With the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) now a well-oiled machine, it is fun to go back to when it was basically just Spider-Man, and a version of the famous web-slinger not played by Tom Holland. It also belies a time when the folks at Marvel seemingly did not know what they were doing, outside of making money, of course. I am referring to the way they sold the rights to so many of their characters to different production companies, which made it all the more difficult to bring them all back together for what they are doing these days. It is also useful to revisit these films because they seem to have given the inspiration for what we see today. Again, it all comes back to financial gain. Today’s movie, Spider-Man (2002), grossed the better part $1 billion at the box office. This underscores the appetite for such offerings that does not appear to be slowing any time soon.
This Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) in Spider-Man starts off as a high school senior at Midtown Secondary College of Science & Technology in Queens, New York. If you are familiar with the MCU by now, it will come as no shock that he is nerdy and unassuming. He lives with his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) and Uncle Ben Parker (Cliff Robertson), his parents having died when Peter was a child. His best friend is Harry Osborn (James Franco), whose father is Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe), the head of Oscorp Science Industry. Norman looks at Peter as a son, which occasionally makes Harry jealous. The final piece to this background is Peter’s next-door neighbor and classmate, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), on whom Peter has a crush. Got it? During a field trip to the science department at Columbia University, Peter is bitten by a genetically modified spider. He feels woozy and barely makes it home. He awakens the next day with all the abilities one would expect of Spider-Man, including a killer physique, though his webs are shot directly from his wrists. He is not the only one undergoing changes. At Oscorp, Norman is being threatened by the military regarding the company’s new super soldier serum. His scientists tell him it is not ready, and the military warns that they will pull their funding. Seeing his endeavors falling apart, Norman decides to use the formula on himself. Though it gives him incredible strength and agility, it also drives him insane. As for Peter, he believes his new powers might be the key to getting him a date with Mary Jane. The one thing that Peter perceives that he needs to this end is a car. To get the money to obtain a vehicle, he decides to enter a wrestling competition, the winner of which will bring him $3000. He even designs his first suit to do so. He is also keeping his abilities a secret, though Uncle Ben senses there has been a change in his nephew. To get to the bottom of it, Uncle Ben insists on driving Peter to the match, though Peter remains mum on where they are going and why. Peter is annoyed by Uncle Ben’s presence. Peter’s demeanor is not improved when the organizers of the competition try to keep the majority of the money he is owed for winning. In response, Peter allows a robber who has come to steal the cash to pass. The person who does, later, stand up to this criminal is Uncle Ben, who pays for this good deed with his life. In anguish, Peter tracks the mugger down and drops him out of a window, possibly killing him. What sticks with Peter, though, are Uncle Ben’s final words to his nephew, that with great power comes great responsibility. We will talk more about this later. Either way, this gives birth to the hero wall crawler with which we are all familiar. He also begins fighting crime in his area, becoming the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. The person who is not enchanted by the new defender of the victim is J. Jonah Jameson (J. K. Simmons), editor of the fictitious newspaper The Daily Bugle. Now graduated from high school and needing to find a way to make ends meet, and noticing Jameson’s fixation on Spider-Man, Peter takes on a job for the paper as a freelance photographer. His personal life gets a little tricky when he finds out that Harry is dating Mary Jane. His prospects with her get a boost when Spider-Man saves her, and Harry, from an attack by the Green Goblin, Norman’s villain alter-ego. At first, Norman believes Spider-Man can be an ally, and he lures the hero out by attacking The Daily Bugle offices. When Peter refuses, they fight, during which he receives a bad cut on his arm. This, unfortunately, becomes what reveals Spider-Man’s identity to Norman when, at Thanksgiving dinner, Norman notices the same wound on Peter. Norman is further egged on by Harry, who believes Mary Jane’s affections are now switching to Peter, and tells his father so. Armed with this knowledge, Norman sets a trap for Peter by kidnapping Mary Jane and forcing Spider-Man to choose between saving a subway car full of people or the woman he loves. Spider-Man manages to rescue both, and another battle ensues. In the course of their struggle, Peter’s blows cease when he discovers the identity of the Green Goblin. Norman uses this lull to try and reason with Peter, but all the while is powering a weapon to aim at Peter. Peter senses its trajectory and jumps out of the way, but it ends up killing Norman. With his dying breath, Norman tells Peter not to tell Harry. Peter honors this promise, though at the end Harry is vowing to bring Spider-Man to justice. On the plus side, Mary Jane declares her love for Peter. That is where we end.
As alluded to in the previous paragraph, the classic phrase in Spider-Man, with great power comes great responsibility, is a prominent theme throughout. It is also one that jives well with Christian teaching. There is a great moment in the movie that illustrates this point, and I feel it has a parallel to the Bible. One of the offers the Green Goblin makes to Spider-Man is that together they could rule the city. This reminds me of when Jesus is tempted by the devil during His forty days in the desert. The devil says that he could give Jesus all the kingdoms of the Earth if Jesus but bow to the evil one. It probably goes without saying, but Jesus refuses. So, too, does Spider-Man. This comes back to Uncle Ben’s dying words. The desire to rule the world, or a city, is ultimately a dodging of responsibility. People who want to do so seek to fix society, mold it in their own image, because they think it is somehow flawed. These flaws come from the imperfections that are humanity. There are those that are far to God, those that are close, and everything in between, all of it just trying to live life as we see best. God loves us through everything. Most of the time this is totally fine, provided we do not negatively impact the lives of our fellow man. However, we must be on guard against those who do seek ill. Those who have the power to protect us from the bad guys take on a responsibility to do so, and they can be a blessing. Spider-Man fits this mold well.
I recall a great deal of excitement with Spider-Man. Today, these first films seem passé. Still, they were given a bit of a revival with Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021). There is nothing wrong with them, either. So, take a stroll down memory lane and watch them. They are a heck of a lot better than most cinematic choices these days.