Did you think we were done finding examples of chiasmus in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy after we explored the symmetrical nature of the original Spider-Man? Well, we’re not done. Not by a long shot. Spider-Man 2 isn’t just the best Spider-Man film ever made, it’s also another cinematic chiasmus!
Here is the way Spider-Man 2’s chiasmus plays out:
A. Closeup of Mary Jane Watson’s face on a billboard as Peter Parker gazes at her
B. Peter’s boss Joe yells at him to go deliver pizzas
C. Joe fires Peter from his job as a pizza deliveryman
D. J. Jonah Jameson makes his first appearance
E. Peter is too late to attend his college class
F. Peter goes to his late uncle’s house
G. Aunt May forcefully tells Peter to take some money as a gift
H. MJ and Peter talk in their backyards
I. Peter enters his lonely apartment looking like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders
J. Peter and Dr. Otto Octavius share their first conversation
K. Peter tries to be sneaky about cleaning his laundry, but makes a mistake
L. MJ excitedly prepares for her play because “you never know who’s coming”
M. Peter pays for a small number of flowers for MJ
N. Spider-Man stops some criminals in a car, and Peter is reprimanded by a rude usher for being late to MJ’s play
O. Spider-Man runs out of webbing for the first time after seeing MJ leave with her boyfriend
P. Peter dejectedly walks past a seemingly endless number of MJ posters
Q. Peter admits he is Spider-Man to MJ over a dead wire
R. Octavius gets mechanical arms fused to his back after miscalculating the power of a fusion reaction
S. Octavius’s new arms murder doctors to protect themselves
T. Octavius finds a hideout
U. Betty Brant interrupts Jameson’s meeting to bring in Peter
V. Peter gets fired and quickly un-fired by Jameson
W. Jameson invites Peter to take pictures of a planetarium event featuring his son
X. Doctor Octopus is born and he decides to steal money to build a new fusion reactor
Y. Peter runs away from Aunt May at the bank
Z. Spider-Man rescues Aunt May from Doctor Octopus
AA. At the planetarium event, Harry laments the money he lost
BB. MJ rejects Peter
CC. Harry slaps Peter for his loyalty to Spider-Man
DD.After MJ gets engaged to John Jameson, Spider-Man loses all of his superpowers
EE. Doctor Octopus begins putting his new fusion reactor together
FF. Peter tells a doctor in his dream he’s Spider-Man, and talks with Uncle Ben in his mind
FF. Peter tells Uncle Ben he’s Spider-Man no more, and throws away his suit
EE. Peter fixes his motor scooter and tries to put his life back together
DD. After Peter attends MJ’s play, she tells him he is different
CC. Jameson insults a garbage man while paying him for Spider-Man’s suit
BB. Peter turns his back on a mugging
AA. At Uncle Ben’s grave, Aunt May laments losing him
Z. Peter tells Aunt May the truth about Uncle Ben’s death
Y. Aunt May abandons Peter at her home
X. Doctor Octopus finishes building his new fusion reactor
W. Harry makes a deal with Doctor Octopus and tells him Peter takes pictures of Spider-Man
V. Despite having no superpowers, Peter heroically saves a little girl from a burning building
U. The daughter of Peter’s landlord interrupts Peter’s reverie with a message from his aunt
T. Aunt May moves out of her house
S. Aunt May praises selfless superheroes like Spider-Man
R. Peter suffers a back injury after miscalculating a jump in an attempt to get his superpowers back
Q. MJ kisses John to see if he is Spider-Man
P. Peter meets MJ at a café and has to reject her
O. Peter gets his superpowers back after Doctor Octopus kidnaps MJ
N. Spider-Man stops a train from crashing and is thanked by the passengers
M. Doctor Octopus delivers Spider-Man in payment for more tritium
L. Harry is shocked to learn that Peter is Spider-Man
K. Spider-Man tries to sneak up on Doctor Octopus, but fails
J. Peter and Octavius share their final conversation
I. Peter throws a heavy wall off his shoulders to save MJ
H. MJ and Peter talk on a huge web
G. Norman Osborn forcefully tells his son Harry to make Spider-Man pay
F. Harry enters his late father’s Green Goblin lair
E. MJ doesn’t show up at her wedding
D. Jameson makes his final appearance
C. MJ tells Peter she wants to be with him
B. MJ encourages Peter to follow police sirens with “Go get ‘em, Tiger”
A. Closeup of MJ as she gazes after Peter
It’ll probably be a lot easier to see the chiasmus come into focus once we compare each of these parts side by side below.
A. MJ’s Face
Spider-Man 2 opens on a shot of Mary Jane Watson, which we realize is on a billboard that Peter Parker is looking back at while riding on his motor scooter. In his voiceover, he says that he wishes she knew how he feels about her, but he can’t let her find out because he’s got a job to do as both Peter and Spider-Man.
The film closes on a shot of MJ gazing sadly and longingly after Peter as he swings away as Spider-Man to face an unknown emergency. She now knows all of his secrets including how he feels about her, and the realization of the risk she’s taken seems to be weighing heavily on her.
Peter tells the owner of a pizzeria that he’s late because of a disturbance, which means he was saving someone disguised as Spider-Man. Joe the owner tells him he has just a few minutes to save him from losing a customer by delivering a big pile of pizzas many blocks away. As Peter stands still with a dumbfounded look on his face, Joe exasperatedly yells, “Go!”
After MJ professes her love for Peter and kisses him, they hear a police siren begin wailing outside, signaling that someone needs Spider-Man’s help. While MJ is sad to have to part with Peter, she knows that someone else needs him more at the moment. He looks at her like he’s waiting for her permission, so she smiles and quietly tells him “Go get ‘em, Tiger.”
C. Peter’s Farewells and Greetings
After Peter fails to deliver the pizzas on time, he returns to the pizzeria where he’s berated by his boss. Joe tells him that promises mean nothing to Peter, and he’s fired. Peter begs for one more chance to avoid losing his job, but Joe just silently approaches him and tears the Joe’s Pizza logo off of Peter’s bike helmet.
After running away from her wedding to a man she doesn’t really want to spend the rest of her life with, MJ enters Peter’s apartment and begs him to reconsider his commitment to staying away from her. She tenderly touches his face and asks, “Isn’t it about time somebody saved your life?” He thanks her and they share a passionate kiss.
D. Jameson’s First and Last Appearances
In J. Jonah Jameson’s first appearance in the movie, he fires Peter and acts like a lying cheapskate until Peter relents and gives him what he wants. At least he agrees to Peter’s “outrageous” price, but Peter still isn’t able to get paid.
In Jameson’s final appearance, he realizes MJ isn’t going to marry his son, and he responds by telling his wife to call their caterer and tell her not to open the caviar. Saving a little money is still his number-one priority.
Peter runs across campus in a desperate attempt to make it to a lecture. Unfortunately, he runs into his professor, who tells him that he completely missed class. Peter appears exhausted and can’t seem to get anything done.
MJ sends a message to her fiancé at the altar letting him know she won’t be coming to the wedding. She’s too busy joyfully running to Peter because she knows exactly what she wants and isn’t afraid to do what needs to be done.
F. Coming Home
Peter goes to his late uncle’s home where he is surprised to find MJ and Harry Osborn in addition to Aunt May. They’re there to celebrate his birthday. Harry tries to be positive, but he ends up scolding Peter for putting his loyalty to Spider-Man above their friendship.
Harry is surprised when he enters a secret lair hidden in his late father’s home. He finds the Green Goblin’s equipment and other things he will need to take his revenge on Peter and make sure Norman Osborn’s death is avenged.
G. Make Him Pay
Peter discovers that Aunt May is on the verge of losing her house. He wakes her up, and she offers him $20 as a gift for his birthday, even though she’s obviously hurting for cash. Aunt May suddenly bursts out in a great swell of emotion when he tries to refuse her generous offer because she knows how much he needs it.
After Harry learns that Peter is Spider-Man, his father appears to him as a reflection in a mirror. Norman demands Harry make good on his oath to make Spider-Man pay by killing Peter, even telling him that he’s weak if he doesn’t do it. When Harry tries to fight back and refuse to do this for his father, Norman suddenly bursts out in anger at him.
H. Peter’s Promises and Letdowns
After his birthday party, Peter finds MJ in her parents’ backyard and they share a conversation. He is clearly conflicted as he asks her about her plans, and she eventually admits that she’s dating someone. Peter promises to come to her play tomorrow, and she asks him not to let her down.
After saving MJ from certain death, Peter talks with her on a huge spider web. She realizes the reason why he’s been so conflicted is because he is Spider-Man, and he stresses that they can’t be together. He lets her down gently to the ground where she is embraced by her fiancé.
I. Carrying the Weight of the World
Peter goes to his apartment, and his landlord spots him and demands his rent payment. As soon as he flashes the $20 bill he got for his birthday, Mr. Ditkovich immediately snatches it out of his hand. With nothing to show for his day of struggle, Peter enters his depressing apartment and sits forlornly on his bed, looking like he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Dressed as Spider-Man sans his mask, Peter turns to find MJ staring at him in amazement as she learns his secret identity. Just then, the fusion reactor rips out the metal supports holding up the wall behind MJ, and the wall begins to fall toward her. Before she can be crushed, Peter stands above her and holds up the heavy wall on his shoulders. Eventually, he finds the strength to throw it off.
J. Dr. Octavius’s Debut and Departure
Peter meets Dr. Otto Octavius at his home/laboratory where the doctor is building a fusion reactor. The two hit it off immediately, talking about science and literature. Octavius tells Peter that he’s heard he’s brilliant but lazy and that intelligence is a gift. He then gives Peter advice on love to help him gain control of his life and win over the girl of his dreams. His wife Rosie encourages him to get some sleep, but he compares himself to other brilliant men from history and asks if any of them slept before accomplishing their greatest achievements.
At a loss to stop a new fusion reactor, Spider-Man appeals to Dr. Octavius once more. He removes his mask and asks for the doctor’s help. Octavius again calls Peter brilliant but lazy, and Peter recites his words about intelligence. Peter then shares Aunt May’s words of wisdom about giving up his dreams in order to help him regain control of his mind from his AI-infused mechanical arms. Once he’s free, Octavius figures out a way to stop the fusion reaction, and he tells Peter he’ll do it himself. He sacrifices himself and gets to enjoy the big sleep after destroying his greatest achievement.
K. Sneaky Spider-Man
Peter reads poetry to try to impress MJ as he washes his Spider-Man suit with his other clothes at a laundromat. Someone else is there, but he doesn’t notice what Peter is doing. Unfortunately, Peter finds that his suit stained his white clothes, so his sneakiness doesn’t really pay off and he learns that those two things don’t mix.
Spider-Man sneaks into Doctor Octopus’s hideout to rescue MJ. Unfortunately, his plan doesn’t go well at first because he gets spotted quickly. However, he manages to turn the tables and make Doctor Octopus stab an electrical wire, which disables his arms long enough for Spider-Man to unplug the fusion reactor. Metal and electricity don’t mix either.
L. Guess Who
While Peter prepares to go to MJ’s play, MJ’s costar notes how jittery she is backstage. She excitedly responds, “You never know who’s coming,” referring to Peter.
While Doctor Octopus leaves with his tritium, Harry pulls off an unconscious Spider-Man’s mask. He is unprepared for the shock of seeing Peter’s face beneath the mask.
M. Payment Delivered
On his way to the play, Peter pays a street vendor for a bouquet of flowers. However, he only has enough to purchase a smaller number of flowers than he was expecting.
On his way to his hideout, Doctor Octopus delivers Spider-Man to Harry in payment for a larger amount of tritium than he had used before in his smaller fusion reactor.
N. Stopping Carjackers and a Train
Peter quickly changes into Spider-Man to chase after some criminals in a fastmoving car. First, he saves a group of people from getting crushed by a police car for which he receives a great deal of appreciation. He approaches the bad guys’ car from behind. He uses balls of webs to attack them and then dangles them from a streetlight to make them easy targets for the police to arrest. He then pulls off his mask, gets back in his suit, and drives their car the rest of the way to the theater. The usher who meets him is rude and refuses to allow him inside to watch the play because he’s late.
Peter gets into his newly recovered Spider-Man suit once more to face off with Doctor Octopus on a large clock. He attacks Doctor Octopus with web balls and then fights him on top of a fastmoving train. At one point, he gets knocked off and hurries to catch up with the train. Doctor Octopus throws a couple of passengers from the train, but Spider-Man manages to catch them and throw them onto webs to keep them safe. He then has to stop the train before it falls off the end of the track. In the process, he pulls off his mask. In gratitude, the passengers bring him inside and treat him with the utmost respect and kindness, even promising to keep his identity a secret.
O. Losing and Regaining Superpowers
Peter waits outside the theater to catch a glimpse of MJ. But before he can approach her, she gets whisked away by her boyfriend. Heartbroken, Peter hears the call of police sirens and changes into his Spider-Man suit to go save the day. However, as he’s swinging high above the city, he suddenly finds that he can’t shoot a web, and he plummets onto the top of a building. He has suddenly lost some of his superpowers. He has to take a humiliating elevator ride down to the bottom floor while talking to a building occupant about how uncomfortable his suit is.
Doctor Octopus throws Peter against a wall and buries him under a big pile of debris. Then he takes MJ away as his hostage. Outraged, Peter bursts out of the debris and finds that all of his superpowers have returned. He goes to the Daily Bugle where Jameson has his Spider-Man suit on display on his office wall. Peter opens a window on the roof and uses his webbing to lift the suit up and replace it with his customary note stating, “Courtesy, your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.” With that, he makes his triumphal return while Jameson can just shout in frustration.
P. Peter’s Feelings for MJ
Peter walks home past a seemingly endless wall of pictures of MJ. This signifies his dejection at being so close to her and yet unable to tell her how he really feels or be with her in any meaningful way. He drags his smashed motor scooter behind him after it was damaged by the criminals driving the car earlier.
Peter meets MJ at a café. She tries to tell him how she feels about him, but he has to cut her off and deny he has any feelings for her. She’s sitting so close to him, but she feels so far away. And then Doctor Octopus throws a car at them, which narrowly misses smashing them because of Peter’s quick reflexes.
Q. Memories from the First Film
Peter calls MJ from a payphone on his college campus. He tries to apologize to her for missing her play, but he doesn’t have enough change to continue the call. Over a dead wire, he admits that he’s Spider-Man and justifies himself by saying he doesn’t want to put her in harm’s way like he inadvertently did with the Green Goblin in the first film.
MJ goes through wedding invitations with her fiancé, and she decides against inviting Peter to the wedding because he’s a jerk in her eyes. As a test, she asks her fiancé to kiss her the same way Spider-Man did after he saved her from being mugged in the first film. Kissing him confirms to her that he’s not the man she’s really in love with.
R. My Back!
Octavius gives a demonstration of his fusion reactor, which necessitates the use of smart arms, which are kept in check by an inhibitor chip at the top of a mechanical spine attached to Octavius’s back. Unfortunately, he miscalculates the power of the reaction, which leads to disastrous results. A sudden containment breach destroys the inhibitor chip and fuses the arms to his back, causing him to pass out from the pain and shock to his system.
Peter tries to get his superpowers back by running on the roof of a building and taking a leap of faith off it. He joyfully cries, “I’m back!” as he jumps through the air. However, he overestimates the power of positive thinking, and he winds up plummeting toward the ground and slamming into a wall and several cars on his way down. He painfully cries “My back!” as he hobbles away to recuperate.
S. Opening Their Eyes
While Octavius lies unconscious on an operating table, his mechanical arms brutally murder all of the doctors in the room to protect themselves from being cut off. Once they’re done, Octavius wakes up and one of them removes a blindfold from his eyes. He takes a look around and is horrified by the devastation around him and the realization that he has become a villain.
After Peter tells a neighborhood kid named Henry Jackson that Spider-Man quit, Aunt May tells Peter that Henry wants to be Spider-Man because he knows a hero when he sees one. She praises Spider-Man as a selfless hero who saves people and sets an example for others to follow. She opens Peter’s eyes to all of the good things he has done as Spider-Man, not just the hardships he’s suffered.
T. Moving in and Out
Octavius escapes from the hospital with the aid of his mechanical arms and wanders through the city under the cover of darkness until he comes to a dilapidated building that he decides to move into and use as his hideout.
Aunt May begins packing her belongings at her house with the aid of Henry. She’s moving out on a warm day because the bank is going to foreclose on her anyway, and she’d rather move out on her own terms.
U. Peter’s Interruptions
While Jameson is busy coming up with a name for the new villain Doctor Octopus, his secretary Betty Brant barges in without knocking and thrusts Peter into his office. Jameson insults him and complains he’s hard to get a hold of because Peter doesn’t pay his phone bill.
While Peter is deep in thought in his apartment wondering what he should do, his landlord’s daughter barges in without knocking, apologizes, and asks if he’d like to eat a piece of cake and drink a glass of milk. When he’s done, she hands him a written message from his aunt, likely because she couldn’t reach him by phone.
Jameson fires Peter for failing to take pictures of Doctor Octopus at the fusion-reactor disaster even though both he and Spider-Man were there. However, he quickly changes his mind and un-fires him because there’s no one else who can take pictures of an upcoming event featuring his son.
Peter sees a burning building and instinctively feels the urge to change into his Spider-Man suit, but he remembers he has no superpowers, and he wouldn’t be much help. However, there’s no one else who can save a couple’s daughter caught in the fire, so Peter rushes into the building to rescue her.
W. Making Plans and Taking Pictures
Jameson laughs derisively at Peter’s request to be paid in advance for taking pictures of his son’s appearance at a planetarium event. When he’s done laughing, he reiterates what he expects of Peter and shows him the door.
Harry scoffs at Doctor Octopus’s demand for more tritium until he gets dangled off his own rooftop and cries out in fear. When Doctor Octopus puts him back safely on the ground, Harry makes a deal to give him tritium in exchange for bringing Spider-Man to him. He tells Doctor Octopus to make Peter tell him where Spider-Man is because he takes his pictures. Doctor Octopus reiterates his demand for tritium, then hurries away.
X. Building a New Fusion Reactor
Octavius wallows in his fate and is soon corrupted by his mechanical arms’ artificial intelligence into the villainous Doctor Octopus who has just one goal: rebuild his fusion reactor. He needs money to obtain the required parts, so he decides to steal it.
Later, Doctor Octopus finishes putting the last few pieces into place to complete his new fusion reactor. There’s just one more chore he has to complete, so he leaves his hideout to get the tritium he needs.
Y. Peter and Aunt May Abandon Each Other
Peter and Aunt May are seated at a bank, which happens to be the same one Doctor Octopus chooses to rob. Peter kicks his aunt away to save her from being crushed by a vault door and then proceeds to run away from her to change into Spider-Man. But to her it looks like he’s abandoning her like a coward in a moment of crisis.
Aunt May stands up from her seat at her kitchen table where she and Peter were having a conversation, and she walks swiftly away to her bedroom and locks the door. Peter had just told her something that crushed her heart, but she later admits it was a brave act on his part to do that.
Z. Saving and Hurting Aunt May
Doctor Octopus takes Aunt May hostage, forcing Spider-Man to give chase and get him to release her. He can’t let his aunt suffer a similar fate to his uncle, so he does everything in his power to rescue her. In the end, Aunt May hits Doctor Octopus from behind and makes him drop her so Spider-Man can grab her and swing her to safety where they share a few words.
Peter decides to tell Aunt May what really happened to Uncle Ben while they are seated in her home. He takes responsibility for allowing the murder to take place, which completely blindsides her. He tries to reach out and take her hand, but she withdraws it and won’t speak to him.
AA. Mourning Their Losses
At the planetarium, Peter finds Harry at the bar drinking his problems away. He is lamenting the money he lost on the fusion-reactor debacle. Then he turns his anger on Spider-Man as the one responsible for his father’s death, but Peter knows that’s not true.
At Uncle Ben’s grave, Peter listens as Aunt May grieves for his loss. She laments that she could have prevented his death by keeping him home that day. She blames herself for his death, which burns Peter inside because he knows he’s far more culpable than she is.
BB. Peter’s Rejections
Peter approaches MJ when she chances to be alone at the planetarium, and she proceeds to berate him for not keeping his promise to come to her play. Then she walks away from him in a huff.
Peter sees a young man getting mugged in an alleyway. The young man calls out for help, reminding Peter of the responsibility he once carried. But Peter turns his back on him and walks away.
CC. Slap in the Face
Peter can’t seem to catch a break. Harry, now drunk, approaches him and slaps him in the face twice for his loyalty to Spider-Man. Immediately after that, Peter has to watch as John Jameson announces his engagement to MJ. J.J. Jameson yells at Peter to wake up and take a picture of the newly engaged couple.
Of all the people who could have gotten their hands on Spider-Man’s discarded suit, Jameson is the one who gets it when a garbage man offers to sell it to him. Drunk on power, Jameson revels in Spider-Man’s misery and also insults the garbage man as he buys the suit from him, making this a double slap in the face.
DD. Peter Is Different
As he’s swinging through the city after the party, Spider-Man suddenly finds he can’t shoot another web, causing him to panic. He falls to the ground and slams down in an alley next to a garbage container. He asks, “Why is this happening to me?” and tries to get his footing again by climbing a wall like he did when he discovered his superpowers in the first film. But he slips, falls back down, and realizes he can’t even see clearly anymore without glasses.
As she’s acting on stage in her play, MJ suddenly sees Peter sitting in the crowd. This stuns her into silence, but she’s able to recover and keep going. They talk after the play and he answers his own question from earlier when he tells her, “I’m different.” He asks if they can pick up where they left off at the end of the first film, but she shuts him down immediately. Once she drives away in a cab, he puts on his glasses to help him see clearly again.
EE. Putting the Pieces Back Together
Doctor Octopus begins opening crates filled with parts he ordered with his stolen cash to put them together into a new fusion reactor. This symbolizes his attempt to put his life back together after losing everything, but it can only end in misery because he never fixed the fatal flaw that made his first reactor fail.
Freed from his responsibilities as Spider-Man, Peter begins putting his life back together by doing his homework, attending classes, and taking care of himself. He even fixes his broken motor scooter, but accidentally rolls a wheel out the window and breaks something, which symbolizes the fact that his attempt at living a normal life will only cause harm in the long run.
FF. I’m Spider-Man… No More
The turning point of the film comes when Peter visits a doctor about his poor health and tells him, “In my dream, I’m Spider-Man.” The doctor says he always has a choice whether or not to be Spider-Man. After a long zoom into Peter’s face, we see what’s happening in his mind. He’s talking with Uncle Ben about what he wants. Uncle Ben quotes his own words, “With great power comes great responsibility” and asks Peter to take his hand.
Peter tearfully says no and then completes his earlier statement to the doctor. In his dream, he says, “I’m Spider-Man… no more.” Cue another long zoom into Peter’s face to signal we’ve entered the other side of the chiasmus. He even repeats, “No more” at the start of it. Then Peter takes the doctor’s advice and signifies his choice to be Spider-Man no more by leaving his suit in a garbage can.
What About Number 3?
What a wild ride, huh? It’s fitting that the turning point of Spider-Man 2’s chiasmus would come when Peter has suffered so much misery that the only logical thing to do is to give up his Spider-Man persona and try to live a normal life. It also explains why there are repeating zooms immediately before and after the turning point, which I used to find baffling, but now I see that they are perfectly placed.
Is it pure coincidence that the first Spider-Man begins with Peter Parker asking “Who am I?” and ends with him declaring “I’m Spider-Man”? Then Spider-Man 2 comes along and puts its own twist on that by having Peter say “I’m Spider-Man… no more” at the turning point of its own chiasmus. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. There’s something poetic and beautiful about that reversal. And it speaks right to the heart of what each film is about. Spider-Man is about a young man finding his purpose in life. Spider-Man 2 is about him being beaten down over and over again, losing everyone he cares about, and then finally finding redemption in the end. I love these two movies as a result of this analysis even more than I ever thought possible.
It’s been several years since I’ve watched Spider-Man 3. It’s clearly the weakest of Sam Raimi’s trilogy, but that doesn’t mean it’s devoid of merit. I haven’t had a feeling one way or the other about it, but I’ll be sure to watch it soon to see if every film in the trilogy is a chiasmus. That would be truly amazing.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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