The first words Peter Parker utters in Spider-Man are "who am I?"
We'll give it a shot: he's a high school senior about to enter the real world, which, let's be honest, is pretty terrifying. He's been in love with M.J. for more than a decade, and he's been keeping his true feelings about her on the DL for just as long.
Oh, and then there's the little matter of him being your friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man. Every day is a crisis of character for Peter as he navigates what it means to be a man and what it means to be a hero while meticulously filing away specific parts of his personality and swinging around town wearing a mask that keeps his identity a mystery.
Peter's exploration of his superpowers is complicated by his exploration of who he is as a young man.
As Spider-Man and the Green Goblin both demonstrate, our identities are shaped by our decisions—good, bad, and in between.
Quick, name a happily married superhero.
You can't, can you? Superheroes and happily ever after don't really mix, and here's why:
First, superheroes are married to their jobs. You think Peter can ever just chill out and watch the Knicks game on a Saturday night? Second, their loved ones will always, always be targets. Sure, superheroes can have a significant other, but you can bet your spandex suit that there will be a line of nemeses curving around the block, just waiting to whack their husband, wife, boyfriend, or girlfriend.
Superheroes like Spider-Man sacrifice their personal lives for the greater good.
Love equals sacrifice—especially for superheroes.
It's not a flawed batch of performance enhancers that turns Norman into the Green Goblin; it's the indignity he feels after being forced out of the company for which he sacrificed so much.
If you're a good guy with power, it comes, like Uncle Ben said, with increased responsibility. There's a sense of obligation to others less powerful than you.
For Peter, it's a royal pain in the spider-butt sometimes, as the citizens of New York keep labeling him a criminal. Still, he saves their hides, time and time again, without fail.
This tricky pairing of power and duty is central to Spider-Man. As the story unfolds, we watch two men, Peter and Norman, deal with it in two very, very different ways. (Spoiler alert: one involves pumpkin bombs.)
Norman's sudden loss of power at the hands of the Oscorp board drives him insane. Literally.
Peter's greatest source of power is his humility.
What drives you? Maybe it's a desire to be the best tuba player in the tri-state area. Maybe you want to make your parents proud. Maybe you want to be rich and famous (with or without your tuba skills).
The point is, everybody is motivated by something, and for Norman, that something is power. It consumes him so wholly that, ironically, it splits him in two. Faced with the prospect of losing his company, Norman goes mad—and the Green Goblin is born. His descent is quick and violent, and the line between Norman and the Green Goblin becomes blurrier with every insult and pumpkin bomb he hurls.
When Norman is ousted by the Oscorp board of directors, the Green Goblin is born.
Norman Osborn is a tragic figure.
Spider-Man is fueled by his desire to do right. He didn't do the right thing one time, and his beloved Uncle Ben wound up dead because of it. You can bet your movie-loving butt he's not going to make that mistake again.
The Green Goblin operates the opposite way. He feels wronged professionally, and, for a guy absolutely consumed by his work, that's a big deal. His evil deeds are powered by revenge and feelings of betrayal—by Dr. Stromm, by Gen. Slocum, by the Oscorp board, by Spider-Man—pretty much everybody who won't show him some respect by doing exactly what he wants.
Spider-Man only exists because Uncle Ben was killed.
Norman would've broken bad even if Oscorp hadn't gone belly-up.
Underneath all its spandex suits and violently interrupted concerts, Spider-Man is a coming-of-age story—not just for Peter, but also for M.J. and Harry.
Naturally, they don't all mature in the same way or at the same rate. While Peter suddenly finds himself the man of the house after Uncle Ben's murder, Harry struggles to shake the shackles of privilege and neglect provided by Norman. Mary Jane, meanwhile, desperately wants to ditch her combative home life for the stage, but she finds that there's no easy route from Queens to Broadway.
The teens in Spider-Man inhabit a world where maniacal supervillains are a part of everyday life, but they're still teens who must endure the smaller traumas of young adulthood, too, like broken hearts, empty bank accounts, and infuriating parents.
Of all three teens in the film, Harry experiences the least personal growth.
Peter's nascent superpowers are a metaphor for puberty.