Study Guide

Spider-Man Cast

  • Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire)

    Superheroes Still Have to Do Their Homework

    Batman's face doesn't break out. Superman has never told Lois, "Sorry, can't hang tonight. Got a test on Beowulf to cram for." When's the last time you saw Iron Man's aunt ask him to pick up some cranberries for Thanksgiving dinner?

    Spider-Man is different from most of his fellow superheroes because he's a teenager. He's also a nerdy social outcast. He's a weakling. He's the reverse of Superman. Superman pretends to be bumbling wimp Clark Kent. Peter Parker really is a wimp.

    Then he gets bitten by a genetically engineered spider on a field trip. Like you do.

    The thing is, the superpowers Peter gets from that spider bite can't make high school any less awful for him. If anything, they make it worse.

    When Flash picks a fight with him, Peter trounces him. Here's this bully who picks on him constantly, and dates M.J. and treats her like garbage, and Peter uses his super strength and reflexes to humiliate him. That should feel awesome, right?

    It does. For a second. Then one of Flash's buddies says this:

    FLASH'S CRONY: Jesus, Parker, you are a freak.

    M.J. shoots Peter a look that echoes that sentiment. Even with a buff new bod and superpowered fighting skills, Peter Parker is still a teenage weirdo.

    Packing on the Moral Muscle

    As Peter transforms into Spider-Man and becomes a superhero, he also becomes a man—and we're not just talking about the 35 pounds of muscle he suddenly wakes up with after that fateful visit to the Columbia University science department. After Uncle Ben's death, Peter takes his father figure's words to heart:

    UNCLE BEN: Peter, these are the years when a man changes into the man he's gonna become the rest of his life. Just be careful who you change into. [...] Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.

    This becomes Peter's motto as a superhero, words so important that he repeats them at the end of the film:

    PETER (voice-over): Whatever life holds in store for me, I will never forget these words: "with great power comes great responsibility." This is my gift. My curse. Who am I? I'm Spider-Man.

    While he was out there swinging across the New York City skyline and discovering how to make the most of his newfound abilities, Peter also found his moral compass. He wants to do right not just by his beloved Uncle Ben, about whose death he feels super-duper guilty, but by Aunt May and Mary Jane, too.

    Our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Dude

    For all his web shooters and moral fortitude, Peter is still relatable…even if you're not 17.

    He's socially awkward. He's kind of bashful. He's in love with somebody who doesn't love him back (at least, not initially). His boss is a jerk. He's thoroughly average, and this endears him to viewers. Peter wants what we all want: to make rent, to get the girl or guy, and to take care of his friends and fam. That's what makes it extra satisfying when he succeeds. He's just like us.

    When he tries out his spider skills, Peter gets to be totally free and totally himself—which is something we all want. Zipping from rooftop to rooftop, the pressure to fit in, the pressure to make Aunt May and Uncle Ben proud, and the pressure to be cool, calm, and collected around M.J. are gone.

    Peter can just be Peter, and he hoots and hollers like a kid who has just been turned loose in a hot-fudge factory with a pocket full of ice cream.

    Caught Between Two Worlds

    Ultimately, though, Peter isn't one of us. Because of his duty to the people of New York, Spider-Man can never tell Mary Jane and Aunt May who he really is. Because he's the only one who can stop baddies like the Green Goblin, the ones he loves most will always be targets for his enemies.

    Or, as Peter puts it:

    PETER (voice-over): No matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, the ones I love will always be the ones who pay.

    When Peter refers to being Spidey as his curse, that's what he's talking about. Look at what happens as soon as Norman figures out that Peter is Spider-Man: Aunt May gets attacked that same evening. And when Harry tells his dad that Pete is in love with M.J., the poor girl gets kidnapped and held prisoner atop the Queensboro Bridge.

    Peter's commitment to doing what's right for as many people as he possibly can means he can't have much of a personal life, and he definitely can't have a romantic life—at least, not if he doesn't want all of his dates to end up in hostage negotiations.

    Having to keep his identity from people like J. Jonah Jameson? No sweat. Having to lie to Aunt May and Mary Jane? It's downright torture.

    Case in point: at the end of the film, Peter finally gets the girl after a decade of secretly being in love with her. As Peter tells us at the very beginning of the film:

    PETER: But let me assure you, this—like any story worth telling—is all about a girl. That girl. The girl next door. Mary Jane Watson. The woman I loved since before I even liked girls.

    After Norman's funeral, Mary Jane finally—finally!—realizes that Peter is amazing and confesses that she's in love with him, too:

    MARY JANE: There's only one man who's always been there for me, who makes me feel like I'm more than I ever thought I could be, that I'm just…me. And that's okay. The truth is, I love you. Oh, I love you so much, Peter.

    This is where Peter grabs M.J.'s hand and they ride off into the sunset on twin unicorns as Aunt May, the ghost of Uncle Ben, and a chorus of woodland creatures throw glitter on them, right?

    Wrong. Peter ultimately comes back with this:

    PETER: I will always be your friend.

     Wait, what?

    Peter tells the audience that he wanted to tell M.J. he loves her back, but all he tells M.J. is that he'll always have her back…because he knows that the loved ones of Spider-Man are always in jeopardy.

    Want another example of Spidey's world-straddling? Sure thing.

    During Spider-Man's climactic fight with the Green Goblin, a pumpkin bomb explodes in Spider-Man's face, ripping a large chunk of his mask off and sending him flying through a brick wall and into a pile of rubble.

    As the Green Goblin pummels him, half of Peter's face is visible…and half of it is concealed by the mask. We see both identities at the same time.

    And the guy we're looking at? He's tired. He's bloody. His best friend's dad is trying to kill him and threatening to harm the love of his life. We can see the pain of having a secret, super heroic identity right there on Peter and Spider-Man's battered face—literally—and there aren't enough Band-Aids in the world to heal that hurt.

    There is kicking the Green Goblin's butt, though. That seems to help a bit.

  • Norman Osborn/The Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe)

    You Know What They Say About Absolute Power

    The Green Goblin is one seriously self-obsessed supervillain. How self-obsessed? When he hits Spider-Man with knockout gas and captures him outside the Daily Bugle, he doesn't take a sec to see who's under the mask.

    We don't know about you, but that's the very first thing we would've done.

    Of course, before he even becomes the Green Goblin, Norman Osborn is a selfish dude. He thrives on power and the control that comes with it. That's why, at Oscorp, he decides to test the performance enhancers on himself…because Gen. Slocum threatens to give the military's hefty weapons contract over to Oscorp's chief rival, Quest Aerospace, if Norman can't get the formula for his performance enhancers right.

    At home, his self-centeredness and need to be the boss of everything have strained his relationship with his son, Harry. In fact, he acknowledges his shortcomings as a dad outright:

    NORMAN: I haven't always been there for you, have I?

    HARRY: You're busy. You're an important man. I understand.

    NORMAN: That's no excuse. I'm proud of you, and I've lost sight of that somewhere, but I gotta make it up to you, Harry. I'm going to rectify certain inequities.

    Yes, that's sweet. Still, when push comes to shove, Norman does what Norman wants. When Harry arranges Thanksgiving dinner so that Norman can meet M.J., for example, Norman bolts before they can all tuck into some mashed potatoes.

    Harry is ticked…and Norman is a real dirtbag:

    HARRY: I planned this whole thing so you could meet M.J., and now you have to leave?

    NORMAN: I gotta go.

    HARRY: This girl is important to me.

    NORMAN: Harry, please. Look at her. You think a woman like that's sniffing around because she likes your personality?

    HARRY: What are you saying?

    NORMAN: Your mother was beautiful, too. They're all beautiful until they're snarling after your trust fund like a pack of ravening wolves.

    Norman's big bank account fuels his selfishness and lets him have and do whatever he wants with few repercussions, even when it comes to his own kid.

    It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's a Bitter Guy Throwing Pumpkins!

    So, when Norman loses his powerful position with Oscorp, he straight up loses his mind. He goes literally mad.

    Norman's breaking point arrives when Fargas, Balkan, and the rest of the Oscorp board announce the sale of Oscorp to Quest and tell Norman he's out. It's a massive humiliation for Norman—he's being kicked out of the company he created and that bears his name. (He may be a brilliant scientist-businessman, but he's not so creative in the branding department.)

    Norman's response to this goes all over the place. Watch as he shifts from screaming like an angry child to pleading to hinting at the green menace seething under the surface, all in one very brief conversation:

    NORMAN: You can't do this to me. I started this company. You know how much I sacrificed?!

    The board just stares at him blankly.

    NORMAN: Oh, Max. Please.

    FARGAS: Norman, the board is unanimous. We're announcing the sale after the World Unity Festival. I'm sorry.

    BALKAN: You're out, Norman.

    NORMAN: Am I?

    Later, when the Green Goblin crashes the World Unity Festival, he makes an unnerving callback to Norman's unceremonious firing from the company he built. "Out, am I?" he snarls. Then he murders the entire Oscorp board.

    Norman Goes Nuts

    While the Green Goblin ultimately becomes a mischievous, multipurpose terrorist—you know, the kind who holds a pack of innocent kids riding public transportation hostage—he's initially motivated by revenge.

    The challenge to, and subsequent loss of, his power at the hands of Slocum and the Oscorp board create a psychotic break that leads Norman to carrying on full conversations with himself…like this back-and-forth right here:

    NORMAN: The board members. You killed them.

    GREEN GOBLIN: We killed them.

    NORMAN: We?

    GREEN GOBLIN: Remember? Your little accident in the laboratory.

    NORMAN: The performance enhancers.

    GREEN GOBLIN: Bingo. Me! Your greatest creation. Bringing you what you've always wanted: power beyond your wildest dreams. And it's only the beginning.

    Yes, gulping down those toxic performance enhancers played a role, too, but as Norman's final exchange with Peter demonstrates, after they've both been stripped of their masks, Norman is just as down and dirty as the Green Goblin:

    PETER: You killed those people on that balcony.

    NORMAN: The Goblin killed! I had nothing to do with it! Don't let him take me again. I beg you. Protect me.

    PETER: You tried to kill Aunt May. You tried to kill Mary Jane.

    NORMAN: But not you. I tried to stop it. But I couldn't stop it. I would never hurt you. I knew from the beginning, if anything ever happened to me, it was you I could count on.

    Norman secretly presses a button that calls for his glider, which appears behind Peter.

    Norman may still claim that he and the Green Goblin are separate entities here, but the fact that he secretly summons his glider to take out Peter suggests otherwise. Norman isn't the hapless victim he's pretending to be. He's not the Green Goblin's stooge. He's become a willing participant in the Green Goblin's mayhem, and he's rotten to the core.

    Breaking Bad

    Norman and Peter are mirror images. One light, one dark.

    Just like Peter, Norman was accidentally bestowed with superpowers. Unlike Peter, Norman broke bad.

    While Peter uses his power to create safety and security for the people of New York, Norman uses it to destroy their peace of mind. Because the Oscorp board did him wrong—and he's a power-hungry tyrant—he believes that personal sacrifice can only lead to betrayal. He insists that the public will betray Peter's goodwill.

    With great power comes great responsibility…or, in Norman's case, a great desire to destroy everything in sight.

  • Harry Osborn (James Franco)

    Harry is the man in the middle.

    He's in the middle of a love triangle with Peter and Mary Jane and he's in the middle of the conflict between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin—even if he doesn't yet know just how deep his connection is to those two men in tights.

    This Is My Son, What's-His-Face

    For all his rich-kid pull, we don't envy Harry. For starters, his dad basically neglects him because he's too wrapped up in his work—first at Oscorp and then as a psychopathic supervillain—to take a genuine interest in his kid or what he's up to.

    At the same time, Harry is totally dependent on his dad and his hefty bank account—and his classmates know it. The Osborn family's affluence is a source of humiliation for him. When Harry tries to stand up for Peter, Flash and his crew of doofuses use Norman's power against him:

    HARRY: Leave him alone.

    FLASH'S CRONY (mocking): Or what?

    […]

    FLASH: What's Daddy gonna do? Sue me?

    What Harry has his dad has provided. He seems to earn very little for himself, and it makes him uneasy and embarrassed.

    That unease just makes Norman mad at Harry, whom he sees as an ungrateful problem child. Check out what happens when Norman gives Harry a lift to school:

    HARRY: Can we drive around the corner, please?

    NORMAN: Why? The entrance is right there.

    HARRY: Dad, these are public school kids. I'm not showing up for the field trip in a Rolls.

    NORMAN: What, you want me to trade in my car for a Jetta just because you flunked out of every private school I ever sent you to?

    Harry wants to blend in. All teenagers do. Harry may have nice clothes and a fancy ride, but he's still a social outcast, just like Peter.

    A Chip off the Diamond-Encrusted Block

    Even though Norman is often MIA and treats Harry like a jerk, Harry admires him. And even though Norman is a bitter, classist, woman-hating buttwad, Harry still admires him.

    Take Thanksgiving, for example. When Norman bails on the dinner Harry arranged so that his dad could meet M.J., Harry lets Norman have it out in the hallway. Norman then tells Harry that M.J. is low-class trash he should use up and throw away. In response, Harry…well, he doesn't really do anything.

    When Harry returns to the apartment, M.J., who heard the whole nasty exchange (ouch), sarcastically thanks her boyfriend for sticking up for her:

    HARRY: You heard?

    MARY JANE: Everyone heard that creep.

    HARRY: That creep is my father, all right? If I'm lucky, I'll become half of what he is, so just keep your mouth shut about stuff you don't understand!

    Oof. Harry, your daddy issues are showing.

    Harry is impressed by his dad's wealth and power when he should be horrified by the way he spoke about his girlfriend. While M.J. and Peter are growing up after graduation, finding jobs and navigating the complicated waters of adulthood—jobs, rent, horrible bosses—Harry is still a total daddy's boy.

    Harry has learned from his dad that money fixes all problems. Got an angry employee? Throw some more money at him. Scraped your knee? Slap a $20 bill on it. Girlfriend's got a crush on Spider-Man because he saved her life? Buy her something, anything, so she won't ditch that zero and get with a literal hero:

    HARRY (on the phone with Mary Jane): "Incredible"? What do you mean he's "incredible"? No. All right, wait. Stay there. I'm gonna come over. No, I'm gonna come ov—all right. Fine. Will you call me in the morning, and we'll go and have breakfast and…um…I want to buy you something. Because I want to. It'll make you feel better. Okay. And what do you mean, "incredible"?

    Peter smiles.

    HARRY: All right. I'm sorry. Sleep tight. Don't let the bedbugs—

    Mary Jane hangs up.

    Some things—and some people—just can't be bought.

    Harry starts to learn this important life lesson when he stumbles across Peter and M.J. holding hands in Aunt May's hospital room. Later, he tells his dad:

    HARRY: You were right about M.J. You're right about everything. She's in love with Peter.

    Lil' Gobby

    Harry's response to Norman's death also shows his childishness. He immediately swears revenge on Spider-Man. He has no idea what happened, but he metaphorically pounds his chest like an ape and says he's going to get Spidey. That's not how grown men react; that's not how reasonable men act.

    The thing is, Harry isn't a man. Of all three teens in the film, he experiences the least growth. At the end of the film, he's still a boy, a boy who unwittingly vows to make Spider-Man pay…to Spider-Man:

    PETER: I'm so sorry, Harry. I know what it's like to lose a father.

    HARRY: I didn't lose him. He was stolen from me. One day, Spider-Man will pay. I swear on my father's grave, Spider-Man will pay.

    Whoops.

    Harry is a loyal friend to Peter, for the most part—that whole asking-M.J.-out thing because Peter was never going to was a little suspect. We even get the idea that he wants to do what's right, but he just doesn't know how. He grew up admiring his father, and his father turned out to be a homicidal maniac.

    The end of Harry's narrative arc in Spider-Man sees him super angry, still wealthy, and ready to both unravel and violently lash out at those whom he feels have wronged him.

    Looks like, in the Osborn family, the pumpkin bomb doesn't fall too far from the vine.

  • Ben and May Parker (Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris)

    In a word, Ben and May Parker are adorable.

    In two more words, Uncle Ben and Aunt May are Peter's foundation.

    They're his surrogate parents, and they love him fiercely. Aunt May is caring, warm, and more canny than Peter gives her credit for. Take this exchange, for example, where Peter discusses—gasp!—girls with his aunt. He's talking about M.J. here (obvi):

    PETER: She doesn't really know who I am.

    AUNT MAY: Because you won't let her. You're so mysterious all the time. Tell me, would it be so dangerous to let Mary Jane know how much you care? Everybody else knows.

    And that's just the tip of the shrewd iceberg.

    In an earlier scene, Aunt May pretends to sleep while Peter and Mary Jane have an intimate, heart-to-heart conversation that results in them—double gasp!—holding hands. She can't resist opening one eye to take a peek now and then, though. What we're saying is, don't let the white hair and grandma garb fool you: May knows what's up.

    Uncle Ben does, too, especially when it comes to dishing out helpful advice and being an all-around noble guy. Check out this exchange between Uncle Ben and Peter:

    PETER: I didn't start that fight; I told you that.

    UNCLE BEN: You sure as hell finished it.

    PETER: What was I supposed to do? Run away?

    UNCLE BEN: No, you're not supposed to run away, but—Pete, look. You're changing. I know; I went through exactly the same thing at your age.

    PETER: No, not exactly.

    UNCLE BEN: Peter, these are the years when a man changes into the man he's gonna become the rest of his life. Just be careful who you change into. [...] Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.

    This turns out to be the last conversation that Uncle Ben ever has with Peter, but its message is a doozy: "with great power comes great responsibility." Words to live by, right? Peter sure thinks so.

    That becomes his unofficial motto, an idea so important to him that he repeats it at the end of the film, too:

    PETER (voice-over): Whatever life holds in store for me, I will never forget these words: "with great power comes great responsibility." This is my gift. My curse. Who am I? I'm Spider-Man.

    Uncle Ben's words resonate with Peter not because he feels guilty about his role in Uncle Ben's death, but because it's good advice.

    That's not to say that Uncle Ben's death doesn't rock Peter to the core—Ben was more than just a loving uncle. He was the source of Peter's moral code. He was his motivation to always do the right thing, not the easy thing. He was his role model for what it means to be an honorable man.

    And, as Peter tells the Green Goblin, he was his father.

  • Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst)

    Mary Jane Watson is the girl next door. Literally. According to Aunt May, Peter has been in love with her since the moment he laid eyes on her:

    AUNT MAY: You know, you were about 6 years old when M.J.'s family moved in next door. When she got out of the car, and you saw her for the first time, you grabbed me and said, "Aunt May, Aunt May! Is that an angel?"

    Aw. How cute is that?

    M.J. has been the object of Peter's affection since they were playing Red Light/Green Light and snacking on crayons.

    Here's what's less cute: that's about all there is to Mary Jane as a character.

    She's the object of Peter's affection. She's the object of Harry's affection. She's the target of her dad's verbal abuse. She's the target of her boss' vitriol. She's the target of Norman's misogyny and of the Green Goblin's master plan to take out Spider-Man.

    Mary Jane doesn't really do much, aside from being a damsel in distress, lamenting that she didn't become a Broadway star in her first month out of high school, and worrying too much about what Harry thinks:

    MARY JANE: Some dream, huh?

    PETER: That's nothing to be embarrassed about.

    MARY JANE: Don't tell Harry.

    PETER: Don't tell Harry?

    MARY JANE: Aren't you guys living together? We're going out. Didn't he tell you?

    PETER: Oh, yeah. Right.

    MARY JANE: I think he'd hate the idea of my waiting tables. He'd think it was low or something.

    Who cares what Harry thinks, M.J.? You do you. Or, at least, do something.

    It's great that, at its core, Spider-Man is a love story. Peter tells us as much at the beginning of the film when he says that his story, "like any story worth telling […] is all about a girl. That girl. The girl next door. Mary Jane Watson."

    It's just unfortunate that Mary Jane is reduced to a supporting role in her own epic romance.