The ending of 2002's Spider-Man explained: Friends to enemies

The ending of Spider-Man (2002) left us wishing we could stick to walls, swing across buildings, and get some needed answers. So it's time to break it down.
Spider-Man (2002) - Final Swing Scene - Movie CLIP HD
Spider-Man (2002) - Final Swing Scene - Movie CLIP HD / TopMovieClips

It all started with an idea that was seen as a failure in the making by Marvel itself. Stan Lee dreamt about creating a superhero with a normal life and day-to-day problems that anyone could have (and relate to). So against all odds, the character finally appeared in a dying comic book series and made history in the process. Spider-Man became an insanely popular character when he first stepped onto comic book pages back in 1962. Since then, fans worldwide fantasized about being able to watch the friendly neighborhood hero swing across buildings on the big screen. It took many decades before that was possible, but the day finally came on May 3, 2002. 

Sam Raimi directed the first in what would become a trilogy of movies starring Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker. It isn't an exaggeration to say Spider-Man (2002) revitalized the audience's love for big-screen adaptations of well-known superheroes. That was mostly due to a cohesive script that told a complete story while also leaving a few lingering questions open for future projects. So in case you need some well-needed answers (or just want to re-live one of the greatest superhero movies ever made), it's time to discuss the ending of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man and break down what it really means. 

Rosemary Harris, Spider-Man
Filming of "Spider-Man 2" on Location in Lower Manhattan / James Devaney/GettyImages

Did Aunt May learn Spider-Man's secret identity?

If it isn't the big old mystery of multiple Spider-Man stories. Does Aunt May know her nephew is the man behind the Spidey mask? Recently, adaptations such as Marvel's Spider-Man for PS4 and Spider-Man: Homecoming have given us a direct answer to this question. However, Sam Raimi decided to play things a little bit more mysteriously back more than two decades ago.

There are many occasions throughout Spider-Man where Aunt May notices Peter acting a little bit strange. First, she knew something was wrong with him after returning from the school's field trip. Later, she heard his nephew break a lot of things in his room out of nowhere. Even if he didn't let her come in, surely May noticed the missing lamp and broken photo frame afterward. She also heard Peter say that he "knows Spider-Man a little bit" to Mary Jane at the hospital near the end of the movie. But if all of that wasn't enough, May was attacked by the Green Goblin - a villain known for fighting against the wall-crawler - just before M.J. was kidnapped by him as well. With all of that, it becomes easy to put two and two together.

Spider-Man 2 would go on to give us a clearer picture regarding this mystery. After Spider-Man decides to "retire", Aunt May gives Peter a motivational speech about how being a hero is about living with pride by setting an example to everyone else, even if it means giving up on what we want the most. Both the timing and the underlying message of the speech are too perfect for it to be a coincidence. So even if it is never explicitly stated at any point during Sam Raimi's trilogy, chances are Aunt May knew Spider-Man's secret identity from the very beginning.

Actors Promote "Spider-Man" Movie in Japan
Actors Promote "Spider-Man" Movie in Japan / Koichi Kamoshida/GettyImages

Why did Peter reject Mary Jane?

Perhaps one of the most confusing moments during the ending of Spider-Man is when Peter tells Mary Jane he'll always be her "friend" after she kisses him. Just when the stars finally seemed to align for their relationship a heartbreaking rejection comes in. So what happened? After all, Peter has been in love with M.J. ever since they were kids. It would've seemed like a no-brainer to let her know how he really felt. Did something change? Well, no. Turns out the answer is a little bit more complicated than that.

Spider-Man is all about how one of the greatest heroes ever came to be. At the beginning of the movie, Peter wants to use his newfound powers to go and participate in a wrestling match in order to earn money. All of that hassle just to buy a car and impress the girl of his dreams. When Uncle Ben sees his nephew is planning on going out, he offers to give him a ride. But instead of telling the truth, the superpowered teenager lies and says he'll go to study at the library. That decision would eventually come at the cost of Ben's life, and it was all because Peter was selfish

As if that wasn't enough, Spider-Man's first mission - aside from participating in a wrestling match - was hunting down the man who killed his uncle. Once again, audiences see how he's motivated by selfish reasons. However, throughout the events of the movie, Peter learns to put the needs of others above those of his own. And there's no better example of this than the act of heroism that was made at the end.

Peter knew dating Mary Jane would also turn her into a target. After all, the Green Goblin kidnapped her just because she was Spidey's love interest. So that's why he had to reject her. Sure, there was also the option to permanently hang up the suit, but that would've been selfish and Peter wasn't that kind of man anymore. By the end of the movie, he's a true hero willing to do the right thing even at his own expense. And that's what Spider-Man is all about.

James Franco
"Spider-Man 3" Tokyo Photocall / E. Charbonneau/GettyImages

Harry's hatred towards Spider-Man was born

There is a saying that "a hero is only as good as his villain". So if Spider-Man is considered to be one of the greatest superheroes ever, then his villains need to be worthy of the spotlight as well. Sam Raimi understood this, and so he wasn't satisfied with making the Green Goblin one of the best live-action villains out of any Marvel movie. Instead, he also planted the seeds for his successor to appear in a pair of films down the line. 

Near the end of Spider-Man, the Green Goblin dies by being stabbed by his own glider in an attempt to wound the wall-crawler. After watching such a horrifying scene unfold, Peter decides to bring Norman's corpse to the Osborn's mansion. Unfortunately, just when Spidey was about to leave the room, Harry came by and witnessed his father dead in the arms of the so-called hero. So of course, he jumped to the wrong conclusion.

As if it wasn't enough, Harry was also jealous of Spider-Man before any of those events even happened. After all, the wall-crawler managed to save Harry's date - Mary Jane - from the Green Goblin at Oscorp's World Unity festival. When M.J. told his boyfriend the story, the only words he was able to mumble were "Incredible? What do you mean he's incredible?". When you take into account Harry is jealous of the same man who - he believes - killed his father, it's easy to see where all the hatred comes from. So what came as a result of this whole beef?

If you've just rolled the credits on Spider-Man (2002) be warned, there will be big spoilers ahead for the following movies in the saga:

James Franco would reprise his role as Harry Osborn in Spider-Man 2 and 3. During the latter, he even became the New Goblin, a successor to the Green Goblin seeking to destroy Spidey and everything he holds dear. Fortunately, the misunderstanding behind Norman's death was finally clarified and this whole beef came to an end... for a slight moment before Harry's death, that is. But hey, at least he didn't die believing in a bold lie.

End of spoilers

Spider-Man from the multiverse in Columbia Pictures SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME. / /

What to watch after Spider-Man

Watching a fantastic movie is great until the credits roll and it feels like nothing will ever be able to top it, leaving a big void in your heart. If that's the case for Spider-Man (2002), then fear not because we have you covered. That's right, it's time to break down what other things you can watch right after Sam Raimi's first superhero movie.

Spider-Man 2: If you think the first entry in the franchise was great, then wait until you watch its sequel. Spider-Man 2 (2004) is regarded among the best superhero movies ever made. While that's no easy feat, it is a well-deserved accomplishment any way you see it. Its story is both greater in scope and more personal than its predecessor. Action scenes are more polished and thrill-inducing this time around. Besides, by not having to tell an origin once again, the movie manages to be fast-paced and entertaining from the very beginning. So if you like Spider-Man (2002) chances are you'll love its sequel.

The Amazing Spider-Man: After Tobey Maguire's run as the wall-crawler ended in 2007, a reboot hit the big screens in 2012. While The Amazing Spider-Man may not be everybody's cup of tea, at least it attempts to do something completely different from Sam Raimi's franchise. If you're looking for amazing visuals, a grittier story, or finding out what happened to Peter's parents before he was left to live with his uncles, then this movie is perfect for you.

Spider-Man: Homecoming: Yet another reboot in the Spider-Man franchise, Homecoming finally introduces our friendly neighborhood hero to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So if you're tired of watching Spider-Man carry the weight of the world on his shoulders alone, then this film is a breath of fresh air. Watching other big characters such as Iron Man enter the scene occasionally just to help Peter brings a lot of you to our hearts. Of course, it could also feel tiresome after some time, but you'll be entertained the whole way around without a doubt.

Next. A live-action Spider-Man Noir show is coming to Prime, and you won't believe who's playing him. A live-action Spider-Man Noir show is coming to Prime, and you won't believe who's playing him. dark