Study Guide

Spider-Man Analysis

  • Christianity

    In most superhero flicks, it's not too difficult to draw a parallel between the main character and Jesus Christ. But most superhero flicks don't have their big bad hanging out in burning buildings and threateningly quoting the Bible, though.

    There are several Christian symbols and references in Spider-Man. For starters, Peter is Christ-like in his willingness to sacrifice his happiness (and his life, if need be) to save the lives of others.

    Sounds like a certain Jewish carpenter we know, right?

    Most of the Christian imagery in Spider-Man is associated with the Green Goblin and his depiction of the Christian concept of evil, though. First of all, there's his mask, which makes him look like a green version of pop culture's depiction of the devil.

    Second, there's his love of hanging out in fiery hellscapes. One of Green Goblin's biggest battles with Spider-Man takes place inside a burning building that the Green Goblin tricks Spider-Man into entering. As the flames flicker menacingly in the background, it's hard not to see the allusions to the underworld in the Green Goblin's preferred battle locale.

    When the Green Goblin attacks Aunt May, he does so while she's kneeling beside her bed saying the Lord's Prayer. Check out how it all goes down:

    AUNT MAY: Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us—

    The Green Goblin blows up Aunt May's bedroom wall. She falls to the floor, screaming.

    AUNT MAY: Deliver us!

    GREEN GOBLIN: Finish it! Finish it!

    AUNT MAY: From evil!

    The Green Goblin sure seems to delight in being evil, doesn't he? If we wanted to nitpick, we'd make the argument that harassing pajama-clad senior citizens isn't the most brazen of supervillain moves, but the next time the Green Goblin gets all biblical, he's got Mary Jane and a tramway car full of kids held hostage on the Queensboro Bridge.

    Consider that ante upped, we guess.

    When Spider-Man arrives at the bridge, the Green Goblin presents him with an ultimatum:

    GREEN GOBLIN: This is why only fools are heroes. Because you never know when some lunatic will come along with a sadistic choice: let die the woman you love or suffer the little children.

    That last part is a quote from the Bible, specifically Matthew 19:14, which says:

    But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. (Source)

    "Suffer" in this verse actually means "allow" or "permit." The line comes from a story where a bunch of kids want to see Jesus, and his friends, assuming he doesn't want to be harassed by a pack of rugrats, try to shoo them away. Jesus is saying, "No, no. That's cool if those kids want to come see me."

    Knowing that, if we take another look at what the Green Goblin is saying to Peter, he's quoting scripture to say, "You've got two options: allow M.J. to die, or allow the little children to die." The fact that the line from Matthew uses the word "suffer" only makes the choices he's presenting sound more sinister.

  • Double Identity

    One of Spider-Man's biggest symbols is the Green Goblin himself. Now, we know what you're thinking: "hold up, a character can be a symbol?"

    Yes, indeed.

    The Green Goblin symbolizes Spider-Man's double identity; both men lead double lives. While the supercharged Green Goblin is ordinary businessman Norman Osborn by day, Spider-Man is totally average Peter Parker when he's out of costume.

    Gobby is a mirror image of Spider-Man, albeit a dark and twisted one. They're total opposites, right down to their costumes, which are complimentary colors.

    Spider-Man is noble like his Uncle Ben and strives to use his superpowers to help mankind, whether that means stopping a robbery, saving a baby from a burning building, or slapping the Green Goblin around. The Green Goblin, on the other hand, uses his enhanced abilities to terrorize those he feels have wronged him, like Gen. Slocum, Balkan, Fargas, and Spider-Man. He's as selfish as Peter is generous and willing to sacrifice himself for others.

    Uncle Ben famously tells Peter that "with great power comes great responsibility." The Green Goblin represents what would happen if Peter had an anvil dropped on his head, forgot those words, and ran wild through the streets of New York City sowing superpowered chaos.

  • September 11th Attacks

    The terrorist attacks that took place on September 11th, 2001, had a profound impact on the United States and the rest of the world. That includes Hollywood. Numerous TV shows and films were edited and revised to reflect the changing world.

    For Spider-Man, that meant redacting a teaser trailer that featured a huge spider web between the twin towers of the World Trade Center, as well as a poster for the film where the towers were reflected in the eyes of Spider-Man's mask.

    But it wasn't all about subtraction. New scenes were added to the film in tribute to New York City, Spider-Man's hometown.

    The scene where New Yorkers hurl garbage and threats at the Green Goblin during his climactic fight with Spider-Man was added, for example:

    NEW YORKER #1: Leave Spider-Man alone! You're gonna pick on a guy trying to save a bunch of kids?

    NEW YORKER #2: Come on up here, tough guy! I got a little something for ya! You mess with Spidey, you mess with New York!

    NEW YORKER #1: You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us!

    These new lines of dialogue represent the sense of unity not just in New York, but all across the United States, in the wake of the attacks.

    In the film, Spider-Man ultimately becomes a symbol for the people of New York, of their resilience and their sense of community. (Sorry, J. Jonah Jameson. Better luck next time.)

    Meanwhile, in multiplexes across the United States, Spider-Man became a symbol for all of America's strength. The very last scene of the movie was one that the filmmakers added after the September 11th attacks, too. Spider-Man swings valiantly through the streets of New York, ultimately taking his perch on a flagpole bearing an enormous American flag and looking more patriotic and inspiring than George Washington, hot dogs, and a bald eagle all rolled into one.

  • Hero's Journey

    Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.

    About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)

    Ordinary World

    Peter is a skinny, wimpy, thoroughly relatable high school senior. He gets picked on by his classmates, he has a BFF named Harry, and he's madly in love with his neighbor, Mary Jane. He lives with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May in Queens. They're kind of corny, but they're loving surrogate parents for Pete.

    Call to Adventure

    On a field trip to the Columbia University science department, Peter suffers a bite from a genetically engineered super spider.

    Okay, "suffers" is probably too harsh a word here since that gnarly looking spider bite gives Peter a set of rad superpowers: enhanced strength and speed, the ability to crawl up walls, web shooters, and precognition. Peter is physically transformed into a buff dude capable of stopping the bullies that once picked on him. He's capable of stopping criminals, too.

    Refusal of the Call

    Peter refuses to use his enhanced abilities to stop a robber who holds up the wrestling tournament Peter just participated in. In this moment, he's called to use his superpowers for good; when he lets the robber go, he essentially says, "Thanks, but no thanks."

    And his uncle winds up dead as a result. Whoops.

    Meeting the Mentor

    On graduation day, when Peter is missing Uncle Ben something fierce, Aunt May reminds Peter that Uncle Ben loved him and knew he was destined to do great things. In effect, she represents both herself and Ben now, mentoring Peter by proxy and reminding him of his values and what he's fighting for.

    Crossing the Threshold

    Peter gives Spider-Man's costume a much-needed upgrade, and Spider-Man hits the streets of New York, stopping criminals left and right. Gone is the bitter teen who refused to stop a thief.

    Public opinion about Spidey and his crime-fighting motives are mixed, but he's officially made his presence known to the denizens of New York City…including a certain glider-riding supervillain.

    Tests, Allies, Enemies

    Peter's chief allies are his best friend, Harry, and his oldest friend, Mary Jane, with whom he's also secretly in love. The whole situation is complicated by the fact that once Peter and Harry become roommates after high school, Harry and Mary Jane start dating. Sorry, Pete.

    Peter's #1 enemy, as Spider-Man, is the Green Goblin. Gobby firmly believes that people are terrible: they'll never appreciate the sacrifices you make; all they'll do is betray you. The Green Goblin proposes that he and Spidey team up and become allies, presumably in chaos and destruction, fueled by their bitterness over being taken for granted by the world.

    Spider-Man also faces minor opposition from J. Jonah Jameson, the editor-in-chief of the Daily Bugle who insists that Spider-Man is a public menace, even while everybody's favorite wall-crawler is out there stopping burglaries and saving babies.

    Throughout his journey, Spider-Man faces several tests. The first big one is stopping the Green Goblin when he crashes Oscorp's World Unity Festival. He's too late to stop Gobby from blowing up Oscorp's board, but he saves Mary Jane's life, as well as the lives of countless ordinary citizens.

    Later, the Green Goblin shows up at the Daily Bugle and hits Spider-Man with knockout gas. He doesn't kill him; he takes him to a quiet, little out-of-the-way place and proposes that they team up. Next, the Green Goblin lures Spider-Man into a burning building. When Spider-Man formally declines his offer to be partners, he and the Green Goblin throw down again.

    After a while, the Green Goblin starts to feel less like Spider-Man's nemesis and more like his stalker.

    Approach to the Inmost Cave

    This is where our hero prepares for his biggest challenge. In Spider-Man, it's also where our hero eats turkey. At Thanksgiving dinner, when Norman spots the cut on Peter's arm, he realizes his son's pal is his nemesis, Spider-Man.

    The stakes have officially been raised. Now that Norman and the Green Goblin know Spidey's secret identity, they know how to focus their attack for maximum impact.

    Ordeal

    When Aunt May is attacked, Peter faces his greatest fear. With his identity exposed, his loved ones are no longer safe. At least the Green Goblin doesn't know that he loves Mary Jane. Yet.

    Reward (Seizing the Sword)

    Peter and M.J. have an intimate heart-to-heart in Aunt May's hospital room as Aunt May, Peter's only family, rests—and eavesdrops—peacefully. Peter tells M.J. what he told Spider-Man about her (i.e., that she's, like, the most awesome girl ever), and Mary Jane and Peter hold hands. Aww.

    The Road Back

    The Green Goblin kidnaps Mary Jane and holds her hostage on top of the Queensboro Bridge. See, Harry, not knowing what he was doing, told Norman that Peter is in love with M.J., which means the Green Goblin knows exactly how to get to Spider-Man. Whoops.

    Spider-Man comes to M.J.'s aid and rescues her. He also saves a tramway car full of innocent kids in the process after Gobby tries to force Spider-Man to choose between the two. Spider-Man: all about that multitasking.

    Resurrection

    The resurrection is where the hero returns order to the world and ends the conflict. Here, it's when Spider-Man defeats the Green Goblin once and for all. Technically, we suppose the Green Goblin kind of defeats himself since he's impaled by his own glider after Spider-Man dodges it, but still.

    With the Green Goblin gone, Spider-Man/Peter can breathe easier. We're sure that pesky little matter of Harry vowing to avenge his father's death will just resolve itself, right? Right?

    Return with the Elixir

    Peter returns to his ordinary world a changed man. When M.J. confesses her love for him (finally), he tells her he'll always be her friend. He tells the audience that he'll never forget Uncle Ben's words—"with great power comes great responsibility"—and that he's got a job to do because he's Spider-Man.

    It's his gift because he can stop crime and save lives, and it's his curse because he can't live happily ever after with M.J., 2.5 spider-children, and a white picket fence.

  • Setting

    New York City

    How you do keep a high-flying, web-slinging superhero grounded and relatable? You put him in New York City, that's how.

    Setting Spider-Man's adventures against a big-city backdrop makes them feel realistic. Everybody's familiar with New York; whether you've lived there, visited there, or just seen it portrayed on screens big and small, you know what this booming metropolis is like: the template for the American urban center, from its skyscrapers and hustle to its traffic and opinionated, outspoken construction workers.

    Most of the comic-book industry's founders—guys like Spider-Man's creators Steve Ditko and Stan Lee—were based in New York, too. They drew inspiration from the world around them: things like those skyscrapers we just mentioned, dark and potentially dangerous alleys, low-level street crime, brightly lit marquees, and the overall buzz of living in the City That Never Sleeps.

    Setting Spider-Man on, say, Mars or in some mythical city of clouds or a fictional island where spiders are revered as gods would drastically change our perception of the character. Setting him in good, ol' New York City puts the American Dream in the film's DNA.

    It suggests that anything can happen to anyone there—a nerdy high school wimp can become a brave, beloved superhero, for example. The big city is where people go to make it, well, big. The film's setting embodies the American idea that hard work pays off and, as the Green Goblin finds out, a strong community is unstoppable.

    We Heart NY

    After the attacks of September 11th, 2001, the film's New York setting took on a whole new level of poignancy. All Americans were New Yorkers in the wake of the tragedy that went down in Lower Manhattan as the world watched. Spidey's hometown was the epicenter of American unity and resolve…and it left the filmmakers with a bit of a conundrum.

    Although Spider-Man wasn't released until May 3rd, 2002, it was already being advertised in the summer of 2001 with teaser trailers and posters that flaunted the film's New York setting—including the twin towers of the World Trade Center. After the attacks, those clips and posters were quickly recalled in deference to the victims and their loved ones.

    Two additional scenes featuring the film's New York setting were added to the film as well. First, a scene was added to Spider-Man and the Green Goblin's battle at the Queensboro Bridge, a real bridge that crosses the East River and connects Manhattan to Queens, i.e., Peter Parker's neighborhood. This new scene features New Yorkers hurling trash and insults at the Green Goblin, letting him know that if he messes with one New Yorker, he messes with all New Yorkers.

    The second additional scene was the pre-credits button where Spider-Man swings through New York and ultimately lands in front of an enormous American flag. Putting Spider-Man in front of the Stars and Stripes to close the film wasn't exactly subtle, but subtlety is kind of overrated in times of crazy-big strife, isn't it?

    That patriotic final shot, coming just eight months after the September 11th attacks, resonated with American audiences more than any deranged rich dude in a goblin costume every could.

    Spider-Man's patriotic pose, high above the fray, said you can't keep a good spider—or city—down.

  • Point of View

    Two Storylines, Plus First-Person Narrative Bookends

    Raise your hand if you thought Spider-Man was going to be narrated by Peter Parker.

    We can see why you'd think that. Peter starts the film off with a chunk of narration that explains that his story, which we're about to see, is extraordinary and all about a girl. Then we get zero narration for the next 99 minutes or so, not until another block of voice-over narration from Pete at the very end of the film explains why he had to banish M.J. to the friend zone.

    Aside from these spoken, first-person narrative bookends, Spider-Man's story unfolds in a straight-ahead manner. Our A plot focuses on the trials and tribulations of Peter Parker, recent spider-bite victim. Our B plot centers on deposed Oscorp founder Norman Osborn, who's suffering some nasty side effects from his company's performance enhancing drug. Eventually, Peter's and Norman's two stories begin crisscrossing as their superpowered alter egos clash time and time again.

    From a storytelling standpoint, however, the convergence of the A and B plots feels more like the B plot comes crashing into the A plot on a stolen military-grade glider than a real narrative merger. Given the Green Goblin's penchant for party-crashing (see the World Unity Festival) and for making a dramatic entrance (see the Daily Bugle and Aunt May's bedroom), that seems fitting.

    Given that the film is Spider-Man's origin story and it's called Spider-Man, it also seems appropriate that the main storyline belongs to Peter from beginning to end, narrated or not.

  • Genre

    Comic Book; Action; Romance

    Spider-Man isn't any ol' Marvel Comics movie. No, it's the Marvel Comics movie that kicked off the 21st-century wave of super successful superhero movies featuring Marvel characters. Iron Man. Thor. The Guardians of the Galaxy. Ant-Man.

    Yep. Thanks to Spider-Man, even Ant-Man got his own star turn.

    The comic-book genre is known for its special effects, massive action set pieces, bombastic villains, and incredible origin stories. Spider-Man has each in spades. He swings through New York on organic webs. He battles the Green Goblin, a psychopathic terrorist who chucks pumpkin bombs at his enemies and attacks old ladies. He fights said psychopath atop New York's Queensboro Bridge, among other places.

    All this web-slinging and wall-crawling and hand-to-hand combat is only happening in the first place because of a freak spider bite Peter gets on a school field trip. Then his beloved uncle gets killed, right after imparting an important life lesson—a tragedy for which Peter feels wicked guilty. Spider-Man is so much of a comic-book movie that you can practically see the panels on screen.

    Where does the romance come in? Peter says himself, right after the opening credits, that "this—like any story worth telling—is all about a girl. That girl. The girl next door."

    The girl that he makes out with upside down in the rain, snagging Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst the coveted, prestigious MTV Movie Award for Best Kiss. Yowza.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    Superman. Iron Man. Daredevil. Comic-book films have a tendency to keep things short, sweet, and eponymous when it comes to their titles—especially when the film is an origin story or the first in a planned series.

    Spider-Man is no exception. It's Spider-Man's movie. It's his introduction to film audiences and his reintroduction to pop culture for many.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    …and they all lived happily ever after. Kind of.

    Most superhero movies have a happy ending. Don't worry, we won't spoil any of them for you, except to say that if your hero is on the poster or, even better, their name (or team name) is in the title of the flick, they're probably going to make it out of the movie alive. Overall, this is a very good thing.

    Spider-Man's ending, by contrast, is bittersweet. Sure, he saves the day and finally gets the girl, but his best friend has sworn revenge on him, and he has to tell the girl "thanks, but no thanks" after she passionately confesses her love for him.

    Ouch.

    At the end of the movie, Peter realizes the extent of what it means to be Spider-Man—the responsibility and sacrifice of it all. He can't get close to Mary Jane, the girl he's been in love with since he was 6 years old because he doesn't want to put her in danger.

    Then there's the pesky little matter of Harry vowing to kill Spider-Man to avenge his dad's death. What Harry doesn't know, of course, is that his dad was a murderous psychopath and his best bud is Spider-Man. Whoops.

    Setting aside the coda added after the September 11th attacks that features Spider-Man posing in front of an American flag, Spider-Man's narrative concludes on a bleak note—they're at a funeral—but, like any good comic-book flick, it leaves the door wide open for a sequel or two.

  • Shock Rating

    PG-13

    Spider-Man earns its PG-13 rating mainly for violence. When Spider-Man goes head-to-head with the Green Goblin, things can get pretty intense. People get shot. Bones get broken. Pumpkin bombs explode in people's faces. There's a fair amount of blood.

    Speaking of heads, Green Goblin's mask might be frightening to younger Spidey fans, too—although it's nothing like the original design the producers toyed with using. That thing's pure nightmare fuel.