I was reluctant to see the new Spider-Man film, but a friend of mine told me that it had a clear path of the Hero's Journey, so I gave it a chance. Because I teach my students about the Hero's Journey story structure, I wanted to be able to discuss the film with those who have seen it, relating the Journey. And the Journey definitely comes through in this story. If you haven't seen it, know that there are spoilers ahead. But if you've seen the film, read on and discover the depth of the Journey in it.
1. Ordinary World: Peter Parker is a student at Midtown Science High School, and he lives with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May. His parents left him suddenly when he was young, offering no explanation, and never came back for him. As a result, Peter is frustrated internally and longs to find out more about his father and why he left. Peter is awkward around his peers and is even picked on, but he still sticks up for the underdog.
2. Call To Adventure: When Peter is cleaning up the basement to save some belongings from water damage, he finds a briefcase with his father's initials on it. Opening it, he finds some of his father's belongings, as well a file that leads him to research his father's lab partner who works at Oscorp Tower, Dr. Connors. Peter goes to Oscorp and meets Dr. Connors, and while sneaking around, looking for answers, he is bitten by a spider that is being used to create biocable. He starts to develop strange abilities as a result. By finding his father's briefcase, Peter has been introduced to the Special World that is the opposite of what he knows.
3. Refusal of the Call: Peter is unsure what is happening to him, and he begins to question things. He begins to test out his powers, and is even a bit irresponsible with them, using them to upstage the bully who picked on him, Flash Thompson. He also becomes argumentative with Uncle Ben when accused of not following through on what he promised to do. He storms off, and Uncle Ben follows him. At a convenience store, he lets a thief go when the store clerk treats him rudely, and the thief ultimately shoots Uncle Ben.
4. Meeting with the Mentor: Throughout the story, Peter has already had several mentors working in his life. Dr. Connors is a mentor to him when it comes to science, helping Peter feel comfortable with his genius. The briefcase with his father's work has also been a mentor of sorts, pushing him into this Special World. And of course, Uncle Ben has been one of the biggest mentor influences on Peter, and when he dies, Peter is pushed to his limits.
5. Crossing the Threshold: The death of Peter's Uncle Ben is ultimately what pushes Peter to cross over into the Special World fully. Peter uses the police sketch of the thief who murdered Uncle Ben to begin his work as a vigilante, trying to hunt the man down. His world has changed, and there is no going back to things as they used to be.
6. Tests, Allies, Enemies: As Peter fights crime, he confronts criminals and makes enemies. Because one thug threatens him after an encounter, saying that he knows what Peter looks like, Peter decides to use a mask. He eventually creates a suit to help with mobility, and his identity as Spider-Man begins to cement. At school, he develops a friendship with Gwen and even Flash shows a sense of friendliness toward him. But this double-life is taking its toll. Aunt May is worried when he comes home late, and his emotions rise with regret when he comes home to her not with the eggs he had promised to buy, but with bruises and blood all over his face. His tests are increasing in difficulty: Dr. Connors displayed a semblance of friendship toward him, but as his identity shifts into The Lizard, this will change. Gwen's father, Police Captain Stacy, shows an antagonistic attitude toward Peter and his alter-ego.
7. Approach: Peter witnesses The Lizard's rampage on the bridge, and he tries to stop the creature. He sets a trap in the sewers, barely escaping with his life, and still badly injured. After verifying some suspicions, Peter tries to convince Captain Stacy that Dr. Connors is the man they are looking for, but his ideas are met with harsh ridicule. The Lizard learns Spider-Man's identity, and he shows up at Midtown Science High School to destroy Peter Parker.After fighting Peter at school, Dr. Connors retreats to carry out his master-plan, and Peter tries to stop him with Gwen's help.
8. Ordeal: Spider-Man faces the Inmost Cave when he is shot by a police bullet that stuns him electrically. He is surrounded and faces his greatest fear: his identity will be known. If this happens, Gwen will die, and the city of New York will be lost. Unable to fight his way out, reveals his identity to Captain Stacy.
9. Reward: Captain Stacy lets him go, showing his new-found trust in Peter.
10. The Road Back: Peter is recommitted to the Journey. He makes his way to Oscorp Tower to stop the Lizard. Along the way, he learns that the citizens of New York trust him as well.He confronts his nemesis and begins fighting him.
11. Resurrection: The Lizard is strong and powerful, crushing Spider-Man's web shooters and taking away his advantage. Peter digs down deep, willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, and when Captain Stacy arrives, they work together to stop The Lizard.
12. Return with the Elixir: Dr. Connors has been returned back to normal and
his plans as The Lizard have been stopped. He has saved Gwen, but at a
cost: Captain Stacy was killed. As he dies, he asks Peter
to keep Gwen out of his life to protect her. Peter makes a promise even
though it kills him deep down. He would
love to have Gwen at his side, and would give anything to see Captain
Stacy and his Uncle Ben alive again. But he has changed... ...and in a
final, small moment, we see this change. It's not just in the promise he made
to Captain Stacy, but also in a carton of eggs. As he walks through the
door to his waiting Aunt May, he holds out a carton of eggs, signifying
that he is different from the start of the journey. He is a different
person, and even though he may not have all of the answers he wanted, he
has learned to put others ahead of himself during the search. The Elixir Peter Parker has brought back from his journey is that of a new hero. He is no longer just Peter Parker, fatherless teenager. He's Spider-Man.
Note: this post was revised and updated on 8/28/12.