The Unique Chiasmus of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man Trilogy

I have written many articles in my Cinematic Chiasmus series. I’ve found individual films to be a chiasmus, like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Superman: The Movie, and RoboCop (1987). Even though these films spawned sequels, I never felt prompted to examine their follow-ups for similar chiasmic story structure, so I didn’t pursue them any further. But Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man Trilogy is different. After I analyzed Spider-Man and found it to be a chiasmus, I felt inspired to do the same thing to Spider-Man 2. After publishing those two separate articles, I decided to look at Spider-Man 3, even though I hadn’t had a feeling about it one way or the other, and I also found it to be a chiasmus!

This is quite a distinct experience from any of my previous work, even the times when I have looked at film trilogies. I discovered that the Back to the Future Trilogy and the Dark Knight Trilogy are each one big chiasmus, with the first and third films mirroring each other and the second films mirroring themselves. It wouldn’t have made sense to do three separate articles on them because I couldn’t have analyzed the first and third films separately, and they are inseparably connected to their respective second film.

But Spider-Man 1-3 are unique because they could be cleanly separated and analyzed. The first film mirrors itself, as does the second film and the third one. I was able to write about each of them one at a time instead of combining them into a single article. Now that I have completed my article on the third film, I can finally combine my work into one place so that you can see how each film reaches its midpoint and then retraces its steps back to the beginning. I have a special reason for doing so, which I’ll explain below. I’ve linked to each of the individual articles above so you can see the chiasmus in each one even more clearly than you can in these brief descriptions.

Spider-Man

A. Peter Parker asks, “Who am I?”

 B. Secretly in love, Peter walks toward Mary Jane Watson on a bus

  C. Harry Osborn is embarrassed by his father’s Rolls Royce

   D. Harry tries to impress MJ and steal her from Peter

    E. Harry’s father and Peter’s uncle face employment problems

     F. No one sees Peter as he falls asleep in his room and gains superpowers

      G. Norman Osborn gains superpowers and kills his assistant

       H. Peter saves MJ from falling and then fights Flash Thompson

        I. Peter discovers his powers and forgets to help his uncle

         J. Peter and MJ talk outside their houses and are interrupted by Flash

          K. Peter designs his costume and gains his Spider-Man identity at a wrestling match

           L. Peter finds Uncle Ben on the ground and is let through by the police

            M. Uncle Ben dies

             N. Peter takes revenge on his uncle’s killer

              O. Peter comes home and comforts Aunt May

               P. Green Goblin strikes a competitor’s military testing compound

                Q. At graduation, Norman tells Peter to give him a call if he ever needs anything while MJ breaks up with Flash

                 R. Peter has a heart-to-heart with Aunt May about losing Uncle Ben

                  S. Peter starts doing heroic deeds as Spider-Man

                   T. The Daily Bugle is introduced

                    U. Peter stands up for Spider-Man when he first sells photos of him to J. Jonah Jameson

                     V. The Oscorp board of directors fires Norman

                      W. Green Goblin attacks a festival and faces Spider-Man for the first time

                      W. Peter says someone needs to stop Green Goblin

                     V. Norman is horrified to learn he killed the board of directors

                    U. Peter again stands up for Spider-Man against Jameson

                   T. The Daily Bugle is attacked

                  S. Green Goblin tempts Spider-Man to become a villain

                 R. Peter has a heart-to-heart with MJ after her rejection by a soap opera

                Q. After being rescued from a mugging, MJ happily tells Spider-Man she has a superhero stalker and kisses him

               P. Green Goblin fights Spider-Man in a burning building

              O. Peter comes home to an awkward Thanksgiving dinner

             N. Norman plans his retaliation against Peter

            M. Aunt May is attacked by Green Goblin

           L. Peter finds Aunt May in the hospital and is shooed away by the nurse

          K. Peter discovers that Green Goblin knows his identity

         J. Peter and MJ talk in Aunt May’s hospital room and are interrupted by Harry

        I. Norman discovers that Peter loves MJ and promises to be a better father to Harry

       H. Spider-Man saves MJ from falling and then fights Green Goblin

      G. Norman accidentally kills himself while trying to kill Peter

     F. Peter lays Norman’s dead body in his room, and Harry sees him

    E. Norman is buried in the same cemetery as Uncle Ben

   D. Harry says Spider-Man stole his father from him

  C. Harry accepts his fate and walks toward his late father’s Rolls Royce

 B. Peter walks away from MJ after she confesses her love

A. Peter says, “Who am I? I’m Spider-Man”

Spider-Man 2

A. Closeup of MJ’s face on a billboard as Peter 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. 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 that 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 he 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 forcefully tells his son Harry to make Spider-Man pay

     F. Harry enters his late father’s 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

Spider-Man 3

A. Despite some problems, Spider-Man is embraced by New York City

 B. Peter sits in the front row to watch MJ’s performance

  C. Harry follows in his father’s footsteps by gaining superpowers

   D. Peter and MJ celebrate her success on Broadway

    E. The alien symbiote arrives

     F. Flint Marko escapes prison, and his wife accuses him of being a murderer

      G. Aunt May tells Peter the story of how Uncle Ben proposed to her

       H. Peter fights Harry and takes him to the hospital after Harry falls unconscious

        I. Flint finds himself surrounded by rotating arms that make him disappear into a pile of sand

         J. Harry loses his memory and says he would give his life for his friends

          K. Sandman is born as he slowly puts himself together

           L. MJ tells Peter about her bad review, and he gets called away by a police scanner

            M. Spider-Man saves Gwen Stacy as she falls off a building

             N. Jameson gets pestered by his secretary to take his medication

              O. Jameson pits Peter against Eddie Brock in a competition for a staff job

               P. Peter sees an announcement that Spider-Man will be honored by the city

                Q. Bernard Houseman welcomes Harry home

                 R. Peter reminisces with Harry about the fun they had in the past

                  S. MJ learns she’s been replaced in her play and sees Spider-Man swing by

                   T. Gwen brushes off Eddie while Peter talks with MJ at the Spider-Man parade

                    U. Sandman attacks some police officers after they track him down

                     V. MJ confesses to Harry that she got fired from her play

                      W. Spider-Man kisses Gwen the same way he kissed MJ in the first film

                       X. Spider-Man fights Sandman and then removes parts of his suit to empty sand out of them

                        Y. Gwen interrupts Peter’s disastrous attempt to propose to MJ

                         Z. Peter and Aunt May learn that Flint is responsible for killing Uncle Ben

                          AA. After Peter refuses MJ’s help, the symbiote attaches to him and feeds off his negative emotions

                           BB. Peter takes a sample of the symbiote to Dr. Conners

                            CC. Spider-Man breaks Eddie’s camera, forcing Eddie to get creative with his frameup of Spider-Man

                             DD. Spider-Man defeats Sandman with a giant spray of water

                              EE. Peter puts his hair down, yells at his landlord, and takes his black suit off

                               FF. Aunt May is shocked to hear Peter say Spider-Man killed Flint

                                GG. MJ gets a job as a waitress/singer and calls Harry

                                 HH. Mr. Ditkovich’s daughter encourages Peter to call MJ

                                  II. MJ hangs out with Harry at his home

                                   JJ. Harry’s memories of his father and Peter come flooding back

                                   JJ. Norman reminds Harry what he needs to do to take revenge on Peter

                                  II. Harry pins MJ against a wall at her apartment

                                 HH. Mr. Ditkovich’s daughter excitedly tells Peter MJ called

                                GG. MJ breaks up with Peter and walks past Harry

                               FF. Peter is shocked to hear Harry say MJ got fired and now loves him

                              EE. Peter quietly simmers and soon appears with his black suit on and his hair down again

                             DD. Peter defeats Harry with an explosion

                            CC. Peter humiliates Eddie for his dishonest photo of Spider-Man

                           BB. Dr. Conners asks if Peter kept any of the symbiote

                          AA. Under the symbiote’s influence, Peter demands a staff job from Jameson and acts rudely

                         Z. Sandman takes form again after Spider-Man seemingly killed him

                        Y. Peter takes Gwen on a date to humiliate MJ

                       X. Peter fights the symbiote and rips the black suit off of himself

                      W. The symbiote attaches to Eddie like it did to Peter

                     V. Peter confesses to Aunt May that he hurt MJ

                    U. Sandman attacks Venom and then teams up with him

                   T. After Peter fails to approach MJ, Eddie surprises her in a taxicab

                  S. MJ gets captured in a web by someone who looks like Spider-Man

                 R. Peter asks Harry to help him and gets refused

                Q. Bernard tells Harry what happened to his father

               P. A crowd cheers as Spider-Man comes to MJ’s rescue

              O. Spider-Man fights Venom and Sandman alone until Harry comes to the rescue

             N. Jameson gets bilked by a kid for a camera and film

            M. Peter and Harry work together to catch MJ as she falls

           L. Peter and MJ take a moment to reconcile before Peter gets called away by Harry

          K. Harry makes Sandman crumble with his missiles

         J. Harry gives his life for Peter after Eddie refuses to give up the symbiote

        I. The symbiote gets surrounded by metal tubes and destroyed, along with Eddie

       H. MJ comforts Harry as he lies dying after a long fight

      G. Sandman tells Peter what really happened the night he shot Uncle Ben

     F. Sandman leaves after Peter forgives him for killing his uncle

    E. Harry dies

   D. Peter and MJ mourn over Harry’s dead body

  C. Harry follows his father into the grave after suffering his same fate of being impaled

 B. Peter enters a jazz club to watch MJ sing

A. Despite their problems, MJ embraces Peter once more

Notice a Pattern?

The Unique Chiasmus of Raimi’s Spider-Man TrilogyDo you want to know something I just realized about this pattern of each film going down and up? It’s totally appropriate because it looks like how Spider-Man swings on his webs. He shoots a web, swings down and back up, and then shoots another web and repeats the same process. The films do the exact same thing! They are just like Spider-Man swinging between skyscrapers three times in a row, each time reaching a greater depth. They come to the middle point of their chiasmus and then swing back up to finish at the same height they started at. It’s really cool once you see it. Not only do the first three Spider-Man films feature the titular character soaring across New York City, but their very story structure reinforces his acrobatic ability.

Man, these films just keep getting better the more I think about them. This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.

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About Robert Lockard, the Deja Reviewer

Robert Lockard has been a lover of writing since he was very young. He studied public relations in college, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in 2006. His skills and knowledge have helped him to become a sought-after copywriter in the business world. He has written blogs, articles, and Web content on subjects such as real estate, online marketing and inventory management. His talent for making even boring topics interesting to read about has come in handy. But what he really loves to write about is movies. His favorite movies include: Fiddler on the Roof, Superman: The Movie, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Back to the Future, Beauty and the Beast, The Fugitive, The Incredibles, and The Dark Knight. Check out his website: Deja Reviewer. Robert lives in Utah with his wife and four children. He loves running, biking, reading, and watching movies with his family.
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