window and brick wall in a explosion of debris. Green Goblin doesn’t waste time or mince words, he wants to know who the photographer is who takes pictures of Spider-Man, and he wants to know now.
He grabs Jameson by the neck with his superhuman strength and lifts him five feet into the air. After insulting Jameson by calling him slime — deservedly so — he asks, “Who’s the photographer who takes the pictures of Spider-Man?”
Shocked and horrified at the sudden attack, Jameson responds, “I don’t know who he is. His stuff comes in the mail!”
“You’re lying!” the goblin responds.
“He’s the one who can bring me to him!”
For the third time, Jameson denies his knowledge of Spider-Man’s photographer, knowing full well that Peter Parker is just in the other room. “I don’t know who he is!”
The Green Goblin, disgusted at Jameson’s denial, prepares to throw a powerful punch to Jameson’s face. “You are useless.”
Luckily for Jameson, Spider-Man shows up to save the day. This of course doesn’t stop Jameson from instantly jumping to the conclusion that Spider-Man and the Green Goblin are in cahoots, but Spider-Man quickly silences Jameson’s flapping mouth with a splotch of webbing straight to the mouth.
While it’s easy to focus on the fact that Jameson is a jerk to Spider-Man under any and every circumstance, this scene shows a noble side to Jameson as well.
Three times he kept his knowledge of Peter Parker a secret. Three times he risked his life for Parker’s. If that’s not noble, I don’t know what is.
It could be argued that maybe he did it to protect Parker as a financial asset, but that’s a weak argument. People are shades of gray, neither perfectly good nor wholly evil. The same principle should apply to fictional characters. While Jameson isn’t a likable guy, it doesn’t mean he’s a bad one. When push comes to shove, he’s willing to stand up for the people in his life.
I love scenes like this that show true character. It would have been easy for the writers to throw Jameson under the bus by having Jameson rat out Peter Parker right away — which would technically be truer to his established character — but they didn’t. They allowed Jameson to show that underneath his rough and arrogant exterior, he’s a pretty decent guy. Most of the time.
It’s always a pleasant surprise when a character does something unexpected, and in so doing, humanizes them in a relevant way.