Released in a post-9/11 era, the 2002s Spider Man exuded an optimism almost unmatched before or since. Fueled by its sincerity and a seasonal backdrop (which may have seemed out of place upon its May 2002 release), the film channels the spirit of Thanksgiving, embodying the themes of faith, goodwill and unity throughout its duration. It’s just the perfect view for Turkey Day.
Sam Raimi Spider Man came out at the perfect time when a serious approach to the genre wasn’t scary. Scenes are always sunny and the weather only turns bad if our hero is having a bad day. Peter (Tobey Maguire) is an altruistic ray of light who tries to keep his city just as bright. He doesn’t have to deal with custody laws like Captain America: Civil War or have his heroism questioned as Batman v Superman.
Despite his weighted guilt, he’s out there trying to do the best he can, as optimistic as possible.
Peter gained his great power but never listened to the great responsibility until he lost someone he loved, Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson). As Spider-Man, he pursued personal happiness with Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) while striving to honor his uncle’s memory, and the loss left a lasting impact. Only when the safety of everyone he loved was in jeopardy did he truly appreciate what was left. He expressed gratitude to MJ at the end of the film, he acknowledged his love for her but emphasized gratitude for her presence in his life and the assurance of her safety.
In stark contrast to the hero’s journey is Norman (Willem Dafoe), a thankless businessman despite his booming success. A scientist backed by the military, he adamantly refuses to go “back to formula” on the concoction that spawned his unhinged alter ego, the Green Goblin. Despite his son’s high school graduation, this divorced father fails to express gratitude, redirecting his praise to Harry’s (James Franco) best friend, recognizing a reflection of himself in Peter more than his son. He can’t even be happy for Harry and his short-lived courtship with MJ, returning to his hatred of women, probably because of his divorce. The parallel between them marks a crucial crossroads, and their divergent choices lead them down separate paths.
Everything culminates during the Thanksgiving scene, where the two men sit at the table among their loved ones and a turkey. Even Norman, initially happy (albeit with a touch of madness when Rosemary Harris’s Aunt May rejects his attempts at the food), experiences a shift when he discovers Pete’s identity as Spider-Man. His Norman persona disappears and the goblin appears. The gratitude evaporates, replaced by a sense of duty. Now is the time to use the loved ones he was surrounded by to exact his revenge on Spider-Man, endangering them all along the way.
The era in which the film was both released and set transports me back to the cultural landscape of America during its first premiere.
New Yorkers band together to support Spider-Man against the goblin, disproving (at least temporarily) the notion that the city’s residents would succumb to cynicism and turn against him. Much like the crowd in the film, America at the time longed for a hero, and for young people, the arrival of this red, white and blue superhero symbolized the hope that one day they too could emerge as heroes. Fast forward two decades as an adult, the realization dawns that a singular hero may not manifest.
But the film’s enduring optimism continues to serve as a source of inspiration and appreciation for who you have in your life, encouraging audiences to step up and become their own hero or play a heroic role in someone else’s tale.
Spider Man (2002), Streaming Now, Netflix, Disney+