Of all the super heroes that appear in movies, Spider-Man is the hero who is best known for having a mantra – a code of ethics which informs his choices and shapes the way he approaches crimefighting. But what is Spider-Man’s mantra?
In this post I will explain Spider-Man’s mantra – as first brought to life in the comics – and how it is depicted in the movies. To date, this code of ethics has appeared in Spider-Man (2002) and The Amazing Spider-Man (2012).
In the comics
To understand Spider-Man’s mantra, it is best to look at its comic book origins and how it came to be.
Spider-Man made his comic book debut in the pages of Amazing Fantasy issue #15 (1962). In this issue, mild-mannered high school student, Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider and given superhuman abilities.
Rather than use his newfound abilities for good, Peter uses them to his own advantage, even going so far as to turn himself into a television star. He does not consider using his abilities to help others.
This is exemplified during a robbery, in which Peter (dressed as Spider-Man) has the opportunity to step in and catch the thief, but instead chooses not to. Speaking to a police man, he says: “Sorry, Pal! That’s your job! I’m thru being pushed around – by anyone! From now on I just look out for number one – that means me – me!”
This situation comes back to haunt him, as later that evening that same thief attempts to burgle the Parker residence. The burglar kills Peter’s uncle and flees the scene of the crime.
When Peter returns home he vows to catch the thief and, dressed as Spider-Man, he hunts him down. It is here that he makes the discovery about the burglar’s identity, commenting: “It’s the fugitive who ran past me! The one I didn’t stop when I had the chance!”
The burglar is captured and handed over to the police, but Peter is left to reflect on the situation. If he had used his abilities to stop the thief earlier in the day, then his uncle would have lived.
During the final panel of Amazing Fantasy issue #15, Spider-Man’s mantra is born via a piece of concluding narration which reads: ‘And a lean silent figure slowly fades into the gathering darkness, aware at last that in this world, with great power there must also come – great responsibility!’
So, that’s what happened in the comics, but what about the movies?
In Spider-Man (2002)
When adapting Spider-Man for the big screen, it was important for Spidey’s mantra to be a key piece of a theatrical movie and as such, a revised version was included in the 2002 film, Spider-Man. However, the film differs somewhat from the comics as it is Uncle Ben who delivers the message to Peter.
After Peter receives his abilities, Ben has a heart-to-heart talk with his nephew. Ben has noticed a change in Peter following an altercation with the high school bully, Flash Thompson, and he wants to ensure Peter understands the importance of power.
“Peter these are the years, when a man changes into the man who he is going to become for the rest of his life. Just be careful who you change into. This guy, Flash Thompson, he probably deserved what happened, but just because you can beat him up, doesn’t give you the right to. Remember, with great power, comes great responsibility.”
The key phrase here is: “With great power, comes great responsibility.” As you will see, it is a shortened version of the mantra used in the comics.
Shortly after delivering this speech, Uncle Ben is killed in a carjacking. The incident is an indirect result of Peter allowing a thief to pass him by without intervening.
This incident shapes him into becoming a hero. Moving forward, Ben’s speech about ‘power and responsibility’ helps to inform his choices.
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
In The Amazing Spider-Man, it is Uncle Ben who once again delivers the message about power and responsibility. The words differ, but the core message remains the same.
Similar to the 2002 Spider-Man movie, Peter gets abilities and Ben notices a change in him. During an exchange with his nephew, Ben says:
“You’re a lot like your father. You really are Peter, and that’s a good thing. But your father lived by a philosophy – a principle really. He believed that if you could do good things for other people, you had a moral obligation to do those things. That’s what’s at stake here. Not choice – responsibility.”
The key parts of this piece of dialogue are: “If you could do good things for other people, you had a moral obligation” and “Not choice – responsibility.”
This version of Spider-Man’s mantra doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as the previous versions, as it is a little too clunky, but in essence the meaning is the same – help people when they need help.
Shortly following this exchange, Ben is killed in the street by a thief. Once again, the incident is the result of Peter allowing a thief to pass him by, because he chooses not to act.
The wording of Spider-Man’s mantra
The wording of Spider-Man’s mantra changes across the movie series, but at its heart, it is the same and it takes inspiration from the character’s first comic book appearance. In essence, the mantra makes it clear that if you have the power or ability to help someone, then you should help them whenever possible, irrespective of a reward.
In Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man’s first appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Peter Parker says: “When you can do the things that I can, but you don’t, and then the bad things happen, they happen because of you.” It’s not quite the power/responsibility line, but it’s a similar message.
The version of Spider-Man’s mantra used in 2002’s Spider-Man is arguably the most quoted by movie fans, as it is the easiest to recall. “With great power, comes great responsibility” delivers an important message and one that can be taken on board by anyone, whether they are a super hero or simply someone in a position where they can help out.
- Spider-Man’s mantra in Amazing Fantasy #15 (1962): “With great power there must also come – great responsibility!”
- Spider-Man’s mantra in Spider-Man (2002): “With great power, comes great responsibility.”
- Spider-Man’s mantra in The Amazing Spider-Man (2012): “If you could do good things for other people, you had a moral obligation to do those things. That’s what’s at stake here. Not choice – responsibility.”
Thank you for stopping by Don’t Tell Harry – The Spider-Man movies blog. If you would like further information about the Spider-Man movies, then please take a look at one of the recommended reads below. These will provide you with more key details about the films.